ExposeYour online, offline


There’s definitely a murmur (in some circles, a roar) of criticism about whether it’s a good thing to encourage mobile use and social media integration in our museums and culturals.

Personally, I don’t really get it… but that may be because I am a girl who uses twitter to take notes and genuinely believes Instagram is art. It’s fun to check in at a museum (or store, or airport, or bar). I like posting goofy pictures of me and my friends and tagging them. When I see something or read something cool or interesting, I want to share it.

That said, there have been a few times where I (gasp!) can see validity in the concern.

For example, mobile use can arguably distance a person from an object or experience. It can (on occasion, and despite many positive and engaging social benefits) create walls and boundaries instead of bridges. While tempting to post an example of today’s youth, I’ll instead make it more personal. While at a museum recently, I spent a good 3 minutes trying to get a WiFi signal so I could access a video through a QR code. In that 3 minutes, I completely disengaged from the group I was with and stood there, for all intents and purposes quite paralyzed, until I could connect. In that 3 minutes, my friends moved on, saw some really incredible art, and started some really interesting conversations.

So what’s the solution? (Better WiFi in museums?! Yes, although that’s not where I’m going with this…)

Is there a way for those of us, increasing in number by the day, who want to stay connected online to do so without disengaging offline?

Trendwatching.com, started following the “OFF=ON” trend as far back as 2008. We’ve seen in online symbols turned into real-life objects, traditional products that incorporate online components, and marketing campaigns infused with online jargon. More recently it’s been emerging in ways that could have really fantastic applications in museums and culturals… particularly with RFID.

RFID (radio frequency identification) isn’t a particularly new technology, but it *is* a particularly cool one when it comes to connecting our online and offline worlds. RFID means a visitor can simply swipe a card (or any RFID chipped object) at a favorite exhibit, painting, historic building (whatever!) and automatically show what they like in the real world as a “like” on their Facebook. It means visitors equipped with RFID wristbands could scan in at fun photo ops around your site and automatically upload their pictures to social media.

Not only do these online/offline crossovers allow online updates without much more than a pause, they potentially provide valuable analytics and instant brand (or, in our case, museum) ambassadors. Great examples are coming out of amusement parks, like Luna Park in Sydney, Australia. But museums haven’t been far behind. In fact, the Exploratorium was years ahead of the curve, using RFID in its eXspot card. The eXspot may have been a tad premature in the grand scheme of all things tech. They were onto something quite cool… but before the rise of social media and the online sharing we see today.

Can’t pony up the costs of RFID? What about turning it around and leveraging your online following to help decide offline exhibits, events, or programming? Bacardi did just that with their ‘Like It Live, Like It Together’ events.  Flipping the process is a great way to acknowledge and reward your already-loyal friends and fans. (A great museumy example of this is the Month at the Museum project, about to enter its second year, at MSI.)

In our instant-access, social media fixated, ever-connected world, how do you bring YOUR offline online– and vice verse?

Are museums and culturals places to encourage or discourage the merging and blending of online and offline? Can you do both?


10 Responses to “ExposeYour online, offline”

  1. Kirsten Ellenbogen

    You raise good questions (as usual), Kate.
    There’s a compelling contrast between integrating mobile technologies into the visitor experience and leveraging mobile technologies and social media into audience development and buy in. Right now, I’m seeing the greatest successes with efforts to leverage mobile and social technologies to build audience. We’ve had great sucess with that on Social Science, our new 21+ nights (www.smm.org/socialscience). For those we have worked with science and culture bloggers and leveraged Twitter. But efforts to integrate mobile technologies into the visitor experience on the exhibit floor have been mixed, based on what I’m reading and hearing from colleagues. Seems like those work best when museums encourage visitors to use their existing mobile tech and networks (FB, Twitter, Flickr, etc.) to share and reflect on their experience, (i.e., actually use mobile tech and social medi as part of the visitor experience, not audience building). It may seem like a small step – and something that some people will do with no encouragement – but if it’s supported as a reflective activity it could be a very positive addition to the museum experience. Reflection is a critical aspect of learning! In the museum field, we’re good at getting people to try (or look at) something once. We’re not so good at getting them to try it again in a somewhat different way (or look again from a different perspective). The pause caused by using social media during the museum visit could be quite positive.

  2. Kathleen Tinworth

    Kirsten- fantastic points, especially about existing mobile and social media as potential reflective activities and as opportunities to see things in a different light. Here’s to embracing the pause!

  3. Betsy Martinson

    Good morning Kate!

    I couldn’t agree more: connectivity is the bane of our existence! The best thing about social media is the ability to share immediately. Look what I am/we are doing RIGHT NOW!

    How ironic that we have these computer/technology wizards developing new, exciting resources and programs that are perfect for our needs in both marketing and education while no one is working on a way to give us better connectivity. One side of the industry is outpacing the other.

    I have no suggestions, everything has outpaced my technological knowledge. But I will share a rumor I heard some time ago …

    Apparently the conversion to digital has freed up the airwaves and what used to carry radio or tv signals can easily be converted to wifi! Thus, any location that gets a radio signal would, potentially, be able to get the free wifi. The question is, who controls these airwaves and how can we get them to move forward?

  4. Jennifer Miller

    Without a doubt digital technology has it’s place in the museum world, functionally and interpretively. But to use it within the gallery in order to extend the experience and learning style of the visitors, is a bit more tricky, because of the “use it because it’s trendy” doesn’t work. The complex and extremely broad potential use of digital technology and social media, the how and when to use it really has to be carefully thought through. I loved the idea that Bacardi launched!

  5. Carey Tisdal

    I like Kirsten thoughts about using social media to encourage reflection–and synthesis of experiences. We need to develop and test some strategies to do this–baby tests, little tests, shared tests. Voice, tone, vocabulary and audience all appear to play a role. Our skillful blog host has developed an informal one and provides us with some background each week before asking us to respond to a specific point. Social media has some potential for letting people discuss issues in some greater depth, but we need to find the boundaries to support those discussions, make them lively as well as socially safe places.

    Lots of work to do!

    Carey Tisdal

  6. Jonathan Salem Baskin

    I can’t help but think that lots of people sharing the same physical space is the most naturally “social” experience we could ever imagine, yet most museum spend little or no effort trying to make those moments meaningful (from a social perspective). I say skip some of the virtual ‘out there’ stuff and spend more time focused on the ‘here & now.’

  7. Troy Purdue

    I am little biased because I am working on developing a community museum mobile app, but I feel that there is a space for technology in the museum. I think that you all are right in saying that it needs to be unobtrusive and quickly accessed. There is a fine line between granting a visitor access to additional content and steering them away from the exhibit to their smartphone.

    One of the things that we are working on is creating a community within the industry. Instead of each facility having their own separate mobile initiative, one app would be able to access the content for every facility (using any number of technologies such as QR codes, NFC, RFID, image recognition such as Google Goggles, etc.).

    My thought is that a lot of guests are seeking knowledge when visiting a cultural institution. Giving them access to that content immediately may satisfy some, but what about the people who want to take in the exhibit and then learn more later? We are building in the ability to ‘favorite’ exhibits so the guest can then view them again through their computer at home and access all of the content that has been made available. They can truly dig deep into the content and share it with their friends and family or add their own content such as reflections about their visit, etc.

    Much like other industries, the social/mobile platforms are transforming the way people interact with brands. As the smartphone adoption continues to increase guests will ‘expect’ to have access to content on demand.

    If you want to learn more about what we are building you can visit our site at http://www.exhibit.ly. Any feedback is appreciative.

  8. Martha Hawkins

    Very good questions. I say skip some of the virtual ‘out there’ stuff and spend more time focused on the ‘here & now.


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