Social Media in Museums

By Melanie Fernandes ‘16

This post is part of a series featuring behind-the-scenes dispatches from our Pohanka Interns working on the front lines of history this summer as interpreters, archivists, and preservationists. See here for the introduction to the series.

Social media is commonly used by organizations in order to extend their public outreach. However, social media can also be a key component of internal workings in these organizations. In reference to historic sites, this is important to recognize. Many historic sites are large and contain several different subgroups; many also work in conjunction with other sites. Boston African American National Historic Site (BOAF) partners with both Boston National Historical Park and the Museum of African American History, working with each in different respects. Because of these connections, it is important for partnering sites to be aware of what the others are doing. At BOAF, we have been working to create an e-newsletter in order to update people on what is happening at our site. In this newsletter, the challenge is not only to highlight many aspects of the park, but also give our partners an awareness of broader developments within the National Park Service as a whole. The newsletter will highlight presentations given by specific BOAF rangers, the projects interns are working on, and the work of administrative staff.

As part of her duties as a 2015 Brian C. Pohanka Intern at Boston African American National Historic Site, Melanie Fernandes speaks to a tour group in front of the c. 1806 African Meeting House, the oldest black church edifice still standing in the United States and site of the formation of the New England Anti-Slavery Society in 1832.
As part of her duties as a 2015 Brian C. Pohanka Intern at Boston African American National Historic Site, Melanie Fernandes speaks to a tour group in front of the c. 1806 African Meeting House, the oldest black church edifice still standing in the United States and site of the formation of the New England Anti-Slavery Society in 1832.

However, the newsletter is not limited to internal information. We also plan to use it to highlight events going on in the larger community that relate to the history our site interprets. For example, given our focus on African American history, we have chosen to highlight a public reading of Frederick Douglass’ “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro” speech on July 2, 2015. Promoting outside events is important because it means we recognize that our mission extends beyond our site itself. Since our mission at BOAF is to promote African American history, specifically in the Boston area, we have to be aware of events in the community that connect to our history. By doing this, we are embracing our site’s larger mission, as well as recognizing that the purpose of social media can extend beyond promoting our own site.

From my experience working with social media at this site I have learned that social media can be an especially helpful tool for larger sites, or sites working in conjunction with other sites. Though social media is valuable for reaching out to the public, it is also a handy way to reach out to partner sites. This keeps sites unified, allowing partners to be more connected to each other by having a more thorough understanding of the events planned. In this sense, I have learned that social media can be used to both enhance and focus the mission of a historic site. Making sure that all sites are aware of events going on allows everyone to remain engaged in the history of each site, keeps people up to date on new research, and helps all employees feel connected to staff with whom they might not have regular interactions.


Sources:

Allen-Greil, Dana. “Case Study: National Museum of American History,” in Conversations With Visitors: Social Media and Museums (Museums, Etc., 2012): 250-267.

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