A Smart Guide To Twitter: Do’s & Don’ts For The Social Museum

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Ever wondered what are the tricks to use Twitter in a professional way? What a museum should know before writing the notorious 140 characters for the first time? Or the most common mistakes that could be avoided?

To answer these questions, Francesca and Valeria have collected different resources (workshops they recently attended, professional experiences, as well as tips discovered on the web) and have put them together to create the following Top Twenty of Do’s and Don’ts for Museums and museum professionals. A small/smart guide to improve everyone’s presence on this social platform. 

DO’S

  1. Hello, my name is @…

The first important decision you will be faced with when opening a Twitter account, is your Twitter handle. It is vital to pick a name that is recognizable, clear and self-explanatory, as your Twitter handle will not only be representing you on this platform, but it will also appear in every Google search.

If you are using Twitter as a professional, it is better to pick a handle connected to your name: thus, yes to @DarrenMilligan, no to @ThePorden or @mapnoterritory.

     2. Looks matter

On Twitter, the profile picture has a significant impact: it is the thing that characterizes you and sets you apart in the constant flow of tweets, the crowd that appears on the live feed of every user.

A Museum shoul pick an image that can be easily connected with the institution and that is noticeable, regardless of the (small) size. The right choice is often the simplest one – that is, the Museum icon, especially if there is a particular branding operation around it.

Considering how Twitter is the perfect platform for engaging in conversations with other professionals around a given topic, thus for creating a network, it is important to always be recognizable. Imagine being at a conference with people you have only been conversing with on Twitter – now image that the whole time you had been talking with them disguised as your dog in your profile picture. Exactly! Hard to spot you in a crowd made of ‘real’ people.

On the same line – it would be even better, when using social platforms for professional reasons, to have the same profile picture set on each different channel. Make yourself unforgettable!

  1. Follow others to keep yourself updated

The people and the institutions you follow are your best resource to the topics you care most about. As one of the basic principles of Twitter is the follow back, a good way to start is to find other accounts to follow and interact with.

Agreed, but where should I start? First of all, accounts of Museums and cultural institutions, starting from those that you know work in your same field, continuing with those that you know are doing a great job on Twitter and from which you know you could be inspired. Besides, follow online magazines that are related to culture/your main area of interest, as well as influencers and professionals in the field.

But how do I find them? Using hashtags (see point 5) and the button “Following” you will find on the profile page of each user. Looking for inspiration from people who have been using Twitter for longer than you is the smartest way to starting.

  1. Use the lists and don’t miss a tweet

When the number of accounts your are following becomes significant, it might look like your news feed is getting too crowded. This is when the Lists handle comes in-handy, allowing you to isolate and filter those users you wish to follow more than others – this way, you won’t miss a tweet from them no more!

The number of lists you can create is limitless, and you can choose whether you want them to be public or private. In the former case, other users will be able to see your lists and subscribe to them.

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  1. Use hashtags to find content and people

Hashtags  highlight key words in a tweet and sort the content in the Twitter universe by creating indexes. They are labels that allow your tweets to be traceable even by users who might not be following you and thus don’t see your updates coming up in their news feed. As a consequence, they are a tool that allows to search for new accounts to follow and conversations you can join in (eg. try typing #museums and see what people are saying on this topic right now). Hashtags are also the only way to conduct thematic searches on this platform (eg. #Tintoretto, #middleage, #contemporaryart).

Some hashtags might be more relevant than others, and you should find those grouping together professionals and informations in the field you are interested in. As far as the topic “Digital and Museums” goes, some of the “must follow” hashtags are: #museweb (museums and the web), #musesocial (museums and social media), #musetech (museums and technology, in a very broad sense), #mtogo (museums and mobile technologies), #openglam (opendata in the cultural field).

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  1. Take part in conversations

As we just said, hashtags allow users to track conversations on different topics. Twitter is about that: conversations, and there is no better way to create relations than participate into conversations that interest us.

If there are two users talking about #Warhol, and your Museum has one in its collection; if there is the live tweeting of a conference on #socialmedia, and you wish for more information; if a user asks what kind of exhibitions are there to be seen in #Milan: these are all good opportunities for you to step up and start a conversation.

Twitter is about interacting with real people – on both sides of the screen, not static institutions posting only their own generated content.

  1. Share what you do… and more!

Twitter is a suitable channel to share the activities of the Museum with a large number of users. However, it is important to vary your content: space out the ones  strictly about what you are doing at your Museum with other – more generic- news you think your followers might be interested in. For example, a Science Museum can also tweet about discoveries, researches or initiatives going on in a specific field, while an Archaeology Museum could focus on the history of an historical figure from the past, adding links or pictures to the narration.

There are tons of ways through which you can enhance the engagement level of your tweets: from the creation of quizzes to the use of images from the collection to refer to contemporary events – the key to success is always to be creative.

A little side note on retweets: it is important to always check the sources and the news you are about to retweet. And don’t forget that you can alternate “retweets” with “quote tweets”,  which allow you to add a personal comment.

  1. Thank, Reply, Retweet

The “netiquette” is very important on Twitter. It is usually advisable to thank users who mention us, reply to questions – direct or indirect -, as well as to retweet the contents that are related to us and that we consider relevant.

  1. Give updates to your followers during an event

“Live tweet”, aka, spread in real time via Twitter comments, quotes and key concepts from any event you are attending. It is an activity that is typically connected to conferences and conventions, but who said that you can’t tweet live from a workshop in your galleries, an event open to the public, the broadcast of a television program that covers topics related to the activity of the Museum, and so on?

Why do it? Because an accurate report of an event that not many other people are attending will allow you to increase the number of followers, and to gain credit and visibility in the industry in which you operate, either from users who read your tweets “from home” as well as those participating to the event.

The rules for a successful live tweeting are few and simple: value your tweets, uploading to the platform only those concepts you find truly interesting; dont’ forget to include the official hashtag for the event you are taking part in, and to mention the account of the speaker you happen to be quoting; be effective and do not over-tweet (the risk of being perceived as spam by your followers is always around the corner).

  1. Stay under 140

140 characters feel like such a limited amount of space that sometimes it truly seems impossible to say all the things you want to say in such a limited amount of space… Guess what! You should write even less! One of the reasons to do it is the “quote tweet” (see above). Without being a golden rule, this is definitely something you may want to keep in mind when deciding to fill all the space you have in.

Besides, research shows the ideal tweet should have a length of between 70 and 100 characters.

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DON’TS

  1. Don’t forget that the “bio” is a business card in 160 characters

The “bio” needs to tell who we are. For a Museum, this means identifying the type, the place, and convening in a few words all the reasons why the Museum is GREAT! Don’t use the space to tell people that you are on other channels. Rather, mention the website: this way, you are not only providing a useful information tool for your audience but your are securing traffic on your main platform.

As for personal Twitter accounts, the bio should specify  your main interests, so that your potential followers know straight away what to expect.  A bio that is not clear or incomplete can be a deterrent to those same followers, unsure of what they would find in their live feed if they decide to follow you. Most of the times, they just don’t.

Furthermore, if we want to identify ourselves as “professionals working in a specific Museum”, it is important to add a disclaimer, in which we point out that what we tweet about does not reflect the institution: tweets are your own!. This way, you can avoid issues related to branding perceptions and misunderstandings.

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  1. Don’t automatically re-post from other channels

Each platform has its own specificity and its own rules. Even when the content of the message is the same, we should try to elaborate and tailor it for the platform that we are using.

For example, a post to communicate an opening should have a certain structure, suitable for Twitter: a question, an image, a catchy phrasing. If we skip this step, the likelihood that our tweets will disappear in the “Twitter river” rise dramatically. Let alone the frustration of seeing tweets that are cut with “dot dot dot”.

  1. One thing is having a friendly tone, another is acting like next-door neighbours

We have been talking a lot about how social media allow for a more friendly tone of voice: less authoritarian, more informal. This doesn’t mean, though, that you should use your institutional account as it was your personal megaphone. It is not: a Twitter account still mirrors the institution. Always be polite, reply to all comments, say thank you and even make jokes sometimes – this  is all positive. However, avoid discussions – especially if negative – in which you state personal opinions that have nothing to do with the Museum. It is a lack of professionalism, that, ultimately, doesn’t damage yourself, but mostly the Museum you speak for.

  1. 140 characters: don’t ramble

Twitter is a micro-blogging platform. Don’t forget it. Content needs to be appropriate to the platform, so let’s try to respect this and avoid dividing the tweets in more than one to make long concepts fit. 

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  1. Don’t tweet any content that is irrelevant, unintelligible or out of context

We are bombarded with messages on a daily basis. In this scenario, conquering the attention of your public (actual and potential) is not an easy task. Although “good morning” and “good evening” are common acts of politeness, they don’t leave a mark in the Twitter world. If you use them, try and associate them with actual content. A picture, a question, a piece of information, a quiz, a contest. Same thing applies to tweets that are unclear or without a real structure. A tweet should add something to the interpretation of an object, not copy its label.

Why should a user become more interested in a painting, an antique clock, a mythological creature, if the content we associate to these objects is the same that he/she can find when standing in front of the authentic one in your galleries? Sometimes this kind of information barely makes sense already (with its weird accession numbers, dates and words that alone don’t engage with the viewer).

To elaborate contents that are suitable in both form and concept is fundamental if we want our followers to be (and stay) interested. Make it stand from the daily digital life. If you don’t do this, whomever looks at our tweets once without getting a hang of what you are saying, won’t commit the same mistake twice. All in all, would you even talk with somebody whom you don’t understand?

  1. Don’t spam. No, seriously, don’t

Use mentions and tags with a logic. To mention an influencer just because we want to get his/her attention towards our content does not bring any benefit – on the contrary, it “infests” our channel with @s and empty content.

Mentions can be used to add credit to a message. To give an example: whenever we post an article or quote somebody, we should always mention the author or the context – mention the curator if you are live tweeting from a conference or a talk he/she is giving. To use mentions to bring someone’s attention on a topic is not wrong on principle, but you shouldn’t abuse it, that’s all. Your tweet needs to be interesting and comprehensible for the person or the institution you are mentionign. Although Twitter is a platform characterized by immediacy and fast pace, people won’t take you seriously if you keep mentioning them regarding stuff which doesn’t make any sense to them. They will end up ignoring you regardless the message (even when it counts).

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  1. Hashtags: keep it simple

Hashtags are relevant keywords that serve to categorize tweets and help them show more easily in Twitter Search. If you need to come up with an hashtag to promote an exhibition or a program at your Museum, try not to make it too long or complicated. For example, #cupforfunds from Palazzo Madama was short and easy to remember, while something like #Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious is impossible to write and  to find, while eating up all your space for more relevant text.

If you use an hashtag with the intent of aligning with a theme, try to understand which are the most used, thus maximizing the possibility for your content to be tracked. To use an hashtag connected to an important and well-known event – such as #worldcup – could be useful. However, the content that we tweet should be actually connected to the theme of the hashtag, otherwise we are just going back to point 3.

Once again, don’t misuse the hashtags: #we #know #that #is #not #necessary #to #tell #you #why

Last but not least, try placing the hashtags only at the end of your tweets, and avoid using them, if possible, in the phrase.

  1. Frequency counts: don’t overtweet and don’t disappear

Twitter is ephemeral: everything we write, disappears immediately, buried under the pile of our newest tweets. On the other hand, our profile is static and all the tweets remain there for people to read. Avoid scheduling identical tweets and sending them multiple times a day: diversify your language and the images you use.

Tweet the hell out of something is also wrong (see point 3). Try to structure quality content and to spread it throughout the day. If you’d rather not plan your tweets and prefer improvising, it is better to uniform the frequency with which you tweet to avoid days of complete silence.

  1. Don’t trick your followers into the “follow/unfollow” dynamic

Among the companies that use Twitter, a relatively common practice to gather followers is to randomly follow many users to gain their follow back, and then stop following them. Sometimes, this is even an automatic process, made through the use of dedicated softwares executing the process of follow/unfollow everyday. The motivation of a user to follow a certain Museum is very different from the one that applies to a commercial brand. Thus, museum followers should come from a work of research and “affection” rather than from a dynamic that ultimately results in something empty. If it is engagement that you want, than gathering inanimated followers shouldn’t be your primary goal, right?

By the same token, don’t ask to be followed by offering meaningless incentives. To post an image saying “Follow us” is far less effective than starting a campaign offering special programs or activities, as well as discounts at the bookstore for the new followers or for those who share their experience at your Museum on their wall. Recruiting followers is a long process, work around that is not an option.

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  1. Don’t use Twitter if it’s not the right tool for you

Twitter is a committment, a job. It is one of those jobs dealing with the communication of the core values of your Institution. Thus, to manage it in a bad way, or use it because it is what “everybody else is doing”, is wrong.

Let’s be honest: in a context characterized by serious lack of resources, we can’t decide to be in a place “just because”. Do you wish to make use of the resources you have to score some useful results? We are sure you do. But if you don’t, than there is no easy way to say it: if you don’t have any suitable content, if you don’t know how to use the platform, if your audience is not even there, skip Twitter and do something else. Social media are not just “a nice thing to have”, but instead they are an integrated part of other meaningful facets of an Institution, such as Education and Conservation. Once you get this, you will be able to start working on your concepts and content.

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Can you think of other Dos and Don’ts for this social network? You don’t agree with what’s on this list and want to tell us why? Use the comments below!