Project Idea: Historic House Museums on Facebook

As Professor Trevor Owens notes in “Tripadvisor Rates Einstein” social media sites not only provide unique access to a “sense of how individuals have interacted with these museums, monuments, and memorials” but social media sites also become “part of the frame through which other individuals interact with these places.”[1]  At their best, social media sites help staff understand who their audience is, and what they are most interested in learning about.   They also have the potential to influence how people see museums, etc. and what they are interested in getting out of an experience at a cultural site.

For my project, I am interested in looking at how historic house museums in Washington D.C. and interested members of their audiences use facebook.  How museums interact with their audience, the broader public, and specifically, their facebook fans?  How does that audience use the facebook platform to interact with the staff of a historic house museum?  Does facebook primarily function as an advertising tool, or does it help facilitate conversations about educational and interpretive content?  Is it effectively used as a platform to allow visitors to bring their learning home with them?  Do users feel comfortable engaging with material at more than a surface level?

I propose to “like”, follow and analyze the pages of the following historic homes and gardens in Washington D.C. : Arlington House, the Robert E. Lee Memorial, Dumbarton House, Tudor Place Historic House and Garden, President Lincoln’s Cottage, Woodrow Wilson House, and Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens.  I will track the activity on these pages and compare how these institutions interact with their audiences through facebook.  As an additional source of comparison, I will also track the activity on the facebook page of the National Museum of American History, as a potential industry standard for facebook interaction, in order to see if social media sites are able to function as a level playing field for museums with small and large resources to interact with visitors on equal levels.

Additionally, I propose to look at the relationships between the online presences of historic house museums relate to individual’s attempts to craft their own online identities.  Who typically “likes” a historic house museum page?  Who reviews historic house museums?  Who is willing to include the names of historic house museums in their posts as a representation of their identities and interests?

I believe that research that creates knowledge about the best uses of facebook by historic house museums could be beneficial to the field and for me in my future career as a public historian.

[1] Owens, T. (2012) ‘Tripadvisor rates Einstein: using the social web to unpack the public meanings of a cultural heritage site’, Int. J. Web Based Communities, Vol. 8, No. 1, pp.40–56.

One Reply to “Project Idea: Historic House Museums on Facebook”

  1. This sounds good to me. I might also suggest that you think a bit more broadly, look across facebook, look to how various corporate brands or media groups are using the tools and try to think about how these ideas might fit for these sites as well. You might also be interested in this paper on archives on twitter. I realize those are both different nouns, but it might give you an idea about how to go about some of your interpretation too.

    I would also suggest taking a look at what people are saying about social media and facebook in the conference procedings of museums and the web and on some of the great museum blogs like museum 2.0 or museum of the future

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