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An Ode to Social Media and Museums

As a lover of history and culture, I have never understood those who are completely bored with museums. For the past year, I have been in this educational bubble with like-minded people who are interested in the same things as me. Now that my Masters degree is over, I am faced with the reality that not everyone I meet may be interested in the state of the illicit antiquities trade or the cultural appropriation of a particular genre of shadow puppetry.

Thus I am faced, once again, with the question of why so many people are not interested in Museums? Am I no longer hip?!

The key is to make people excited about going to museums. Social media may be the answer! As we are getting more and more permanently attached to our devices, social media has not only been a vehicle for museums to use, but also a way for the visitor to drive their own visitor experience.

This blog post will illustrate two different ways that, I personally think, are successful uses of social media by museums and individuals:

The Art of the Selfie

The selfie is now a part of our every day vernacular, but would you ever expect to see it used in the signage of a major museum?

No, you wouldn’t.

This is why I was genuinely surprised on a visit to the Grand Palais in Paris, back in 2014, where they encouraged visitors to take selfies with the ancient statues in an exhibit on the Emperor Augustus and Ancient Rome.

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My attempt at joining in on the hashtag “moiempereur.”

This sort of social media encouragement was their valiant effort to make a “boring” topic more engaging. In fact, as you see above, I was so encouraged that I made my own addition to the flurry of Instagram pictures from the exhibit (note the bunny ear shadow).

The great thing about this method is that it can appeal to everyone, including the surly teenagers dragged to the museum by their parents. It made me wonder why there were not more museums trying to do this. It seems like the perfect blend of advertisement and engagement.

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On the other end of the spectrum, this is the Louvre Museum’s attempt to stop flash photos.

Snapchating at the Museum 

The lack of organization use may be because social media is not seen as a useful tool for direct engagement since many museums have their own apps available to download. Museum social media is often carefully regulated and does not include the spontaneity that normally accompanies its use.

The normalisation of social media has therefore lead to the rise of the Art History Snapchat, a great activity for any museum goer where you take a photo of an art work and write a observational caption that is completely out of context. See below for examples.

Next time you are in a museum, try it! It is actually very fun and a creative outlet. It also has the bonus effect of advertising the museum in question. It may even encourage individuals to go seek out these artworks. Nothing can be more thrilling than finding a popular meme in a museum.

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This guy is actually in the Louvre Museum – happy hunting! 

For this reason, it may be useful for museums to incorporate this sort of interaction into their digital portfolio. Organisations like Museum Hack are a prime example of how it could work. The success of Pokemon Go also proves that using an app does not necessarily mean becoming a shut in. In fact, the Canal River Trust in London has been promoting the use of Pokemon Go by encouraging people to share their Poke Trail while they are walking along Regent’s Canal.

It all brings into question where we need to draw the line between something that is innovative and when it becomes a hindrance. The ban of the selfie stick from most museums for safety reasons is but one example of this issue. Although it does not stop celebrities, such as Beyonce, for making museum selfies look cool.

So what do you think? Are you a fan of social media in museums? Can Beyonce change your mind?

Bonus Image 

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Beyonce taking a Selfie in the Louvre Museum

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