Digital Futures event

Last Thursday I was lucky enough to be able to attend the Digital Futures event at the National Gallery of Scotland. Subtitled ‘Social media for the Scottish cultural heritage sector’, this was the inaugural event of a programme funded by the Royal Society of Edinburgh and designed to establish ‘a social media research agenda for the Scottish national collections’.

Now that all sounds very formal but in fact the programme was packed with informative and inspirational examples and challenges. The opening keynote was from the ever-inspiring Ewan McIntosh, who talked about the cultural shift required from sector organisations currently struggling with their efforts in social media. How we need to be freed from the fears of trying to justify the existence of our organisations to enable us to come up with good solutions. A challenge to identify and ‘solve the pain’ of our audiences and empower people to make stuff for themselves.

Carolyn Royston from the Imperial War Museum gave a frank and fascinating insight into the flawed but nevertheless deserving, National Museums online project. I remember when this was launched in 2009 and the fairly harsh criticism it received on the Museums Computer Group email list but having heard Carolyn speak, I can understand why some of the elements were delivered in the way that they were and also look forward to seeing what happens with Creative Spaces 2 early next year. It was also fantastic to hear about the IWM social media activity and how they’ve managed to make the most of what the various platforms have to offer in the context of their collections, like, for example tweeting ‘On this day…’ Blitz headlines.

Shorter case studies from Alan Muirden from RCAHMS and Hugh Wallace from NMS made interesting points. How audiences can actually provide helpful content such as the user contributed images – many of sites that RCAHMS previously had no visual record of – that now feature in the My Canmore database (images hosted in Flickr). Hugh talked about two-way engagement with audiences and using social media to meet niche audience needs, such as interactive curator talks hosted in the Scottish schools network Glow.

Tessa Quinn from the National Galleries gave another great overview on their use of various social media tools. Her candid views on their experimentation with Flickr Commons and how this has informed their activities since was useful in seeing the process of refining objectives and acknowledging the need for planning to establish a strategy around social media.

Turning that on its head, Gail Durbin’s mantra of ‘Just do it’ in her keynote on social media and user generated content at the V&A really showed how it is possible to integrate social media activity within the core business of an organisation and to have really meaningful engagement with online audiences, using crowdsourcing to improve collections data, giving audiences specific tasks to complete for projects – all possible if museums are prepared to give up a little control…

Anyway, these are a few things that stood out for me but more information on the whole day’s proceedings at http://digitalfutures.rcahms.gov.uk. Further workshop events are planned in March and June next year but meanwhile if you would like to find out what others are saying about the event see take a look at Twitter #dfche.

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