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Due to the generation gap between our Gen X predecessors and the influx of us Gen Yers entering the working world, there are many misunderstandings about the value and importance of social media sites. My dad, who is in his late 40s, often rolled his eyes at me for using Facebook; calling it “dumb and pointless.” He’s not singing the same tune now that he has reconnected with the majority of his high school graduating class to help plan their belated 30th reunion/collective 50th birthday party. Now he wants to know the ins and outs of Facebook, and he always has a list of questions for me so he can learn how to use all of the site’s features effectively.

I do not think my personal scenario is entirely uncommon, and I think that the older generation needs to find a practical application (other than reading status updates and looking at friend’s photos, which the majority of use recent college grads began using Facebook for) in order to understand the value of social media sites. Though it may take a bit of coercing, convincing an institution or museum to use Facebook and Twitter as PR/Marketing tools will have great, measurable results.

Why do I sound so confident? Well, because I’ve experienced it myself. As an intern at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, CT, I worked in many capacities. I pretty much learned how to use a computer around the same time I learned how to talk, so I am very versatile when it comes to technology. Though I was primarily working as a curatorial intern for the American Painting department, I was asked to help create the Wadsworth’s Facebook “fan page.”

I did a bit of googling and quickly found instructions on how to sign up the museum for a fan page. I had the page created in about five minutes tops. Once created, my next job was to teach the PR/Marketing assistant how to navigate Facebook. In no time she was able to update the page, add photos, create events, post links, etc. She marketed the monthly event, Phoenix Art After Hours, via the new fan page, and attendance increased drastically at the event.

Just by creating a Facebook fan page, WAMA was able to quickly and easily reach a diverse audience. The ability to share content to a large group of people led to increased awareness (but due to the economy in Hartford not necessarily increased attendance) of subsequent functions. They actually had to turn people away from a free showing of the Disney/Pixar movie UP!, Andrew WK came to perform a concert, and the museum has been getting more sponsorship. With almost 3,000 fans in less than a year, events at the museum and arts/cultural events in the Hartford area are getting great publicity. They’ve also created a Twitter account which has 446 followers.

Even though it may seem as if social media isn’t relevant to non-profit, arts organizations, creating a Facebook fan page or Twitter account can, if nothing else, increase awareness and interest in your institution. For this reason, it is important that future or current Generation Y museum employees familiarize themselves with and learn the importance of social media. If we’re lucky, our predecessors will be willing to listen, learn, and adapt and benefit from the new, “hip” world of social media.