Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Identity Control: Part 2

maria mortati, gyroscope inc, museums If the identity of your institution is not just in your hands, then what do you think the future of that identity looks like? I think this is a good time to think about things from a more… philosophical point of view. Any person or group who takes and adversarial stance towards your institution is a passionate audience member. This is a good thing! The key for you is to find out how to engage with their passion, and make it work for you. If you don’t, you’re missing an opportunity and leaving yourself open to a negative backlash. Ok, but if visitors are taking pictures of your exhibits, and posting them on the web, then why do they need you? First, they need you to continue to do what you are doing. You’re good at it. You help by raising an issue (which you have done, by creating an exhibit) and given them a safe forum (your museum) in which to explore it. If you can create the possibility for follow up with visitors after they leave, or build in places of engagement on-line while they are there, you’ll increase the likelihood that they’ll come back on-line or off. This strategy has been covered in many places on and offline*, so I'll restate it simply: find out where your visitors are on-line, and what they are saying about you. Respond to them. Your strength as an authority is that you can help give the public context for what they may have seen. It’s no longer a model where you are “preaching” to them, but rather, conversing with them. You may still be the pro on the topic du jour, but they are the authorities on their experiences of it. If you can help them see it in a different light …or they can help you, then you both benefit. The Tech Museum has a few exhibits where you can have images of yourself made in various ways. You get a "Tech Tag" which you can enter into their website at home, and download the images. This is great, and lots of fun. One place where they fall short is at the point of the download. That’s the key moment to re-engage and offer them context and more information about the technology or idea behind what they are grabbing. Finding out where your visitors are is one piece of managing your identity. The other is following through with your mission to educate and by doing so, you will reinforce it. -- *Suggested reading: Groundswell, by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff.


Scott Moulton said...

Here is an example of finding your audience online and connecting with them.

Over the past year I've developed a bit of a bicycling obsession which includes scouring posts on cycling forums for such ridiculous minutia as rolling resistance of tires at various pressures. Over the course of this searching I found that some manufactures monitor these forums and will post answers. For instance "Michelin Man" has posted a chart of ideal tire pressure for a given weight rider, has given insider info on when the latest tire will be released and will respond to most any question that merits a response.

This access totally changes the relationship I have with (in this case) a bike tire. It is as though I know someone who works at Michelin. This gives a seemingly impenetrable company a human face in addition to providing me with a great knowledge source. His presence also seems to calm some of the crazy things that can go on on a forum. (I know it is only bike tires but you would be surprised)

While this example is somewhat different from a museum the basic premise should hold. The public space of the web is another place to offer your expertise and connect with your audience. In doing so in this new context, you may change the way your visitor thinks about their relationship with you.

Maria Mortati said...

Scott, that's a great example of how effective the museum's voice can be in an outreach effort-- beyond their walls. I like the fact that this also gave "a human face" to the company. Though many museums (and corporations) worry that their identities are being diluted, this is proof that if you engage, you can still provide smart and powerful experiences to your public.