#MuseumWeek: pros & cons from the point of view of Italian professionals

As all the fans of digital and museums know, the 2015 edition of #MuseumWeek , the event “of the museums on Twitter” par excellence has just ended. From March 23th to 29th, cultural institutions around the world participated in large numbers and with an even greater number of tweets and interactions (according to statistics released by the organizers, 180,105 original tweets has been sent, with more than 423,000 retweets).

From architecture to souvenirs, from selfies to behind the scenes, through the activities reserved to the families and to the highlights of the collection, the seven themes chosen for this edition haven’t forgotten anything, providing rich opportunities to museums to share content of different types – and most importantly – create a unique opportunity for interaction between cultural organizations, users, visitors and other institutions.

The #svegliamuseo Twitter account has been strangely silent this year, but this does not mean that we have not experienced the MuseumWeek very closely, since Francesca managed the GAM Torino and Palazzo Madama accounts, while Valeria supported the activities of the National Museum of Science and Technology.

Now we would like to share some impressions of this incredible week in which more than 2,800 museums from around the world (259 in Italy only!) participated. We would like to analyze both the positives things and the concerns that have emerged.

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MuseumWeek is, beyond the enthusiasm, a tremendous effort. The editorial work and content research for a similar event is huge, requires a significant investment of time and resources and involves many people. In addition, the scale of participation generated a unique opportunity for discussion and exchange between institutions, but also has increased dramatically the number of tweets to be monitored for the creation of real opportunities of dialogue (we are talking about dozens of tweets per second, as evidenced by this video). As a consequence, the risk of being self-referring, or to limit the interaction to the “regular circle” of museums has been always present. This caused losing valuable opportunities to get in touch with new realities. In fact, since a huge amount of data were shared simultaneously, sometimes good quality content got lost in the river, while tweets and retweets with numerous mentions prevailed.

Many institutions have studied the themes of the week and presented the museum collections in a different light, trying to be creative but also relevant and consistent. For many others, MuseumWeek has been an opportunity to interact with others, not necessarily paying attention to the quality of the messages. The analytics that the organizers have provided look at the numbers, including retweets and replies, but lack an analysis to the type of content (eg. Photo / video VS pure text and list of mention). In this sense, the impression has been always the one of a room where everyone says everything at the same time.

We have asked to a few Italian museum professionals to share their ideas and opinion on the MuseumWeek with us.

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Silvio Salvo, Director of communications of Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, ” to participate in the MuseumWeek is a little like taking part to the Sanremo Festival: a lot of visibility in a single week . However, the feeling (probably wrong?) that the audience is exclusively made by the community of practitioners remains. As if the Italian song festival was watched only by the music industry. Anyway museums have shown great creativity and ability to create synergy . The Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaundengo tried to intercept  new audiences: the ones that hearing the word ‘ museum ‘ have a nervous breakdown.”

Luca Melchionna, digital communication and digital strategy consultant, “The best thing about the MuseumWeek is that is a democratic event. It does not count if your museum has been on Twitter for six years or six days, it counts how good you are at making heritage accessible: a topic that directly relates to the mission of the institution, not ‘marketing’. Events as such make it easier or those museums who would otherwise be a bit ‘intimidated’ to join, to take the plunge and  give it a try.

What does not work for me is the overdose of information. It is true that there are tools that can aggregate and make sense of this data stream, but the experience does remain the data stream, eventually. With its load of euphoria and lack of communication. We need better tools for synthesis and interpretation and until we have them, those who stay out of the debate look at this euphoria as a symptom of toxicity. And this is a great pity. ”

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 Carlotta Margarone, in charge of the communication of the Fondazione Torino Musei share the same critical approach: “I think we should question the goals of this initiative. Promotion of heritage and networking among institutions are, or should be, at the base of any social media strategy, and MuseumWeek is a good opportunity to increase both. However, looking at the data, that amplify those already analyzed last year by La Magnetica, the difference between tweets and retweet is almost four times: 180 105 tweets sent, against 423 454 retweets. So I wonder: what degree of quality we actually released as a global community of museums? How many users actually participate on an informed basis, and not just by clicking on the button RT?

The mood of MuseumWeek is playful and ironic (and in fact many exchanges are jokes among colleagues). But if this approach, together with the ubiquitous  “Good morning! And good afternoon, good evening and good night!”, becomes the only one, I wonder if you consider this initiative as a good promotional opportunity (in all senses: awareness, more followers, etc).

For the museums of the Fondazione Torino Musei (@gamtorino,  @palazzomadamato,  @borgomedievalet ,  @maotorino  + @fondotmusei), as I think for all museums, the commitment of staff time was enormous. Therefore I think we should consider an analysis of the cost / benefit, focusing our analysis on what were the most successful content and develop them beyond this event. ”

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For Elisa Tessaro, responsible of web communications of the MUSE in Trent, “participate in an event like this, if you want to do it well and  professionally, is not simple at all. The MuseumWeek is a test in many ways. It is a powerful thermometer that defines the degree of involvement and participation of all the staff in the “digital life” of the museum. It defines relationships, creates synergies, highlights research, production and skills that sometimes, in the daily activity of the museum, can’t emerge.  The MuseumWeek is a moment of growth for an institution that decides to engage in the development of their online communication. At the same time is a unique opportunity to investigate the status of the Italian and international museum communication and to observe the choices of the other museums, both large and small.

What can we ask? What resources are involved? How to do it effectively? An event of this kind can not

be improvised.

You need to go deeper and create an actual editorial plan, asking the right questions. What reactions do I want to provoke? What topics do I want to emphasize? Should we focus on the institution, or give the floor to the public? What tone of voice do I want to have? We must then select and give meaning to content, strategize the material, construct a narrative that has meaning and reflect on the integration between online and offline.”

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“Once again, the experience of the #MuseumWeek has been very positive,” continues Paolo Cavallotti, Head of Internet and Interactive Media at the Museum of Science and Technology Leonardo da Vinci in Milan. “First, because we have all been “forced” to “get out there and play”. In Italy especially, networking is a challenge as museums focus on their projects without investing enough effort in creating connections with other museums. Surely the MuseumWeek helped in facilitating this, although the connections we have generated may not turn into more concrete actions. Another positive aspect is the fact that the rise of social communication has finally pushed many Italian museums to invest in new resources, young people. I have seen many Italian museums speak a new language and have new energy.

On the downside, the self-referential aspect of the MuseumWeek remains very strong: it seems that many of the museums that participated into the event were the ones that also consumed it. I am under the impression that museums ended up being too excited about talking to each others, ending up talking only to each others. This may have hindered the accessibility to the vast amount of tweets that were shared.”

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“How was MuseumWeek on Twitter? This is a common question these days among practitioners. The answer – according to Prisca Cupellini, Digital Communications Curator del MAXXI di Roma  – is not so simple. Large numbers? Yes. New followers? A Lot. It has also created a good synergy with several museums, both Italian and foreign. So what? So, I wonder if museums have managed to maintain an high quality of the product? Or did things got out of hand because of the overproduction? Did visitors really interacted and enjoyed what was proposed to them? Did they really grasped the preciousness of the many unpublished content? In the flow of tweets, what was it missing? There is no doubt that the MuseumWeek is a great opportunity for the promotion and communication of the museums and it is significant and interesting that it was Twitter itself to support it. This demonstrated an attention to the world of culture that is quite rare these days. But then, for many of us who invested on this type of communication, every day is a small MuseumWeek, or not? ”

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“The MuseumWeek is certainly an important moment, even if we just look at how active museums become on Twitter” says Maria Elena Colombo, communications manager for Museo Diocesano di Milano. “After the initial enthusiasm, I stopped to think and ask myself why participate, what is the ultimate goal? My answer, which I am still convinced about, is the possibility to tell a story through a channel that may not be told otherwise. I really like this aspect, the fact that we can engage more closely, more informally, those who follow the daily efforts of our institutions.

As much as on any other channel, we have to ask ourselves what do we want to tell, select the things we want to say. To use the mean merely as a mean, or just to accumulate numbers that have an international vibe, is probably not the right goal. I recently had the chance to listen to a talk by Sebastian Chan. He has used very often the word “context”. That’s it! I would like MuseumWeek participants to be aware of contexts, their own specific ones, different and with their own details. A context as such won’t show up on the infographics of this past week. We have to look at measures between substance and shape, lightness and consistency. We’ll try again next year. We look forward to that, maybe without cats.”

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Clementina Rizzi, who curates the communication of the contemporary and modern art museums unit of the milanese municipality, told us: “Happy happy. reads the title of a collection of short stories by Yasmina Reza about love relationships, those which seem perfect but in just such a detail to detect their implacable fragility. To me, this is what the relationship between museums and digital tools sometimes look like, even more when they stand in the forefront of an event such as the Museumweek.

But it actually is happy, happy., This time. Although it is true that Italian museums have “woken up” recently regarding digital communication, on social channels in particular, it is also true that they rushed into it. Many factors, not all positive, have contributed to this, allowing them to act as a real “ram” against boredom and stasis. On a personal more than professional basis, to me the Museumweek has the great honor to entertain. The Museumweek as a game of “Olly olly oxen free”: for all those who work in museums and still can not understand that in just 140 characters you can tell about your field; an Olly olly oxen free of the many museums that have interacted in real time, a result not imaginable in other contexts; an Olly olly oxen free for all users who have reinterpreted in their own way and in their world what you do, what you say and what you are.

For professional bias the Museumweek is, in my opinion, an opportunity to understand how important it is to know more about digital communication and how to use these events to make an analysis of what is missing. I do not like numbers, although they are essential to understand the scope of these initiatives and their impact for each institution, but I find it even more important that these experiences can return and produce fun and involvement. I’m sure that for many of us the week before and during the Museumweek was a sort of an endurance test. Maybe the risk of a scattered result was there, but I liked the spontaneity and at the same time the process of construction of an institutional image that each museum has been able to build. ”

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Musei in Comune Roma are completely satisfied” said Silvia Bendinelli, their spokeswoman. “One of the goals for this year was to have “digital” becoming “real”, bringing our followers (old and new) to the museum. To this end, we tried to open the #MuseumWeek also to off-line, organizing free and exclusive guided tours (Monday for #secretsMW to Trajan’s Market and over the weekend at the Museo Carlo Bilotti). We have also offered – on Tuesday for #sovenirsMW – a discount of 10% on purchases in our bookshop. With pleasure, some of these activities have been taken up by other museums.

The #MW was an opportunity to open up to new audiences, taking advantage of the visibility that it offered us: we created multilingual interactions with museums around the world, we have participated in various battles (the stairs during #architetectureMV, feet and roofs #inspirationMW) and involved people from different fields (see the exchange with the French musician Woodkid on Thursday for #inspirationMW) that have become our new followers.”

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And what about you, what do you think about MuseumWeek? What have you enjoyed most and what you think could be improved for the next edition? Write us a comment, a tweet or a Facebook post in the group: we try to keep the discussion going and continue networking just as the MuseumWeek thaught us 🙂