Museums Tweet with Teens: Using social media to connect with audiences

This week, I dusted off the old Twitter account (which I created for a journalism class that I took in my undergraduate days and basically haven’t used since) and took a look at how museums and archives use the social media platform to further their missions. From my exploration of tweets from museums in Chicago and beyond, I’ve observed that cultural institutions use twitter accounts as another method of publicizing events and to share photos of their collections. They also share information from other museums and organizations with similar educational goals and programs.

The most interesting thing I found on Twitter was the way institutions used multiple accounts to reach different audiences with different interests. Several Chicago institutions have a general account for the museum, and also have a “teen” account to reach younger audiences. Here are a few I looked at:

  • @FieldTeenStudio Field Museum Teens
    • 150 followers
      “Discovering behind-the-scenes secrets at The Field Museum, exploring collections, talking with scientists, and producing innovative projects with digital media!”

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  • @AICTeens             Art Institute Teens
    • 354 followers
      “Programs, opportunities, and experiences for Teens at the Art Institute of Chicago.”

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  • @AdlerTeens Adler Planetarium Teens
    • 130 followers
      “Teen programs at the Adler Planetarium”

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As is briefly explained in the description on each account’s profile, these museums are using Twitter to promote programs created for or of particular interest to middle and high school students. Specifically, many of them focus on students’ interest in technology and design.

This generation of teenagers is growing up in a world different than any other. They have very different expectations when it comes to educational and recreational experiences. Cultural programs are rapidly shaping their programs and exhibits with the new media available to meet the changing needs of visitors. Meanwhile, for many, the word museum still inspires the image of a cold, static building full of objects that do not relate to modern life.

Introducing visitors to the experience of the new and improved museum all begins with bringing in the audience. How do you communicate with your audience? Meet them where they are. Twitter allows museums, archives, etc. to share information with young visitors and get their feedback. They can follow other accounts (I noticed one followed popular board games and trends) to learn what interests teens and how to make programs for them.

The Art Institute of Chicago’s teen Twitter seems to be most successful, perhaps in part because they have stronger programming for students. When advertising their interesting events, the AIC tweeted the message to each high school in the area, connecting directly to accounts that many students likely go to for information. They also shared the art that students created at these events, acknowledging their contribution and participation in the museum.

The Field Museum’s teen account acknowledges students’ interest in technology and interacting with experts. Although I didn’t see any “talking with scientists” tweets, the account did publicize events that offered behind-the-scene experiences with Field Museum staff. As the museum’s mission statement invites people of the world to come to the museum to go on, “a journey of scientific discovery,” the Twitter profile attempts to share and shape new ways for teenagers to explore and learn in the museum.

Each of these accounts has a fairly low following, but I think the efforts of the museums are worthwhile. If teenagers are to discover the new opportunities available in cultural institutions, Twitter is a free and familiar place to reach them. These accounts also seem to be used by the teen councils that help design and participate in youth programs. Giving these students space to share what they are excited about benefits them and any other teenagers that may be inspired by their tweets.

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