Social media and museums: Exploring possibilities

by Helen Joannides, Museum and Heritage Consultant

You don’t easily put the museum community at the forefront of technology users. But why not? Accessibility, building community, disseminating information, education – these are all elements museums are striving for in the 21st century. Social media may be just the ticket! So what social media are South African museums using and how?  I put out a few online (and totally unscientific) feelers to some museums in Cape Town. (I chair the Western Cape Museum Educator Group which consists of over 40 institutions from across the peninsula who meet regularly to network, share experiences, learn about new ideas and discuss common issues related to our field.)

It seems they are using social media to advertise events and encourage visits, send out museum news and post photographs of activities. Facebook is most popular but Twitter, LinkedIn, Foursquare, TripAdvisor and Flickr were also mentioned. Those who responded to me mirror what most museums globally are doing. (See Holbrook’s Trunk: Georgia Museum of Art on a survey of museums and social media: Social media is successfully being used as cost-effective marketing of the institution and its events to followers.

Some of the unique elements of social media are that it enables two-way communication, collaboration, the creation of a sense of community, innovation. (Digital Activism and the 4Cs Social Media Framework What else could our museums be doing?

This is a list of what some museums are doing with social media. Perhaps it will spark an idea and get us thinking of some other possibilities for museums online. 

The Tower of David Museum, Jerusalem, Israel

The Tower of David Museum is using Facebook’s timeline feature to document the history of the Tower from 1099 to the present.Click here for their Facebook page or read more...


Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, MA, USA

This museum has numerous Pinterest boards. They feature the various categories of art found in the museum (furniture, rare books, metalwork etc.) and also some more quirky boards like “Things Kids Say About Art”.

View their Pinterest page

Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis, IN, USA

The Indianapolis has a dashboard on their website where you can track museum stats like visitor numbers, the Museum’s endowment, fans on Facebook, new works of art and others.

View their dashboard

Two Oceans Aquarium, Cape Town, SA

The Aquarium uses YouTube to showcase some interesting ‘behind the scenes’ work like the release of a shark back into the wild.

View their YouTube page

Ringve Music Museum, Trondheim, Norway

The museum is currently investigating ways their exhibition feedback kiosk could be integrated with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. 


The Australian Museum, Sydney, Australia

The Australian Museum experimented with a blog and a Facebook group to workshop exhibition themes and test ideas as the exhibition’s development progressed.


The Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK

With artist Sue Lawty, The V&A was part of a global art project using Google maps to ask people to contribute a photograph and caption of a beach art project (mostly patterns/image made of stones) and plot it on the world map.


The Minnesota History Center, St Paul, MN, USA

The History Center launched a wiki called MN150wiki to accompany their MN150 exhibit. The exhibit, celebrating 150 years of statehood, asked people: “What person, place, thing, or event originating in Minnesota do you think has transformed our state, our country, or the world?” The nominations are all on the wiki. Read more...

The Manchester Museum, Manchester, UK

The Manchester Museum has a blog by its Curator of Earth Sciences Collection which gives some insights into a profession in the museum field as well as being informative about the subject matter.

Read their blog...