Last week in class we discussed the merits of a museum’s social media accounts having an “institutional voice” and whether or not that was necessary. On the one hand, museums are considered credible places of knowledge, that should speak with authority. I think that many people would consider an authoritative voice to be formal and academic. But when it comes to social media, there is little that is formal or academic. So the question arises – what voice will your social media presence have?
With the majority of social media users being of a younger generation, I think the best choice would be a move away from a formal voice. I do not believe, however, that moving way from a formal voice will move away from authority. Social media is merely one form of communication between the museum and the outside world. There are many other forms of communication coming from within the museum walls that will present the authoritative voice – publications, exhibition catalogs, and blog posts for example. I think if the museum is considering audience, a relatable voice is ideal.
Having a relatable voice does not mean that the institutions social media feeds will turn into never ending streams of memes and pop culture references. The content that is shared will still demonstrate the expertise of the museum, it is just the delivery of said information that is different. In class we ranked different museums social media posts on different scales relating tone. Tone is part of what effects the voice of any type of communication. The level of humor, the level of authority, are all things that effect how a message is received. As we were completing this exercise, a couple question came to mind.
The first being, who decides what the institutional voice will sound like? As mentioned above, there are many different forms of communication that come from a museum – much of which comes from the communication, marketing, or public relation department. That team of people will decide what all formal communication to the public sounds like. But it has been my experience that in the fundraising department, they format the copy of the acknowledgement letters, either with the help of a consulting company or on their own. And, as a social media manager is becoming a more common position, that is one person who has total control over social media accounts, crafting the voice. Say you are a museum visitor that reads a press release, receives an acknowledgement letter after a donation, and follows the museum on Twitter. They are being exposed to three different voices – is it possible to create a cohesive voice?
The second question, relating specifically to the social media manager, what happens to that voice when the social media manager leaves? If it is just one individual, their personal voice probably seeps through more than they think. And they have a huge hand in crafting the museums online presence (it is their job after all). Take Emily Graslie at the Field Museum for example. As the “Chief Curiosity Correspondent” she runs their blog/video portion of their site – The Brain Scoop. I understand that she already had some parts of this personal brand created before she was hired by the Field Museum, but now it has become integral to the museum’s online presence. What will happen to The Brain Scoop as her career progresses? Should museums consider training multiple social media staff members? Should they lean away from a distinct voice that might have an expiration date?
I am beginning to think that blogging is just shouting questions into the abyss that is the internet.