Museum of London and social software: the conclusion of effectiveness of social software on Museum

By Bilkis Mosoddik on 1 Dec 2009

At the beginning of these blog posts, I raised a number of questions about the effectiveness of social software on the Museum of London. The conclusions derived from my research are as follows:

Does the Museum of London lose visitors through having content sitting on separate social software sites?

It became obvious from my research that the Museum of London (MOL) was not losing visitors by having content sitting on other sites but was in fact, gaining more visits to MOL websites as a by product of its existence on Facebook and the existence of MOL’s blog (MyMOL). In addition, as a result of its presence on Facebook, Facebook members were making some actual visits to the Museums that they previously may not have made.

However, the advantages of having a blog and a presence on Facebook was clearly not being utilised to its full potential. I discovered that if more blog entries were made on MyMOL, with links to the MOL websites and incentives to visit events and exhibitions at MOL, more visitors would visit the MOL websites and possibly end up visiting the two MOL Museums.

Also, from the comments I received in the Facebook survey I carried out, it was apparent that MOL could promote more events and engage better with the audience by actively prompting members to not only visit the Facebook pages, but also MOL websites and any other social software sites where MOL activities were taking place.

Are visitors engaging with Museum of London through social software sites?

Keep on Facebooking, but do so appropriately and frequentlyWithin the limit of my study on the MOL website and MyMOL, the measure I used for testing whether visitors were engaging with the sites proved that in actual fact, very few visitors were engaging with the Museum or the Museum blog through active comments, enquiries and feedback. This, I realise, may be incorrect to conclude as visitors could have been engaged in many ways such as using information for research and planning visits and visiting the actual Museums, but the method I used showed very little engagement on the social software sites.

On Facebook, however, the engagement level was greater in one sense, but minimal in another. It was greater in that with the response to the survey alone, it proved that a high percentage of the members were willing to engage with the MOL, however, very few members were carrying out discussion or collaborating.

So to answer this question, very few visitors were engaging with MOL through its social software sites at the time of research.

Do visitors find information on Museum of London social software sites of value?

I concluded that visitors of MyMOL must find information of value as a high percentage of visitors made repeat visits. Though there was a drop in repeat visitors at the end of the reporting period for MyMOL, if the pattern of repeat visitors on MOL website was used, it was possible to see that the repeat visits would start to steadily grow, suggesting that visitors see it as a valuable source to come back to.

In addition to this, members on Facebook had generally thought the MOL’s presence on Facebook was useful, and every single member agreed that MOL should remain on Facebook, confirming that they do value it for the individual purpose for which they signed up to them, whether it was simply to keep up to date with events, or to find out about new developments at the Museums. Also, the comments were mostly positive and many members were recommending MOL and its presence on Facebook to friends and family, which was a very important factor in determining that members do find information on MOL websites and those on associated social software sites of value.

Should museums spend time pursuing the use of social software to attract new audience?

The number of visits to MyMOL in comparison to MOL website was very small, however, given that MyMOL was so new and did not have any publicity, it was still evident that the number of visits to MyMOL was increasing steadily, and the trend in visits mirrored that of the MOL website. For this reason, cultivating MyMOL would ensure that more visitors would be attracted and end up visiting MOL and MOL websites, and with promotion of MyMOL, it would be worth spending the time to attracting these new visitors.

Similarly, the number of MOL Facebook members were very small in comparison to the number of visitors to the MOL website received. However, as more effort is put into improving the communication on Facebook, more members are likely to join, and therefore, increase the traffic to MOL and its website. For this reason and for the fact that those existing members who responded to the survey valued the MOL Facebook presence and found it useful, I concluded that it would be worth spending time on attempting to engage these members and attract new audiences.

Should website visit statistics of content sitting on social software sites be included in the official statistics reports?

Having compared the web statistics for the MOL website with MyMOL, although the number of visits is small in comparison, they are still visits to a Museum site that holds information that belongs to the Museum and therefore, should be included in the official reporting. I could find no evidence other than the fact that for social networking sites such as Facebook, it may not be as easy to capture the visits and visitor statistics*, however, where statistics could be and are being collected, these should be reported in the same way as for all the other MOL websites.

To conclude

Museums can use social software to communicate with its audience outside of its own website, and can react quickly, efficiently and appropriately if the Museum is being discussed (Newson 2008).

Keep on blogging, but do so appropriately and frequentlyThe findings of my study at the time of research concludes that visitors use MyMOL and the Facebook pages for information purposes only, and MOL use social software to simply publish content. From this study, it appeared that people wanted to receive information but did not necessarily engage with the Museum in any way other than to read emails, update alerts and blog entries, and did not want to carry out conversations. They wanted to be prompted and guided to available content in the most convenient way possible without having to visit the MOL website unless necessary.

Given this conclusion, it could be said that MOL has much to gain from having a presence on Facebook and working with social software such as blogs, to attract new audiences and new visitors to the Museums and the Museum websites. It provides MOL with different ways to disseminate information that visitors’ value and can engage with, and MOL should spend time on ensuring that the right social software is being used appropriately.

However, as Newson argued, museums can only see benefits of using social software if they change their perception of social software to properly manage and take advantage of current knowledge and trends. “In other words, the value these tools offer depends on regular contributions, networked thinking and good levels of participation” rather than the actual social software themselves, therefore social software will only be effective if MOL takes a lead on it and uses it appropriately.

Though it can be argued that my research on the effectiveness of MyMOL on MOL and MOL websites was “not a good measure”, and in fact a better method of research would have been to check for “citations/linkbacks and user comments” (Chan), the results found still proved that although MyMOL was not highly increasing traffic to MOL website at the time of this study, and possibly no traffic to the actual Museum, it still raised the profile of MOL with the thousands of visitors who regularly visited the site and encouraged visitors to recognise MOL as a brand.

The use of social software by MOL was effective to a certain extent, but could be improved. I concluded that MOL should communicate more with its audience and engage with them effectively by clearly guiding visitors to the relevant events, exhibitions and collections, ensuring that the message is openly received.

Finally, though each museum has its own niche in visitor attraction, through the findings of this research on the effectiveness of social software on MOL, and using Hubbard’s justification that “sampling is observing just some of the things in a population to learn about all of the things in a population”, as the “law applies to everything” and not just for the “examples observed” (Hubbard 2007), it can be concluded that the findings for this report could apply to other museums and their use of social software too.

* Additional notes

The inability to capture website statistics for social software sites such as Facebook is very important to note as many social software tools are hosted on external servers that do not belong to the museums and often, cannot be accessed by the museums other than through the front end as a user. This raises a number of issues that museums should address.

Firstly, the question of who does the content belongs to?  In February 2009, there were rumours that Facebook was announcing that they owned all users content, and users no longer have copyright to it. However, although Facebook has stated that all content on Facebook put up by users, still belongs to the users (Lacy), it is important to consider this.

Secondly, there are the security issue and problems of backing up data that can potentially be lost forever should anything happen to those sites or servers. Currently, the only way to back up any information on such sites is to manually copy the data and store it in an internal server.

Finally, there are the issues of not being able to measure the level of usage of the site and how much traffic it gains as museums will not have access to the web logs that contain the data used for web analytics. Without this data, museums will not be able to track the number of visits that are made to the Facebook pages and evaluate the effectiveness of the use of the site on the museum and its websites, nor can it report the visitor numbers to stakeholders.

References

Chan, S. “Better museum blog metrics – is your blog really working for you and your organisation.” Weblog post. Fresh + New(er). Powerhouse Museum, 19 November 2007. Web. Accessed 6 August 2009. <http://www.powerhousemuseum.com/dmsblog/index.php/2007/11/19/better-museum-blog-metrics-is-your-blog-really-working-for-you-and-your-organisation/>

Hubbard, D. How to measure anything: finding the value of ?intangibles? in business. John Wiley & Sons, 2007. Print

Lacy, S. “Facebook: You Own All Your Data. Period. (But See You at the Next Privacy Uproar.).” Weblog post. TechCrunch. 21 February 2009. Web. Accessed 28 August 2009. <http://www.techcrunch.com/2009/02/21/facebook-you-own-all-your-data-period-but-see-you-at-the-next-privacy-uproar/>

Newson, A., D. Houghton, and J. Patten. Blogging and other social media: exploiting the technology and protecting the enterprise. Gower, Ltd., 2008. Print

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