Digital Culture NYC: Breaking Down the Walls at MoMA

Amanda Bird is Brand Manager at 360i. You can follow her on Twitter at oiseau678.

I was really looking forward to last night’s event at MoMA and the panelists did not disappoint. As a hard core public radio listener and an art lover and with memberships to most of the major museums on the panel, I was excited to hear first-hand from those who are helping me and other art/music/literature/knowledge lovers connect with the inspirational content coming from these world-renowned institutions. The panel was moderated by Tina Roth Eisenberg of www.swiss-miss.com and featured panelists included:

  • Karen Karp, The Metropolitan Opera
  • Victor Samra, The Museum of Modern Art
  • Benjamen Walker, WNYC Radio
  • Shelley Bernstein, Brooklyn Museum
  • Josh Greenberg, New York Public Library
  • Amanda McCormick, Film Society of Lincoln Center

The first half of the session focused on learning more about each institution’s forays into social media. Some of the programs I was already familiar with (if you don’t follow @brooklynmuseum, I highly recommend you do!), while others were new to me. There were six panelists so for the sake of brevity, I’ll just provide a few of my own personal highlights from what I learned about their current efforts in social media:

  • MoMA on Facebook and Flickr – MoMA’s social media presence is not limited to just these two channels, but their Facebook and Flickr presence stood out to me because they both revealed an important lesson – if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em (or have them join you!).Victor recounted his story about getting MoMA on Facebook. Before setting it up a few years ago, MoMA had previously wondered “Why should we do it just because everyone else is on Facebook?” Once convinced it would be a worthwhile effort, they set up a Facebook page only to discover shortly thereafter that a MoMA page already existed on Facebook…and had roughly 12,000 fans. Turns out that while MoMA was debating whether it’d be worthwhile, fans of the museum answered that question for them, devoting time and effort into setting up a page themselves. So in the beginning, the official MoMA Fan page was competing for traffic and fans with the older, more established Fan page. Victor got in touch with the admin of the original fan page (a college freshman without much free time on his hands) and was granted admin rights to control and add content. Later he worked with Facebook to combine the two pages seamlessly, resulting in a page that currently has over 240,000 fans, including yours truly.Similarly, fans were already contributing content about their experiences with or at the museum on Flickr. MoMA has established a Flickr group where people can contribute their photos from visits to MoMA directly to the group and draws from these to find images to feature on its own Web site.
  • The Brooklyn Museum on Building Community – “Community” was a prevalent theme during the panel. Who is the community you’re trying to engage? Accordingly to Shelley, for the Brooklyn Museum they are focused on building a community around the people who are physically local to the institution (aka Brooklynites). For MoMA, their community is lovers of design, photography and modern art globally. To build up your presence in and among the community you have to both listen and proactively participate in the dialogue regularly – dialogue means both responding to your community and providing valuable information to them. Shelley pointed out that having a sustained conversation with your community does not translate to a 9-5 M-F job – she tweets on weekends, in the early morning, late nights – as often as she can in order to quickly and readily answer the community’s questions or put out the insights that they crave from @brooklynmuseum. In addition, the tweets are always from a “person,” such as Shelley herself or one of her colleagues and they make clear that there is a person with a unique POV behind their tweets.
  • The New York Public Library on their Blog – The New York Public Library recently relaunched their site, which they chose to build in Drupal to more effectively aggregate and link their various content sources across their site architecture, according to Josh. He mentions that only 5% of their site visitors are going to the blog, yet those that do are spending twice the amount of time on the site. To keep folks engaged when visiting nypl.org, they’re getting some serious new blogging efforts off the ground. Josh’s goal is to have all of their staff trained and contributing content to their various blogs. No small feat for an institution with hundreds of staffers.
Shelley Bernstein, Josh Greenberg and Amanda McCormick (from right to left) discuss how they’re using social media to connect people with their institutions.

These are just some of the highlights and there were valuable insights from all involved. I’d recommend visiting or participating with any of these institutions and, of course, they’re all on Twitter at @NYPL @WNYC @filmlinc @brooklynmuseum @MuseumModernArt and @MetOpera respectively.

Leave Your Smartphones at the Door: Humanizing Social Media with IDEO

Amanda Bird is Brand Manager at 360i. You can follow her on Twitter @oiseau678.

This post was co-authored by Mae Karwowski, Community Engagement Specialist at 360i. You can follow her @maekar_wow_ski

IDEO is a self-described global design consultancy that uses human interaction as inspiration for their designs. They’ve designed everything from seating configuration concepts for Chrysler to folding tables for Akira to a transcutaneous immunization delivery method for Intercell. And for Social Media Week they hosted an event designed to bring the “human” back to social media. The description for the event, with its claim that communication via technology has had “the effect of sterilizing human communication and leading to social media offerings that can be shallow,” provided little insight into the type of experience we were about to have. But we were intrigued…

Upon first arriving to IDEO’s Soho office, attendees were required to check their coats and relinquish all non-analog devices in order to fully appreciate the experience without the pull of the outside world (but seriously, no @ing or txting for 2 hours!?!?).

Scattered about on a table were several hundred brightly colored buttons marked with various words and phrases – ‘nerd,’ ‘brooklyn,’ ‘us weekly reader,’ ‘artisanal cheese.’ We were instructed to choose four buttons and given a white shirt to wear for our newly gathered ‘pieces of flare.’ As if the white t-shirt uniform and buttons weren’t enough to get the 70 or so of us interacting, IDEO provided a delicious food spread and open bar as an added social lubricant.

For forty minutes we mingled and noshed only to start wondering if perhaps this was the great social experiment. Finally our hosts took the mic and let us in on the real experiment for the evening – do pretty much we we’d been doing (mingling, asking about each other’s button selections) but with an added twist. A few blank buttons and sharpies were thrown into the mix so that we could all make custom buttons and pin them on the backs of the folks we’d just met.

In just 60 seconds, you could meet someone and “tag” them with a label you felt was befitting. A bit nerve wracking, but that just made it all the more fun. The buttons worked naturally into conversations, eliminating the need to blindly seek common ground with a total stranger and accelerating the dialogue.

Image via PSFK

At the end of the night, we spoke about how it felt to be untethered from our electronic communication devices, yet tethered to this group of people and only a few buttons for self-identification and definition. Perhaps most enlightening was the way the event facilitated a brainstorm process. We’re always seeking new ways to spur group dynamics, creativity and the ideation process. In trying to translate the mores of one form of communication into another (in this case social media’s “rules” into a real-world cocktail party), we began to more deeply question our inhabited assumptions about the way social media “should” function. Are tags and bite-size descriptors opening us up to build deeper relationships – or are they allowing us to feel as if we’re connecting, even if all we’re doing is acknowledging similarities?

This same brainstorm activity might be applied to any challenge. Its effectiveness lies in forcing us to rethink and even question the success of our current approach.

All in all, the event was enjoyable, and it didn’t feel that weird or unfamiliar, except maybe for the phantom blackberry syndrome we kept experiencing. At the end of the night we all gathered up our belongings and (not surprisingly) whipped out our mobile devices to tweet, text and email about the experience we’d just had.

For more takes on the IDEO event, check out @kylecameron’s post over at psfk.com.