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From local to ubiquitous: online producers and museum outreach

By: Irene Rubino, Category: Museullaneous, Date: 13 Feb 2012

The opportunities offered by the web are forcing some museums to rethink how they provide content. Museum professional Irene Rubino interviews Michael Hugill about an emerging museum profession: the online producer.

Web 2U (#3)

Michael Hugill © Australian Museum


There's no doubt that the opportunities offered by web 2.0 and 3.0, in terms of public engagement and institutional projection, are forcing the most dynamic museums to rethink their role as content providers.

The recent debates about the role of museum websites have made me wonder about the implications that online content production might have on the range of professions needed in a museum context: what specific types of human resources are required in order to generate sustainable and effective online editorial contents?

It's been years since ICOM first recognised the importance of having a permanent webmaster: yet, the wealth of tools offered by the web and the evolving consumption patterns for virtual experiences represent a severe challenge to the codification of well-defined new museum professions.

While people operating in the field are becoming more and more familiar with the skills and rationales that lay behind the management of websites and social media, the wider public and other stakeholders may not be fully aware of the workings of a web strategy. Given that the management of human capital and of the work-flow vary from museum to museum, the number of relevant variables to be considered is significant.

Since the Australian Museum has an entire department dedicated to web outreach, I've interviewed someone working right across my desk, Michael Hugill, to get some insight into the physiognomy of what seems to be an emerging museum profession: the online producer.

IR: What's your job at the museum and what portfolio of competences does it entail?

MH: I'm an Online Producer (Content & Social Marketing) at the Australian Museum and I work on our website/s, social media accounts (mostly Facebook and Twitter), mobile apps and intranet. I've been with the Museum for nearly 12 months now.

IR: What’s your typical working-day profile?

MH: No day is typical really, but most of the time I’m looking at the UX (user experience) and IA (information architecture) on our websites – we are mid-way through a redesign actually – as well as overseeing our social media accounts. My job also involves a lot of content producing (text, image and video), online community management and training staff in our various systems. We have an open CMS (content management system) so any staff member can publish on the website.

I integrate my role by contacting staff when I think they might have something good to add to the website/s and also through being known as someone they can contact. We also have a weekly 'web clinic' which is essentially a time for people to drop-in and ask us questions without needing to contact us first.

IR: How do you usually deal with web content production and management?

MH: I'm always on the look out for new content that I can produce myself or when staff members have a concept I work with them to get it published. Often I'll hear about something (an upcoming event for example) and so I’ll contact the relevant staff (and suggest they take photos and write a few paragraphs). It’s then very easy to turn that content into a blog post or something similar. Recently, we ran an internal mini-campaign asking staff to ‘Think Web’ – this has worked well and our team continues to try and improve internal communications with other Museum departments such as exhibitions, marketing and research. Integration is a challenge and an ongoing process.

IR: So, which of the following models (image source: mashable.com/2010/12/08/social-media-strategist/) best reflects the management style of the work-flow at the Australian Museum, concerning web and social media?

http://7.mshcdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/Social-Media-Organization.jpg

Image source: http://mashable.com/2010/12/08/social-media-strategist/

MH: We’re definitely hub and spoke for reasons I’ve probably covered in my other answers.

IR: Let's focus on social media: how do you manage the Australian Museum's social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube)?

MH: I lead a team of social media 'monitors' (myself included), invited from across the Museum. I cover two days a week myself and the other five monitors cover one day each. I try to assist everyone on their day with ideas and support, which they don't always need I must add (all our monitors are very good). Most of them were already experienced with social media, and all have had some training and receive ongoing support face-to-face, via email or phone (obviously responding quickly is important social media so someone from our Web team is always available). 

IR: What are the key goals of your social media strategy?

MH: I think we're pursuing two main goals: first, we want to enrich visitors' experiences, in the sense that social media allows us to share things that aren't available – or won’t fit – in our exhibition halls (for instance, we can provide our past and future visitors with fact sheets, photos and videos from our archived collections). Second, we want to reach new audiences. Social media is a great way for people to share our content or to simply recommend us (directly or indirectly).

IR: How do you define online success?

MH: I think both numbers and engagement (which can't always be measured) matter. From a quantitative point of view, I can say that the number of followers on Facebook and Twitter has more than tripled in just over six months and that is, in my opinion, directly attributable to the new social media strategy we launched last June (where, essentially, we took a more organised, consistent approach). Some recent Facebook ad campaigns for our summer exhibitions also significantly increased our number of Likes.

On the qualitative side, I want us to continue sharing interesting and relevant links and posts (either ours or other institutions’) and for us to be there to respond to our followers' feedback, fostering engagement. We now have regular ‘commenters’ and ‘likers’ on Facebook and some very supportive ‘retweeters’ on Twitter.

IR: What specific value do you see professionals such as yourself having for a museum?

MH: Online producers are important because we are at the ‘coalface’ – our job is to get the information delivered, analyse how the public responds to it (often in real time) and try to make that delivery and then the next one even better. The web is everywhere now – we carry it in our pockets – and it’s online producers that supply the information that all this technology around us is set up to deliver. Typically, we work with all departments at all levels in an organisation. Just like the field we work in, we have to be everywhere too.