Social Change

There comes a moment in every trajectory where one has to change course.  As part of a social media strategic plan, we are changing gears a bit to deploy an engagement strategy which focuses on our in-building audience, closely examines which channels are working for us, and aligns our energies in places where we feel our voice is needed, but allows for us to pull away where things are happening on their own.  Here are the changes we are making as of today…

Over the years, it has become clear that the key readership of this blog has been from the technology community—those colleagues and students following our tech efforts at the Museum.  We’ve tried for broader content here, but we’ve never been able to do that consistently and it’s never (at least statistically speaking) landed well.  Starting today, this blog will focus on tech and continue to do so.  The former content is still here if you are looking to surface it, but the focus from here on will be on technology.

So, where is all that great curatorial, conservation, and archival content going?  In the past few months, we’ve been testing Tumblr and it’s been a much better channel for this type of content.  Statistically, we can see that this very visually rich content has a much broader reach here and our Tumblr will focus on these areas.  Interestingly, we found the tech content which does so well here fell totally flat there, so splitting content to platform in this manner makes sense.

Material at The Commons on Flickr has been moved to Wikimedia and seeded into appropriate articles, such as the Paris Exposition of 1900.

Material at The Commons on Flickr has been moved to Wikimedia and seeded into appropriate articles, such as the Paris Exposition of 1900.

As of today, we have left Flickr (including The Commons).  We’ve seen a steady decline in the engagement level at Flickr and it was clear it was time to leave the platform, though we still love it.  For those of you who gasped, fear not!  We’ve moved all of The Commons material to Wikimedia Commons and images are now being seeded to appropriate articles (take a look at the Paris Expo 1900 to see this beautifully in action).  This move will continue to give those assets much-needed visibility while allowing us to focus engagement efforts elsewhere.  Additionally, it allows us to continue to focus our efforts at Wikipedia, which is working well and continues as a highly visible platform.

As part of this same thinking, we have also left History Pin; another platform we love, but wasn’t working for our goals and was splitting our attention.  As for day-to-day image sharing of exhibition load-ins, it won’t surprise you to hear that will continue at Instagram where we are seeing a high level of engagement.

We have left iTunesU in favor of sharing content via YouTube and SoundCloud.  We just were not seeing the statistics to continue with iTunesU.  We found the administration of the account laborious and the statistical reporting onerous.  It was clear to us from an administrative standpoint, it was a drain on staff time that simply wasn’t giving back enough as a distribution channel.

Additional cleanup that may surprise you?  We’ve deleted our Foursquare branded page because it wasn’t working well from a community engagement standpoint; it was confusing to have the branded page (that most people didn’t know about) sitting alongside the venue page, which is created and maintained by site users.  Over the years, we’ve come to learn there are some places where our own presence is not needed and the community functions beautifully on its own.  Foursquare is one of those (and our feelings are similar about Pinterest).

If there’s one thing I’d love to do that would be to …..leave Facebook.  Interaction on this platform has plummeted and while we don’t feel like we can leave just yet, we are spending our energies elsewhere in places where we are seeing deeper engagement.

As platforms and our goals continue to morph, you’ll see us make even more changes.  In the meantime, we hope you’ll continue to read our newly-branded tech blog because we’ve got some exciting projects coming up.

Join the conversation

  • Zak Mensah - 10 years ago


    I just wanted to thank you and the team for writing about a subject I have just started to grapple with myself. Your post has really inspired me.

    I work at Bristol Museum in the UK and its so nice to have other museums publicly share their thoughts, successes and failures. I look forward to seeing what else you folks get up to in the coming year.

    I wonder what services I should be retiring (as the GDS service manual) refers to it.


  • Gary Dauphin - 10 years ago

    The only thing constant in social media is… change! I enjoyed the article, and the thought you guys put into where you are going to spend your energies (A lot of the public doesn’t understand museums typically have very thin resources).

    We are having great success on FaceBook, and only minimal-to-no engagement on other platforms. I speculate that different platforms attract different demographics, and in turn work more effectively for different institutions.

    I would enjoy having you follow up in six months or so about how the decisions you made in the article turned out!

  • Jackie Dooley - 10 years ago

    Congratulations on doing such a thorough analysis. What can you tell us about how you’re measuring engagement?

    • Shelley Bernstein - 10 years ago

      Hi Jackie,

      There’s no one shot solution for this kind of measurement. For us, we take a lot of factors into consideration including what we think of the “heartbeat” – that very unquantitative feeling we have when continually managing the account over time. If you do this day to day you can feel the ebb and flow of a platform and its engagement or lack of it. The thing to take away here is that our goals changed. While we do look at metrics and base decisions on that as one factor, with our audience goals (who we are trying to engage) changing the platforms we were using or needed to stop using became clear. I would always start with audience goals before looking at anything else and I would say that was 75% of the decision here. I hope that puts some of this in perspective.

      • Jordon - 10 years ago

        Congrats, Shelley, on undertaking some strategic disengagement–something we see too little of when it comes to social media presence in the cultural heritage sector!

        Setting aside your institution’s gut for a second, to build upon Jackie’s question, what types of measures are you using to inform your decision–page views? comments? reposts? And I’m curious how well these tools provide this kind of statistical information.

        • Shelley Bernstein - 10 years ago

          Hi Jordon – On Flickr, the most helpful things for us were tags and users correcting records. Corrected records happened few and far enough in between where we took our own count, but the tagging via The Commons required our own scripting primarily because we had a merged Commons/non-Commons account. Other platforms we are looking at deep engagement and not necessarily views – on Instagram we look at how much people tagging is matching up with phrases like “let’s go” or “see this” or “we should do it.” Tumblr is about reach via Google Analytics b/c we wanted a close comparison to the blog given the decision we were trying to make.

          • Jordon - 10 years ago

            Thanks, Shelley. Your approach to measuring a deeper engagement than page views is really interesting.

  • Jason - 10 years ago

    I fully understand the desire to not continue adding content to the Flickr Commons, but do not understand the need to delete it entirely. What is behind that particular decision?

    • Shelley Bernstein - 10 years ago

      Hi Jason,

      Flickr is a community platform and if our own goals have changed and we feel as if engagement is not meeting what we hope it to be, our feeling is that we need to leave. To us, allowing content to sit on a platform and not engage is not a good strategy and sends mixed messages.

      • Christopher - 10 years ago

        As a former digital archivist, you’ve cut off your nose to spite your face. I agree that engagement on Flickr might go down, but deleting files and comments seems counter intuitive to a museum, especially one that engages in digital archiving and sharing. You could have left the files and still moved to new, exciting platforms with new “exciting projects”.

        • Shelley Bernstein - 10 years ago

          Hi Christopher,

          There is a key difference in thinking here, though, that needs to be talked about. I agree with you that there’s an “archival” aspect to this argument, but that was not the key factor in our re-thinking. For us, this was about the audience we are trying to engage and a shift in our digital engagement goals. As such, we felt it was important to leave and that “sitting” was not an okay strategy just to keep materials accessible. We did feel it was extremely important to keep the materials visible in some way off our own site and in the greater public web, so this is why we moved content to Wikimedia Commmons. Additionally, tags had been harvested back to our own collection online and comments which had corrected records came into our archives (and the records were corrected). Did we get everything? No, but we felt like we did a lot of due diligence in the shift.

        • Michael - 10 years ago


          It appears that Shelley has a very particular goal for her various web presences: “Engagement.” It’s one that I — like you, I imagine — don’t believe should be the beginning and end of an online content strategy.

          For me, the purpose of any undertaking online isn’t engagement; it’s access. I wouldn’t think for a moment of removing images from Flickr Commons once they’ve been put there, because that would remove one of the precious few methods that people have to access our materials.

          Engagement is for technophile archivists and curators; access is for the patron or user.

          It doesn’t help that I find Wikimedia Commons to be a UI disaster, and thoroughly despise trying to find anything there (particularly when that something winds up being a pixelated 100K image that wouldn’t fill a postage stamp). Flickr Commons is imperfect, but from the point of view of someone who searches for images, it’s head and shoulders above Wikimedia Commons.

      • Trevor - 10 years ago

        I get where you are coming from with that, but breaking all those links also sends a funky mixed message too. I mean, the org could have put up a “the museum is no longer actively participating” note with a link in the bio, and from there the timestamps on the photos would communicate that it wasn’t an active project. That is, it wouldn’t be hard to telegraph that filckr is no longer a primary place to engage with the collections. I guess I don’t really get the harm of those photos and comments hanging out over on flickr.

        • Shelley Bernstein - 10 years ago

          Hi Trevor,

          I’m sure that you know that very few click through to bio statements on the web. The platform would have to have a built-in banner mechanism (or similar) making this very clear and they just didn’t. This is one of the issues of working within frameworks that we don’t create; we don’t always have the control to make the best case scenario happen.

          In the end this is about setting a priority and making changes (not always popular ones) to honor those choices. It’s about saying when we are on a platform, we will engage (which is good for the community) or we will exit because it’s not appropriate engagement strategy to just sit. Community is a two-way street and requires engagement of both parties. There are places that are less community driven (or driven in a different way) that allow for sitting — that’s why we parked things at Wikimedia. Content can sit there and it can be owned by the community in a way that Flickr does not allow.

          There are just a lot of factors to consider.

    • J Sheehy - 10 years ago

      Would love to see you respond to the very valid concerns raised by Jeremy Keith about digital preservation:

      • Shelley Bernstein - 10 years ago

        I’m so glad you linked to this post – we saw it yesterday and Jeremy does not have comments enabled, so I frustratingly couldn’t respond easily. So, much of this has been addressed in comments on this post already, but I’ll recap a few things again, so I can ping back on his post.

        To the concern about wiping out content…

        Though not fully outlined in detail in my own post, we did a lot of due diligence in this shift. While content has been removed from Flickr, much of the associated community-driven metadata had been migrated to our own collection online. Thanks to the Flickr API, tags had been moved over consistently from our very first days on the platform. Comments which corrected records came into our archives, were documented, and record metadata was updated. We did lose some things – we had to take screenshots of relevant “notes” on images. Our own collection online does not have a way to surface that kind of thing, so that kind of information remains internal to our documentation.

        The move to Wikimedia was not about view counts or a cavalier attitude toward storage. When we knew we were going to pull content from Flickr, we felt like the assets needed to remain public somewhere beyond our own website. We don’t expect people to come here to find content nor is our website optimized with the same UX to surface content; these are important issues. We felt Wikimedia allowed the content to “sit” in a way that we can’t on Flickr.

        While there is an archival viewpoint to be made and one that we see fully, for us this was about setting a priority and making changes (not always popular ones) to honor those choices. It’s about saying when we are on a platform, we will engage (which is good for the community) or we will exit because it’s not appropriate engagement strategy to just sit. Community is a two-way street and requires engagement of both parties. There are places that are less community driven (or driven in a different way) that allow for sitting — that’s why we parked things at Wikimedia. Content can sit there and it can be owned by the community in a way that Flickr does not allow.

        Jeremy, unfortunately, misunderstood the Tumblr thing. We are not moving Commons content to Tumblr. We had a failing blog (this very thing you are reading) because there was little focus. Tech posts were doing great and having solid readership (thank you!), but curatorial and conservation content just wasn’t landing at all. We started posting that kind of thing to Tumblr to see if things were better and they were. It became clear to us that we needed to focus tech content here and the more visual content over there. This is about metrics and the engagement we were seeing on the two platforms around specific content. Has nothing to do with the Flickr move specifically.

        Our video content has always been on YouTube (this was not a move). We simply needed to streamline and focus. iTunesU was more than a pain to manage and its statistical reporting was not good either. It’s not a flexible or modern platform; it made little sense to stay from what we were seeing. (Flickr was a much more complicated decision.)

        In terms of self-hosting. Yes, we have that and plenty of it. We’ve invested heavily in our online collection with more than 100,000 records published and utilizing Creative Commons licensing and decently high resolution downloads. In addition, we have our own API, games for tagging onsite, and a labs area where we experiment with the collection on a technical level. Over the years we have been gifted with a talented team of web developers who have made this happen, an administration who has fully embraced open licensing and reuse, and a staff of curators and collections management who have really invested in making this resource available to the public.

        That said, we do believe in the power of other platforms and we do not expect users to come to us to find content. As such, we cross post to appropriate repositories when it makes sense. Given that strategy Wikimedia makes sense. However, Flickr is more tricky because it’s a social network that is doubling as a repository. In that scenario, when one part of that equation started to falter, it was clear that it we needed to change too.

  • PeterK - 10 years ago

    how did you inform people who followed you on flickr of the move to wikimedia commons?

    • Shelley Bernstein - 10 years ago

      Hi Peter,

      Unfortunately, there is no easy way to do this on social platforms. The spamming protections that they have in place prevented us from making an “all follower” announcement. This is unfortunate, but a limitation of the platform. It is interesting that this feature, which helps protect the community, also makes transitions like this one difficult for community; it’s a problem that we often find with any platform that we didn’t develop ourselves.

      • PeterK - 10 years ago

        as others noted I see no reason why you couldn’t have put a link in the bio part along with an announcement that the museum would not be continuing on flickr. nothing more annoying then to bookmark something then go back to the site and get the 404 announcement

        • Shelley Bernstein - 10 years ago

          Hi Peter – People don’t click through to bios. We wish there was a more visible way to make the account clearly not active, but we didn’t have that flexibility on a platform that we didn’t develop.

          • Matthew Murray - 10 years ago

            While people probably don’t click through to profile pages, there is a way that you could make the site more clearly inactive: uploading a banner image that says this. Here’s a (really) ugly one I made in like two minutes:

            While it wouldn’t display on individual images, it would be seen on the collection as a whole, and when people are viewing sets.

            Maybe you considered this idea and decided against it, but it still an option.

          • Shelley Bernstein - 10 years ago

            Yes, we decided against it b/c it is not available to individual images. The “home” page, to me, is similar to a bio page – we can’t assume people will look there and, in fact, should assume they won’t. In a change like this, the clarity is key.

          • Matthew Murray - 10 years ago

            Also, you might want to take this page down from your website ; )

          • Shelley Bernstein - 10 years ago

            Ah, ha! Yes, thank you, Matthew :) Doing that now…

  • Emily - 10 years ago

    This is really interesting, and something I assume people will be talking a lot about in the year(s) to come. Can you clarify – for those of us interested in the long(er) form tech-focused blog posts but not the more frequent Tumblr posts, how can we subscribe to the blog only?

    • Shelley Bernstein - 10 years ago

      We’ve enabled RSS – if you click the link in the top nav, you’ll get the RSS feed which can be plugged into any reader. Also, I’ll likely tweet via @shell7 new posts that go up.

  • Amy Sample Ward - 10 years ago

    Thank you for sharing this transparent update, for walking the talk of being strategic and community-centered, and for inviting us in (even virtually) as you do so well. I’m excited to watch the tech blog really take shape and NTEN will be along for the ride across channels supporting you!

  • Margaret Warren - 10 years ago

    Interesting post around the all too often neglected area of strategic decision making around online engagement. What’s interesting to me is that it’s very much got to be the right decision making for your organisation, and your goals – as you have outlined in this post. Here at the State LIbrary of Queensland we have seen engagement with our collection on Flickr Common increasing, with lots of comments and tags and engagement from our community in discoverying more and adding new knowledge to our content. It also meets our need to provide a curated view of our photographic content that we don’t have happening so well in our catalogue. We donated 50 000 images to Wikimedia Commons in 2010 and have seen lots of use of it in many articles, as you have also found. The “set and forget” environment of Wikimedia Commons (as far as putting content in an easy place for others to use and re-use) has ensured a very good return on our investment of resources in this space. We are engaging with Historypin as an environment to foster deeply local engagement with our collection around place, but it is still a developing platform for us. It’s great to have others discussing this sticky issue – the big one for us is how to measure depth of engagement in a meaningful way. Something that delineates the tick and flick so often seen on Facebook, and significant research by an individual around an image on Flickr Commons or Histroypin. Would love to know how others are doing this. Cheers

  • Lesa Griffith - 10 years ago

    Dear Shelley,

    Thanks for so generously sharing your digital/social media strategy in this post. I was wondering what your shift in audience goals is. Are you focusing more on reaching a local audience? How do you find that visitor/tourist balance when strategizing your digital media?