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Institutional Voice: What Are We Trying to Say? #MCN2016


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The first social media platforms were designed for individuals to communicate with other individuals, before businesses and organizations got involved. Now that every platform contains millions of competing voices, ranging from our grandmothers to multi-national corporations, how do museums bridge the gap between representing themselves as exciting, diverse institutions and interacting with audiences on a personal level? How can we talk to people in useful ways without trying to shout louder than everyone else? The answer is by creating a unique and effective institutional voice. But is this voice meant to be friendly, irreverent, hilarious, inviting, educational—or all of this at once? Should we try to teach people or make friends? Can we do both? Short answer: yes! But then how do we navigate sharing high-level curatorial writing, marketing and promotional posts, community-oriented posts that engage our local audiences, and participating in cross-museum campaigns, while also factoring in administrative requests to “be funny” and “go viral”? Will trying to do all of this at once make us seem dangerously unhinged? Just as museums are (and must be) many things to many people, all different types of content are related, regardless of what voice is used, because all voices represent the institution. I will explore the concept of institutional voice as a multitude of related voices and examine if it’s possible (or desirable) to maintain consistency across platforms when multiple people manage social accounts. I’ll also explore the relationship between digital institutional voice and the voice represented in signage and curatorial labels. Much of our energy is spent trying to get people in the museums doors, but how does digital institutional voice carry over when they get there? Like a bad Tinder date, is there a danger of museums not living up to the promise of their online personas?

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Institutional Voice: What Are We Trying to Say? #MCN2016

  1. 1. Institutional Voice: What Are We Trying to Say? Stephen Boyd Albright-Knox Art Gallery @textsfrommyself
  2. 2. Think about the ways you talk to people on the internet.
  3. 3. If you’re like me, you started here.
  4. 4. Then we went here.
  5. 5. And now we’re (more or less) here.
  6. 6. But they’re here too.
  7. 7. …talking about things like this.
  8. 8. And this.
  9. 9. Brands quickly figured out that if they want to be effective on social media… …they need to create the presence and energy of a funny, popular, charming person.
  10. 10. Some brands adopt an indulgent, comforting tone. Others want you to know how cool they are. They get it.
  11. 11. But brands are on social media to sell you things. Brands are not people. They reinforce a consistent image and generally use one voice. If you spent time with a person like that, you’d be bored to tears.
  12. 12. A museum has more than one voice on social media... …because people act differently in different situations, and museums are made of people!;;;
  13. 13. In the museum field, we call this .
  14. 14. Institutional voice on social media includes: • Promotion • Marketing • Curatorial content • Conversations and questions • Museum competitions and campaigns • Events • Education • Jokes • Cats
  15. 15. Therefore, institutional voice should be: • Friendly • Irreverent • Hilarious • Engaging • Inviting • Educational • Timely • Jokes • Cats
  16. 16. An effective institutional voice means we can post about this. And then this. And then this. And then this, all without seeming unhinged. David Douglas Duncan Brenda Bieger Luke Copping
  17. 17. What are we selling? Who are we talking to?
  18. 18. Above all, we’re selling experiences. This one. And these. Photos by Tom Loonan and Brenda Bieger
  19. 19. We’re talking to everyone about everything we do. • Institutional voice should be open and inviting, not exclusionary. • We can have conversations and answer questions. • Unlike brands, we CAN be personal. Because we have personalities!
  20. 20. What can an effective institutional voice accomplish? • Make people want to share our content – “Go viral!” • Make people think we’re funny and cool • Associate us with their personal brand • Inspire people to donate money • Make people want to visit the museum
  21. 21. The way museums present themselves on social media is an invitation to potential visitors (even if they don’t come). It’s like we’re asking them out.
  22. 22. So does the tone of our institutional voice on social media need to match our printed texts and labels? SOCIAL MEDIA VOICE MUSEUM VOICE
  23. 23. Short Answer: No.
  24. 24. Is This Like a Bad Tinder Date?
  25. 25. Also no. Institutional voice should focus solely on enhancing the visitor’s experience, no matter where that experience takes place. The museum voice can and should differ from the social voice because it’s in a different setting. Social media followers and visitors want (and possibly need) different things at different times. Long Answer:
  26. 26. Tone Creep What I call “Tone Creep” happens when a prevalent voice or slang enters public discourse and is adopted (with mixed results) by brands and advertisers.
  27. 27. This. Just This.
  28. 28. In some cases, Tone Creep can lead to a deliberate lowering of the discourse that goes back to brands attempting to win your trust: by being indulgent or being cool. You’ve worked hard to establish your voice, so stay consistent.
  29. 29. Public Focal Points • Don’t co-opt public sentiment for your voice. • Brands don’t have empathy—they’re there to sell you things. • Museums CAN be empathetic, as long as they stay true to who they are.
  30. 30. To Review • Museums are made of people. • People have different personalities. • An effective institutional voice represents a diverse institution with many personalities and voices.
  31. 31. • Follow your institution’s social channels! • Even if you don’t work on digital or social media projects, start thinking about the voice that represents the institution to you. • Start conversations with digital/web/social colleagues about how this voice impacts and represents your work. What YOU Can Do
  32. 32. Thank you! Stephen Boyd Albright-Knox Art Gallery Buffalo, New York @textsfrommyself