Natural history specimens as social media stars? How (and why) did the Australian Museum get into the social media space and what are we doing there?
The Centre for the Future of Museums writes: "The rise of social media is transforming the landscape of communication for all organisations, including museums. There are myriad new ways to connect directly with the public, and new spokespeople have stepped forth to fill these niches. Recently I interviewed two museum specimens that have become social media celebrities. Sue the TRex, (otherwise known as Specimen FMNH PR2081) tweets from the Field Museum of Natural History. Mr. Blobby the Blobfish, a Facebook phenom with over 800 fans, resides in the collections of the Australian Museum in Sydney when not making public appearances." The blogpost can be found here.
So, how did the Museum become involved with social media? The Museum got interested in social media very early on. An Australian Research Council Grant, New Literacy, New Audiences (2004), was the first where we started looking at delivering content to audiences across digital media. This project was also used to train staff to think about modes of content delivery and to develop a series of digital stories (Australian Museum Stories). The Museum then received a further grant in 2008, Engaging with Social Media in Museums, which enabled us to play in the social spaces of the web. We used this grant to experiment and test our presence in sites such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter and learn together about what these spaces were like and how to engage our audiences within them. Parallel to this was the redevelopment of our website (since launched in June 2009) so the time was ripe for the Museum to work out where we wanted to be online and how best to achieve our goals and who best to do it (answer = everyone!).
Following the adventures of Mr Blobby has been a treat and a delight. Who would have thought that so many people could be taken with such an innocuous creature as a blobfish? One of the areas we are interested in is the conjunction between physical museum sites and their online counterparts. We have (and will continue to) seen Mr Blobby as a way to connect with audiences wherever they are and somehow get them to actually visit the Museum.
I see this as the next wave of what a museum should be. George Brown Goode (a former Smithsonian administrator and famous ichyologist to boot!) said “The people’s museum should be more than a house full of specimens in glass cases. It should be a house full of ideas”. Following Goode's words, I see the 21st century museum is a house full of ideas, yet at the same time a house without walls. Mr Blobby (and Gagali the Gecko and everything else we are doing in the online space, including our massive website) are small steps towards achieving the museum without walls.
More on these ideas will follow from various keynote speeches I am giving over the next two months so watch this blog and Museum 3 as I blog and post more thoughts on Web 2.0 and the future of museums.