Tag Archives: Smithsonian Institution

Is Twitter Effectively Engaging Your Audiences?

twitter-afpWith the new year on the horizon, I’ve been evaluating my projects from the last year to determine how I can help historic places better connect to their audiences. For the past two years, I’ve used Twitter to share news about history, historic sites, historic preservation, and history museums.  Each morning I scan the New York Times and other newspapers for stories, aiming to tweet about three stories daily to my @maxvanbalgooy account so that my followers can quickly learn what’s happening.  The result? I have created 4,180 tweets and attracted nearly 500 Followers since I joined Twitter in June 2009.  This blog, on the other hand, has 1000 subscribers, so it seems my time is better spent on my blog than Twitter.  It could be very different for you, but how do we decide if Twitter is effectively engaging your audiences?

A useful place to start is with the metrics that Twitter provides: Followers and Likes.  Likes are a low level of engagement because they only require that readers support a specific tweet or find it especially useful or enjoyable—but that’s it. Followers are a mid-level form of engagement because it means that a reader wants to engage with you and read everything that you tweet (“read” is probably overstating things; “scan” is more appropriate for Twitter). Retweets engage at a high level because your Followers share your tweet to their Followers (did you follow that? it’s about the impact of the multiplier effect)—unfortunately, there’s no easy way to measure Retweets (but boy, we would have more impact if we promoted Retweeting instead of Liking).

To better understand how effectively Twitter can engage audiences, I collected statistics for a variety of major history organizations to measure Tweets, Followers, and Likes as of today (December 8, 2016) to develop the following chart: Continue reading

History Relevance Campaign meets at Smithsonian

I’ll be at an all-day workshop today at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History to discuss the work of the History Relevance Campaign with representatives of two dozen national organizations, including the Library of Congress, National Archives, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Park Service, American Historical Association, American Alliance of Museums, National Coalition for History, National History Day, National Humanities Alliance, and National Governors Association.  We’ll use our work on the values of history, impact project, and research on popular attitudes towards history to discuss where the campaign should go next and how they might get more involved (most of these organizations have already endorsed the values statement).  I’m not sure what the results will be but you can follow along on Twitter at #historyrelevance.

Online Learning Opportunities for Historic Site Interpreters

The opportunities for sharpening your skills as an historic site interpreter continue to grow online, sometimes even for free.  Here are a sampling of a few non-degree granting organizations where you’ll find workshops and classes on the Internet to keep your thinking fresh and improve your technique.  All times are Eastern unless noted.

American Alliance of Museums

  • Embracing 360 Engagement, Widening the Circle.  September 2, 2014 at 2:00 pm Eastern.
  • Building Trust through High Performance, Becoming Essential.  December 3 at 2:00 pm.

American Association for State and Local History

  • Historic House Calls: Using Futures Thinking to Navigate Ongoing Change.  August 20, 2014 at 2:00 pm. Free for AASLH members.
  • Writing the Grant: What’s the Process Like?  August 27 at 3:00 pm.  $115; $40 members.


Continue reading

Million Dollar Salaries at America’s Biggest Museums

Exec Compensation 2011-12A review of the latest Forms 990 of more than two dozen of America’s biggest museums identified the most highly compensated executives in the field.  Among these museums, annual compensation ranged from $228,000 to $1,822,257 and the average was $727,000.  Seven directors earn more than one million dollars per year, as follows:

Financial Management at America’s Billion-Dollar Museums

Big 5 Museums Assets 2012

The Smithsonian Institution has more than $3 billion in assets and had more than $168 million in income for its 2012 fiscal year, making it the biggest and strongest museum in America.  It’s also the leader of the handful of American museums that have more than a billion dollars in net assets, according to the latest financial reports available through GuideStar.  At the top of the list of America’s wealthiest museums are:

  • Smithsonian Institution (Washington, DC)
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York)
  • Museum of Fine Arts Houston (Texas)
  • Colonial Williamsburg Foundation (Virginia)
  • Museum of Modern Art (New York)

This is a nice trivia question for the next museum reception but what does it mean?  First of all, the size of the museum isn’t based on Continue reading

Responses to Government Shutdown Vary at Historic Sites and Museums

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Washington, DC is one of the nation’s museum meccas with nearly 19 million annual visitors so with the partial shutdown of the federal government, tourists are frustrated and confused.  Closed are the most popular destinations such as the Smithsonian Institution, National Gallery of Art, Lincoln Memorial, US Holocaust Memorial Museum, National Archives, and Capitol Visitor Center (tours of the White House ended in March 2013 due to sequestration).  Although it is a federal city, many of its museums and historic sites are privately operated so places such as the Phillips Collection, Corcoran Gallery of Art, President Lincoln’s Cottage, Tudor Place, Woodrow Wilson House, and International Spy Museum, are open as usual.  “National” may be in its name, it doesn’t mean it’s affected by the shutdown, so the National Building Museum, National Geographic Museum, National Museum of Women in the Arts, National Museum of Health and Medicine, and National Museum of American Jewish Military History are open (as is the National Aquarium in Baltimore).  Adding to the confusion are parts of the federal government that remain open (hence its more precise definition as a “partial shutdown”), so historic sites such as the US Supreme Court and Arlington National Cemetery (but not Arlington House), continue to be open to tourists.

Washington DC is definitely a confusing places for tourists at the moment, but it’s also confusing at the Continue reading

Video: The Heart of the Matter

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences produced this 7-minute video to accompany its report, The Heart of the Matter: The Humanities and Social Sciences for a Vibrant, Competitive, and Secure Nation.   You’ll see lots of familiar names and faces along with many provocative and inspiring thoughts to bolster your day (and some sufficiently pithy to make great quotes in a fundraising letter).

We’ll be discussing the Heart of the Matter report and the state of history at the AASLH annual meeting this week, first at today’s CEO Forum chaired by Kent Whitworth of the Kentucky Historical Society, which will include presentations by Conny Graft and Pharabe Kolb and discussions facilitated by me.  Tomorrow, Tim Grove of the Smithsonian Institution moderates a general session with Conny Graft, Pharabe Kolb, and Kim Fortney.  I’ll be sharing the results of those meetings in the weeks that follow.

Sequestration to Hit Smithsonian Collections

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Congress’ recently enacted sequestration cuts funds at many federal agencies, including the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.  Secretary Wayne Clough announced today that sequestration would not affect public visiting hours nor result in staff layoffs, however, “we can no longer be the nation’s attic. Congress has provided us an ideal opportunity to re-examine the value of collections in our overburdened system.” Clough provided few details except that he has directed each of the Smithsonian’s departments to determine how to reduce their collections by 8 percent—the across-the-board amount adopted by Congress in the sequester.

Response by Smithsonian staff has been mixed. Most departments are still developing solutions but questions remain. The Smithsonian holds about 137 million artifacts, more than 90 percent in the National Museum of Natural History. “We’re currently uncertain if an 8 percent reduction applies to the quantity or volume,” said Terry Erwin, curator of coleoptera in the department of entomology. “We have hundreds of Continue reading

What We Can Learn from America’s Biggest Non-profits?

Philanthropy 400 is the Chronicle of Philanthropy‘s annual list of the 400 groups that raised the most funds from private sources.  For 2011, these groups achieved a median 7.5-percent increase from last year, the third straight year of median gains for non-profits in the Chronicle‘s rankings.  That’s amazing considering the depths of the recession that affected most charities.  “Giving USA” said that charitable giving overall grew less than one percent last year.  About $1 out of every $4 donated by individuals, corporations, and foundations goes to these top 400, so what can we learn from them?

The lessons are a bit hard to uncover given the wide diversity of organizations represented on the list, primarily universities, social services, and health/medical,, followed closely by religious, youth, and education.  Topping the list are: Continue reading

Report from the 2012 AAAM Conference in Baltimore

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Last week I attended the Association of African American Museums conference along with two hundred other people from across the country.  I’d never attended before but since it was close by in Baltimore, I decided to take a chance and it turned out to both educational and fun.  Although I only attended one day, I’d like to share some of the highlights from the sessions I observed.

In “Understanding Exhibition Design and Planning“, the panelists all stressed the importance of pre-design, which includes determining which spaces will be devoted to exhibits, visiting other exhibits to clarify what you like (and don’t like), conducting visitor research, identifying potential artifacts and images, roughing out a budget and schedule (is the exhibit feasible?), and determining the maintenance costs.  The Harpers Ferry Center of NPS offers an exhibit planning template for FileMaker Pro.  The panel also provided a rough estimates of exhibition costs for design and fabrication:

  • $150-250/sf: 2D items, graphics, pedestals for 3D objects, little to no media.
  • $250-350/sf: 3D object displays, more extensive use of graphics, some media elements
  • $350-500+/sf: custom cases, media, electromechanical interactives, theatrical lighting/projectors.

They stress that costs could be lower, but it will then rely heavily on reusing ideas or elements from earlier exhibits or projects.  The panelists also believed that better designs are the result of longer development schedules, not more money.  More time allows for more iterations of designs to refine ideas.  Finally, for new buildings, they suggest that exhibit designers be brought in early to the process because they help program the space because they tend to “design from the inside out”–but that will require that the architect is willing to collaborate.  For a copy of the PowerPoint presentation, contact Chris Danemeyer at Proun Design.

Claudine Brown, the Assistant Secretary for Education and Access at the Smithsonian Institution, was the luncheon speaker.  She laid out the new interpretive direction for the Smithsonian and why they matter to museums, especially those that focus on African American history and culture.  The challenges facing the Smithsonian is that they need to preserve the evidence of the past, be relevant in the present, and be prepared for the future [and these are ideas all museums and historic sites can follow].  The three big topics the Smithsonian will be interpreting are:

  • Americans All: a shared experience as immigrants, everyone came from somewhere else, but all share a common country.
  • Waterways:  Water is a serious problem and its estimated that 2/3rds of the world will suffer water shortages by 2025.
  • Creativity and Innovation:  With our current high unemployment rates, museums can be part of the solution by providing learning opportunities that simulate real life and helping the next generation learn how to organize, strategize, and act.

The session on developing mobile applications was led by the Digital Humanities Center at Michigan State University, which maintains an online clearinghouse of mobile museum applications.  The session provided some estimated costs for producing various applications, as follows:

  • $0-?: mobile-ready website (creating a website that can be easily viewed on a smartphone; most common solution)
  • $5,000-$60,000:  native application (self-contained program that’s downloaded and works without an internet connection)

The session stressed that mobile applications rarely generate revenue–the average return on investment is $688 and takes 51 years–so look for other benefits to the institution.  It may be possible to generate revenues from after-market sales, such as an app that promotes a book, photoprints, music, and attendance at an event.  When I asked about the effectiveness of applications, the person sitting next to me suggested I look at #SocialMedia Daily, a blog that aggregates news about social media and apps.