@janetcarding Tweeting from the Top

Posted: October 17, 2011 - 09:00 , by royal
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This article was originally published on UNMUSEUM on September 27, 2011. You can follow Janet on Twitter @janetcarding.

2011 has been my first real summer on Twitter. In fact I’ve had an account for a couple of years, but used it rather sporadically at conferences. After I arrived in Toronto to take up my role of Director & CEO of the Royal Ontario Museum, I was immersed in learning about all things ROM for the first few months. I also knew that the ROM already tweeted with several voices, (@ROMToronto, @ROMVisitors, @ROMKids, @ROMWalks and others) and that we wanted to be strategic with how we used the different accounts.

In the spring the ROM put together a set of guidelines for all staff about social media, and we started to move into a new phase of experimenting, backed by a strategy developed with a social media team drawn from across the museum. I met with some of the team, and our Communications VP, and we discussed the part I’d play as Director. We agreed that I would tweet as the leader, so in my official capacity, and that while I might sometimes retweet ROM news or events, my main role would be to give the Director’s perspective, and also tweet about areas I found interesting or relevant to what we are doing now, or exploring for the future. We didn’t set specific targets in terms of followers, but wanted to give a sense that the ROM was aiming to be more transparent and involving, and hoped that having a Director on Twitter would be a positive sign, and be of some interest.

So, a few months later, this guest blog is a great chance to look back on what I’ve learnt, and reflect on what it is like to “tweet from the Director’s office”. Here are my thoughts, in no particular order:

1. Twitter has been a great way to keep in touch with people I’ve met at conferences, worked with, or just heard great things about. And as I’ve worked in the UK, Australia, and now Canada, I have my own 24-hour news cycle, as the Aussies are getting up and tweeting just as the Canadians are going to bed.

2. I realized quickly that Twitter has changed how I get, and think about news. From Amy Winehouse to Libya, I’ve heard breaking news via tweets first, and following Canadian journalists such as Doug Saunders (@dougsaunders), Kim Fox (@kimfox), and Andrew Coyne (@acoyne) has been really enjoyable. Good communicators seem to make good tweeters.

3. I’ve found that colleagues in museums, galleries, and other cultural organizations who are innovating are talking about it on Twitter and other social media. So I have been able to boost my knowledge of what is going on, and how technology and social media are changing the way we understand and work with our audiences, whether onsite or online.

4. I’ve changed the way I go online. First I found myself using my iPhone a lot more, and when I realized I was using it at home a fair amount, I cracked and bought myself an iPad. While at work I tweet from my computer, but the rest of the time it is great to not be sitting at a desk. Along with the iPad, I’ve changed to Hootsuite, so, I can follow more hashtags, and I use Instapaper to save the blogs, and articles that I hear about for reading later.

5. At first I found the time involved, once you commit to regularly tweeting, a bit hard to find, but now I aim to tweet every couple of days. I also schedule tweets if I find I’ve a lot to say, as I quickly found I hated it if someone I followed tweeted constantly! I suspect that this rate will ebb and flow over time, and so I now focus on whether I have something to say, rather than panic that it is 5:00 pm and I have been silent all day.

6. Perhaps surprisingly, I found the hardest thing to do was to tweet about my role. I spend much of my time in meetings, discussing exhibitions, programs, acquisitions and events that will happen in the future. And when they do happen, they’ll have their own marketing plan including social media. Some of my work is also confidential. For instance, over the last six months we’ve been putting together a new strategic plan for the ROM, and though there has been lots of consultation and discussion, we need people to feel they can speak frankly about their ideas, and concerns, and that doesn’t fit with the Director tweeting about it! I’ve found that leaves me tweeting about public events, or the occasional discussion, and feel that twitter has not as yet provided an adequate window onto the role of a museum’s leader. I’m going to continue to look for ways to do that, so any suggestions are welcome.

7. Lastly, even though I am tweeting in my public rather than in an individual capacity, I have tried to introduce myself a bit through Twitter. Occasionally I talk about a football team (Soccer and AFL) I support, or where I am off to at the weekend, just so people don’t think I have no life apart from museums. I suspect I could do more of this, and admire the tweets of historian Lucy Inglis (@lucyinglis) or Torontonian Shawn Micallef (@shawnmicallef), who give us a sense of their rich inner life in 140 character chunks. I’ve enjoyed their wit and polemic.

So where has this experiment got me, and indeed the ROM? While many CEOs in the private sector tweet, museum directors who tweet are still relatively rare. I have learnt a great deal from Twitter, but I think over the next few months I need to work more on how I can shed light on what I do. I want the ROM to be seen less as an institution, and more as a place that people with different roles and skills come together to create some thing very special that is important to our community in Canada, and beyond. To do that we all need to become better storytellers, learn to use our curation skills in new ways, and focus on inviting our various communities to get involved. So, now that I’ve tackled the basics, I’m going to work on those goals.