Twitter for Museum Professionals

This blog is an edited transcript from a talk I gave at the Museums Association: Moving on Up Conference, held in February at the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh. 

A Twitter account for a museum is, in my eyes an unofficial membership list, where fans of your museum follow you and engage with you. It is an engagement tool. With the right voice behind it, you can be massively successful in telling all the stories of institution that you work in. I manage the social media accounts for Surgeons’ Hall Museums and all content that is put up online highlights our collections, tells the stories of the individuals that changed the medical world and shares knowledge.

At Surgeons’ Hall, we engage with our audiences by highlighting facts, sharing information about the history of medicine. As many of you know, individuals use Twitter to share thoughts, comment on current events, share the odd selfie or/and to promote themselves as their own personal brand. With my own “professional twitter account” I use it to share Museumy things I like, shamefully RT content I have created on another account I run, tweet about exhibitions I’ve seen or Museums I have been to, and network with other museum individuals.

To me the professional twitter account is the business card for the modern day. By having an account where you discuss museums and other interests and perhaps work you do, have done or are going to do, you give other an insight into your professional life whilst promoting yourself.

But why have a professional account? I feel that it helps keep you focused when tweeting. If you are tweeting about museums and possibly some other aspects of your life you are less likely to overshare on twitter. Working with Surgeons’ Hall Museums, I would like to think I have a good internal filter as to what is appropriate to discuss online and what isn’t. The internal monologue of questioning everything has seen me not tweet about every single current event, national event and international events. Whilst it is good to have an opinion on something, as soon as your opinion is on Twitter, it is in the public domain. If you do make a claim or say something that gets someone’s back up, i.e. a controversial opinion, be sure you can back it up. If you decide to delete a tweet, it may still have been screencaped by someone else, so bear this in mind that ANYONE can view your profile and can search for you online. I try to focus on Museums and things that are interesting to me, so do that when putting out tweets.

I’d like to weigh up the benefits of a work account vs a personal account. With Twitter, I feel that it is beneficial to have two accounts. A professional one as I have mentioned previously, and a private one.  With the private account, you can control who see your tweets, and you can follow accounts that you find interesting. For example, in addition to museums I love videogames, and whilst there are aspects of my passion for videogames that creep into my “professional account” I do follow a ridiculous amount of videogame related blogs/news sites etc. on my private account. It allows the much-needed separation of work/life balance. Having the professional account means that you are putting your hand up saying this is me, this is what I do, this where I work and these are my professional opinions. It can identify yourself and is one of the best ways to engage with other likeminded individuals.

Twitter is an excellent tool to engage with others in the sector. A good tip to get started is to search for the institutions account and see what it throws back at you. If that person sounds like they do something you are interested in or their profile takes your fancy, give them a follow. But remember following someone on twitter doesn’t necessarily mean that they will follow you back. Don’t take it personally if they don’t either!

As well as individuals, there are also many groups you can follow. I manage the Scottish Museums Federation account and whilst I am a member of the Fed, I use this account to share about what is happening in the sector with regards to job opportunities, great projects to take part in and hashtag campaigns such as #ScottishMuseumsDay.

When you do start engaging with others online it is always good to mind your manners. Get tips from folks but be respectful about asking. Especially when it comes to looking for help.  Many now put their job roles in their profiles, so for someone like me who is keen to meet and engage with others in different institutions in similar roles it is massively important to ask for tips in the politest way possible. Reaching out to someone saying “hey I hope you don’t mind me contacting you but….” is much more effective than “hi how did you do X”.

Chances are when you reach out to someone and ask for their help or a few pointers, then they are super keen to help or share their knowledge. Because of that you’ll get to make a professional contact who may be beneficial to your career in the future. And if you’re lucky enough to be in the same vicinity as them, always offer to meet up or ask if they are available for chat. Based on my own experiences, people are always super keen for a quick meet up in real-life!

If you are growing your online presence REMEMBER be professional and always stop and THINK. What you say online can define you, so take care. Think about what you say and how you say it. Would you say X in real life? Would you say Y to a person in real life? Would you act in a certain way in a real-life situation? Also for those of you who may or may not know your work may have a policy surrounding social media accounts for personal/professional use, it’s worth checking up on.

This blog originally appeared on the Scottish Heritage Social Media Group blog page on the 29th March 2017.

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