Twitter for the Rest of Us

Museum folks in senior/leadership positions should be on Twitter!
A number of museum people of a certain (dare I say it?) age and/or self-regard (educated, well-read, busy, already inundated by media, steeped in museum culture, interested in the future of museums) wouldn’t be caught dead on Twitter.  I can say this, because until a few months ago, I was one of them.  I blame Lady Gaga and Ashton Kutcher for this, because publicity about them formed my view of Twitter – a digital space in which to show off, compete for millions of followers, drop clever or unwise bon mots, and then apologize for them. What possible use could this colossal waste of time be to me?
Then, in June 2011 I started this blog, and soon found that it might be good to be on Twitter to let folks know when I posted and to encourage interest.  I had begun following some other museum bloggers and noticed they were all on Twitter.  So with much reservation I joined.  And a fascinating window on current thinking about museums opened for me.  Initially following some of my fellow museum bloggers, like Linda Norris, Beth Merritt, Paul Orselli, Ed Rodley, and Nina Simon, I began enjoying their tweets and noticing the people they followed, sometimes following them as well. In this way I’ve kept the tweets I read to museum-related topics mostly, with a few exceptions, like some journalists I follow.
Here’s what I can say about Twitter after about six months:
Just to be clear, these are my own opinions, and I have no connection with Twitter except as a member.
–          It is an amazing professional development source. Most museum tweeters don’t waste many words on clever phrasing – they say what they are watching or reading, and, most usefully, provide links to exhibitions, books, online articles, journals, blogs, and other tweets.  I forward those of interest to my email or save them in Evernote (an easy to use way to save material online) and read them about once a week.
–          It is time efficient. I can scroll through dozens (even scores) of tweets in ten or 15 minutes – sometimes once a day, sometimes a couple times a day—and save what I want to read later. These articles have been discovered and vetted for me by people whose thoughts and work I admire. I have neither the time nor ability to find these resources on my own.
–          Much of the chat on museum Twitter is related to social media, and this has been a huge learning opportunity for me – seeing in real time what thought leaders on social media in museums are pondering, questioning, working on.  
–          I am mostly a reader, but do occasionally tweet.  Reading, tweeting, re-tweeting, seeing who forwards my tweets, etc, has given me a finger-tip, real time sense of the speed, the power, and the possible misuses of social media and the thinking that goes with it.
–          Not many of my contemporaries are on Twitter.  The good news for me is that I have “met” a whole new group of enthusiastic, thoughtful professionals who are working in and for museums; who are thinking hard about making museums more participatory, community oriented, and accessible; and how social media can assist in this.
–          The bad news for senior museum staff and consultants is that they are, in my opinion, missing out on one of the key ways to take the pulse of the field.  Without their fingers (literally) on this pulse, I think their ability to assess key directions in the field, especially in the area of digital development, is diminished.  The bad news for younger museum folks on Twitter is that they are missing the experience and sense of history that more senior colleagues could provide. Younger and mid-level museum staffers are also seeking the influence and support for thoughtful development and expansion of social media in museums that senior staff/consultants who use and understand it could offer.
You’ll never be called a Twitvert[i] or a Tweezer[ii] (maybe by Aston Kutcher but not by me).
Though it is efficient (and, I think, a lot easier to use and profit from than Facebook) being on Twitter does take some time and energy.  But so do all the other professional development efforts we all make – reading, writing, attending conferences, emailing colleagues, etc.  It’s here, it’s influential, give it a try, and join the conversation.  I promise it will be worth your while.
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[i] An enthusiastic new user of Twitter
[ii] An older gentleman who Tweets

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