Friday, February 13, 2009

Art Gets Social with Brooklyn Museum's "tweets of art"

What makes New York City such a creative place to be these days is people extending their online social networks into the offline world. I've never seen so much enthusiasm in the air. Whether it's through Meetup, where so many groups are thriving, or through events like Social Media Week, which was conceived a short 3 weeks ago by Toby Daniels and has turned out to be phenomenal.

The first panel at SMW was all about two of my favorite topics: art & social media. Will Cary, Membership Manager at the Brooklyn Museum talked about how he is testing the social media waters by offering a Twitter feed where followers get "tweets of art" - and organizing events around that. It's part of what they're calling the "first-of-its-kind socially networked membership", and charging $20 a year for it. So far they have about 100 followers.

The museum had noticed there were a lot of people attending their monthly "First Saturday" events, where they allow free entrance from 5-11pm. A lot of visitors would come and view the art but they wouldn't join as members. They also had a huge following through their Facebook page and through Twitter - but those weren't joining either. The question was, "how do we get these people that have an interest in us to want to be more involved?"

The museum's mission is community based, so they tried to set up communities online, like "members only" groups on Facebook and Flickr, but that didn't work. Then a month and a half ago they came up with 1st fans, where if you sign up you get a Twitter "art feed" that features a different contemporary artist every month, exclusively for them. The artists tweet everyday for one month, then on 'First Saturday' they'll show all the art they tweeted, plus a lecture for '1stfans'. An Xiao was the first artist to participate, and she tweeted in morse code (see her video preview here). About 100 supporters have signed up so far.

Through '1stfans' the museum interacts with people that they would otherwise have no access to but who are big supporters of their art. "It's a way to enlist them and offer them a way to have a closer relationship with the museum", explains Will. "We first addressed it through our blog to show them that we're not trying to trick them. It's just something cool we're offering. For those that enjoy what the museum does, this is the next level of involvement. It's what can we do to address their needs", he adds. Which is smart because it's getting to them early in the process and letting them know that they're valued even though they're not full members.

"Artists go through a heavy vetting process. They have to submit a proposal to be considered for this program. They must be consistent with what the museum stands for. Once we review the proposals we then discuss it with the curators and other departments," says Will. '1stfans' don't have a say in picking the artists.

'1stfans' are very active Twitterers and this requires that someone be engaged with them all the time, which basically means Will has no life. But he was the one that came up with the idea so he's passionate about it. The '1stfan' initiative is a philosophy that's carried across all the departments, whether it's technology, membership, or any others - they'll are engaged.

How do you approach a museum's board to get them on board? "It's trust between the museum and the trustees, and the museum and the members. Even though we have no idea of how it will turn out, it's no different from walking into a museum and taking the leap of faith that you will find the art worthwhile. '1stfans' get access to the museum in a new way - we get back to them and answer their questions and comments. Listening to what people have to say is like having checks and balances", Will points out.

For those that are already members, the Twitter art feed is an added benefit. '1stfans' however, don't receive the regular benefits that full members get, like free admission anytime and invites to special exhibits, and store discounts. "It's good we're growing slowly so we get to know the people and let them get to know each other. People don't think of the Twitter feed as a membership. The second '1stfan' event was last weekend and 30 people came. We make the extra effort to educate them about the museum. We want to be sure they know we believe in growing the community and offering them a variety of experiences online and offline", he adds.

Organizations have a tremendous asset: employees that are passionate about what they do. People like Will, who spends nights and weekends answering tweets, and caring about people that right now may only afford $20 but tomorrow might become members or even one day, who knows, platinum donors? He's spreading Brooklyn Museum love to those on the fringes, and making them feel good about being part of the community, which is something advertising can never do. And they're even making a little money from it.

How are you engaging with your community? Blogging and Twitter are some of my favorite ways, so please, connect with me!
Twitter: @mogulette

1 comment:

alexlady said...

sigh. i guess i need to look into twitter. I've been resisting because I feel like i already have too much technology to keep track of!!