Museum Blogging: Trends in the Italian Scenario

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We have often presented blogging platforms as an important tool for analysis and support to the non-institutional communication of museums and cultural organizations, seen how they are suited to presenting topics that could hardly find a space in the more traditional and institutional communication. We have also stressed, in more than one occasion, how important it is to have an organic and consistent content strategy.

In a mini-series of two posts, we will explore the world of blogging from within the museum, and listen to the voices and the ideas of professionals who are actually running museum blogs. We will start by introducing the world of Italian museum bloggers and will then pass to the international examples. The intention is to emphasize similarities and differences, common trends and unique characteristics which distinguish this important portion of digital communication.

We embarked on the research with these questions in mind: how can a museum manage a blog? which professional figure should handle it? what type of content should it contain? how does the management of a blog fit in the work flow of a museum? and – ultimately – is it really worth it to have a blog?

As we couldn’t answer all these questions by ourselves, we consulted two renown Italian ‘archaeobloggers’, Marina Lo Blundo and Francesco Ripanti, in charge of managing two of the most active and outstanding museum blogs on the Italian scenario. Marina currently manages two blogs, one for the Archaeological Museum of Venice and one for the Archaeological Superintendency of Tuscany, while Francesco contributed to the birth and the flourishing of the blog for the Archaeological Museum of Marche.

A: What is your academic background and how did you come to be a museum blogger?

M: I’m an archaeologist, and I have opened my own (and first) blog, Generation of Archaeologists, in 2008. It was by working in this virtual space that I developed a keen interest in the topic of blogging, especially in the field of archaeology and museums.

A few years later, I secured a job as a surveillance assistant in the Archaeological Museum of Florence, and when I started working there an idea popped to my mind: if the mission of museums is that of communicating, then museums should have blogs!

In June 2012, the idea that museums could – should – have a blog became reality after a meeting with the Director of the National Archaeological Museum of Venice, who was eager to launch a blog for the museum and make it a space to express the identity of the institution. That’s how it all started.

A few months later, I gathered my courage and proposed to the Superintendent of the Archaeological Heritage of Tuscany to start a blog for the National Archaeological Museum of Florence. She thought the idea was such a good one that she wanted to widen it and include the entire Superintendency in it. That’s how ArcheoToscana was born.

F: My career in the field of archaeology has trespassed into that of communication from my very first archaeological campaigns at Vignale, where I started shooting videos to ‘narrate’ the excavation.

My close relationship with the National Archaeological Museum of Marche was prompted instead by an internship I carried on there while a student at the School of Specialization in Archaeology. The first encounter was very good, I immediately perceived the museum as an active space – an environment which would positively welcome new ideas.

Having a growing passion for communication, I therefore suggested to the Head of Education, Nicoletta Frapiccini, to start a blog and use it to tell the audience about our life at the museum.

I won her over, but she did ask me how the blog could continue on once my internship was over.

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Owen W Brown – Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0

A: So the first issue is already clear: the sustainability of a blog.

Marina, we can say that – compared to Francesco – you hold a “privileged” position. Do you think that, had you not been hired as a surveillance assistant, you could be playing the same role?
Francesco, how do you plan to handle the issue considering that your internship is over?

M: As for the blog for the National Archaeological Museum of Venice, either way it would have worked: when I was asked to open the blog, the Director didn’t know that I was an employee in a museum (let alone of an archaeological one). The blog of the Superintendency of Tuscany is another matter: I don’t think I would have been given the opportunity if I was coming from “outside”.

F: I do have a plan, and I think the only possible solution would be to have other interns holding my same position at the museum writing the posts, while I could carry on managing the practical details of the blog (post insertion etc.).

And  I myself continue to narrate the museum every time I take part in one of the various events of the museum, and I invite each and every trainee I see in the library of the Superintendency to write a post. Sometimes I do wonder for how long and to what level I will be able to keep on with this activity, or if it is right to continue it at all (because – in fact – I am still doing it).

A: What type of contents are posted on the blog that you manage?

M: The blog for the National Archaeological Museum of Venice – covering a single institution – hosts in-depths about the collection and / or artworks, as well as exhibitions and events, giving from time to time more informative or more documentary facts. Some posts recount the activities that take place “behind the scenes“, like the movement of a statue for a loan to an exhibition, which can turn into an opportunity to talk about the artwork as well as rfabout a backstage operation that the audience usually cannot experience nor see.

The blog ArcheoToscana presents insights on all the archaeological sites and institutions of Tuscany. The National Archaeological Museum of Florence holds a privileged position due to the fact that, working there, I can document and share even the smallest initiative, but also because – and this is the real issue – many other colleagues operating on the territory of Tuscany have not yet fully understood the potential of a blog to give visibility to their work.

The contents are mainly news and reports related to events regarding archaeology taking place in the various archaeological institutions of Tuscany, and a category (“It happened today“) in which, at a date or an anniversary, we tell a story about an artwork of the museum collection or an episode about the history of a Tuscan museum.

F: The blog generally refers to events organized or hosted by the institution; the daily life of the museum and its backstage activities (such as the Archeo-touch workshops and the educational activities for schools); in-depths on the collection or some specific object, that we try to link to the current political situation, or historical anniversaries and local events.

The blog also presents the activities and initiatives of the Superintendency when they are closely linked to the museum, such as temporary exhibitions, study days, scholarly meetings, theme nights, or news about Palazzo Ferretti and the activities of the conservation lab.

James Royal-Lawson - Flickr - CC BY-SA 2.0

James Royal-Lawson – Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0

A:  We are aware of the fact that numbers are not everything, but just to get a general idea: what feedback usually has this type of content?

M: For both the blogs I manage I can say that the audience response could be improved.

The blog for the National Museum in Venice does not record many daily visitors, but that could also be due to the fact that it hasn’t been updated regularly or very often, lately. Where we are lacking is in the use of the comment tool by the public: very few readers leave thoughts or ideas. This should be improved, as it should on the social platforms of the museums, where interaction is similarly wanting.

If we look at ArcheoToscana, the situation does not change much: we have more daily visits (on average, 50 unique visitors per day), and a higher number of subscribers, but again – very few comments.

An example of a successful initiative: this summer we launched on Twitter the hashtags #archeoacquario and #archeofarm, a very simple thing that was very appreciated by other museums, followers and readers.

F: The numbers may not be stratospheric (the average is about 700 visits per month), seen that the blog is aperiodic, and – for that reason – I would not keep them as the primary reference for making a judgment.

It seems to me that a significant number of those who participate actively in the life of the museum refer to the blog for insights or engaging anecdotes.

The most-viewed posts have been the one on the inauguration of a thematic room on Roman Ancona, and another on the Archeo-garden project done for the Amphitheatre of Ancona. They are the two most in-depth posts published so far, out of a total of 58.

A: In your opinion, why do you think a museum should have a blog? And most importantly, is the effort well spent?

M: A museum should have a blog to tell stories to the audience and unveil things about itself, to display a dynamic and lively image, to show that it is not a stuffy place where treasures and obscure objects are preserved – on the contrary, to show that it is an open place willing to open up even more. However, the blog alone is not enough, it needs a whole social strategy functioning around it and helping it promote and communicate the museum.

And keep in mind, “genuine callers only”: you don’t become a museum blogger overnight, it is a job, and a job that requires not only a good mastery of grammar and syntax, and a nice writing style, but – more importantly – a real knowledge: on archaeology, art, museology, and the museum you are writing for.

The effort is substantial, that much is true. I can only recommend it and say that yes, it is worth it, and you get paid back when your blog or social platforms are successful.

And sure, you would also have to convince the museum Director that a blog is a good investment towards a better communication and an effective promotion of the institution.

F: Giving that I’m still managing the museum blog despite having completed my internship months ago,  I’m genuinely convinced that every museum should have a blog as a space to tell its story, and welcome comments and suggestions from the readers.

If this effort results in making a difference in the life of a group of people – no matter how numerous – then it is an effort well spent. I strongly believe that, on the long run, these people develop a true sense of belonging to the museum.

Last March, on the occasion of the celebratory post for the first year of life of the blog, Dr Frappicini and I gave a comprehensive look at what has been done up to that moment, and all the meetings, the workshops, the events organized by the museum have resurfaced. And I think this variety, which is the very life and  the motivation behind the museum, gets to the readers as well and it is worth to tell it to keep it in our memories.

A:

We are certainly dealing with a high potential for communication that needs constant care and commitment, in addition to a solid scholarly background. The involvement of curators, museum techs and conservators is essential and would add an extra value to any blog, as well as extra engagement of the audience.

But what does the audience of #svegliamuseo think about it? What limits and what opportunities do you see in using a blog for cultural institutions? Could it be a useful resource?

Aaron Davis - Flickr - CC BY-SA 2.0

Aaron Davis – Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0

Image source

Translated by @Alex_OLove and @RoryInLA