Author: Laura Bullivant | @LauraBullivant
I have had an account on Twitter since April 2009. Within 5 years I had sent just four tweets. I simply had no idea why I was gatecrashing the party. I didn’t know anyone there and had no idea how to start a conversation. I doubted that what I had to say was of any interest to anyone in this virtual room. In April 2014, I decided to blow the dust off my account and revisit Twitter’s potential.
Reflecting on my Digital Identity, a balance of personal and professional
My decision in April to polish up my profile and to get onto Twitter earnestly was nerve racking. What if no one likes me! But I decided to tweet as a museum professional sharing personal tweets about my world, and the world of my peers, colleagues and potential audiences.
The motivation came after I attended the Digital Narrative workshop lead by Abhay Adhikari in March at Fort Nelson. The workshop is part of a 1 year project with the South East Museum Development Programme. I came away much more aware as to what a digital identity is, and during the drive home started thinking about what mine should be and why it was worth developing. The thing was I had never had any interest in tweeting to strangers about my personal life; my role as mother, dog owner, crap-but-keen baker. I was quite happy to keep that within my close circle and Facebook fulfilled the gap. But I had always had the sense that what I do professionally could benefit from a better social media presence.
As a lead for learning and community engagement across 3 museums and an art gallery, I work across a range of public programmes, as well as initiating and delivering community projects and building up relationships with different audiences. Making connections and growing partnerships is what I do. So a digital platform that enables me to bring together all those different strands, that cross through different cultural sectors: Museums. Art. Archaeology. Education. Would surely be a good thing.
Public profile, Policy and Governance
My Twitter bio does not include my job title (which is abstract), the venues within which I work or the organisation I work for. My main reason for this is the fact that the sites I work across have different governances, with different public profiles and Social Media Policies.
This meant that when I achieved my first 100 tweets I could celebrate by letting a bit of the personal in and post I picture of my new border terrier. But a word of caution, if you want a specific community around you on Twitter, and reveal factors relating to your personal life be prepared to be followed by those outside your preferred circle (I am followed by 3 Border Terriers now!). It also meant that I could enjoy banter about the Eurovision Song Contest without upsetting the Marketing and PR Teams. (Definitly one of my Twitter highlights so far, when everyone from the British Museum to leading Teacher Union Reps, archaeologists to artists, curators to border terriers were tweeting about the Eurovision Song Contest. What a cultural leveller!)
I do, however, follow and retweet my venues (@RedhouseMuseum and @StbarbeMuseum) and post updates and information about them, but in my voice (which is always positive, encouraging and celebratory). So I am not hiding where I work, I make it very public, but through my tweets. My aim is to champion, support and share what we do, to offer an insiders perspective, something I hope more museum professionals, particularly in the UK, will start to do. This will be such a huge benefit to peer to peer communication, as well as increase our audiences interest and participation in our museums and raise the profile of the sector.
Engaging people with our stories – people want to know about people
Museum professionals know that when it comes to interpreting objects, people want to know about people. They prefer to look at the objects, if possible handle them, but their questions are more often than not about the people behind them. Who made it, who used it, who cared about it?
I feel now that the same should apply to the digital ecosystems we create for museums and galleries. To engage people with our stories, we need to let people know who is telling them. I think its time more of us should step out from behind the curtain of our venues, titles and the projects we cherish, and introduce ourselves. I feel if I am going to engage people online, (engagement is the name of my game), with the activities and opportunities across my sites I need to do it face to face (virtually speaking).
I now have just short of 200 followers and have had the best time. The tweet that really launched my committement to Twitter was a picture of my daughter at Wollaton Hall (my most treasured museum as a child) that I posted to @KidsinMuseums and #museummemories. Nothing strategic about my decision to post in terms of finding followers, I just liked their idea. This gave me my first retweet which felt like a right of passage.
I know it will take time to get the longterm outcomes and benefits for my venues and activities, particularly in terms of increasing participation, but each Tweet I post at the moment is a lesson in the possibilities.
This guest blog post has been written by Laura Bullivant who participated in a Digital Identity workshop at Fort Nelson in March. The session is part of a 1 year project to explore how museums can use social media for effective digital storytelling. You can follow Laura on Twitter here – @LauraBullivant or click here to visit the New Forest Education website.
Digital Narratives is a South East Museum Development Programme project, supported using public funding by Arts Council England. The vision is to enable the region’s museums become strong, healthy and vibrant organisations and to create a self-sustainable museum development framework.