Hello everyone! After a long time of technical difficulties of all sorts, I am more than glad to announce that Museum Strategy is alive and running! It was a long-time wish to be able to give our readers a taste of how it is about working online for a French museum. You would think that to get there we had to go interview the staff of the Louvre, the Musée d'Orsay or the Centre Pompidou. Well whatever your expectations were if you had some, you probably did not think two of the most active webmasters in France are to be found in the beautiful and thriving southern city of Toulouse. Samuel Bausson - The Museum de Toulouse, second biggest natural history museum in France - and Alain Romang, - Les Abattoirs, a leading contemporary art museum - are some of the people you want to talk to to get valuable insights. Discover their impressions on being proactive in the French museum world, committing oneself to a public institution and dealing with your private/public persona online. French version available very soon!
1. Where are you from initially and how did you
come to be museum
Samuel: I am originally from
Alain: I have lived in
2. You work for two regional institutions that do not rank among the most important French museums. However, you remain as a major presence on the web. How can you explain this?
Alain: Both our institutions recognised, from a pretty early stage, the importance of exploiting online social networks as they have proved to be very time-effective in circulating information and creating interactivity with audiences. Given that larger museums do not tend to venture into these unchartered waters, our own initiatives naturally draw attention in the same way that some Anglo-Saxon institutions do.
Samuel: I don’t think there’s anything particularly special about us,
except that perhaps we were able to migrate and articulate the museum’s
offers to differents platforms and online services quite early on. When major
French museums decide to invest in a real presence and strategy online, they
will no doubt take over with their wider-reaching influence. It also has to be
said that in comparison to the larger Anglo-Saxon museums -The MoMa, the
Alain: We are also in the habit of thinking globally, keeping an open mind and constantly looking to build closer ties between the museum’s website, blog and social networks. This has probably had a lot to do with our relatively significant online influence.
3. What are some of the common difficulties that you have to deal with on a daily basis? How do you feel about your role within the museum?
Alain: The museum places a lot of trust in me and so I have a lot of freedom. I need to take great care in my daily organisation as I am also in charge of printed communication media - leaflets, banners and so on.
Samuel: It’s certainly true that we have a lot of freedom and I appreciate the fact that the museum trusts us. This being said, I don’t think that we are integrated enough into the structure of the institution. Being cut off from the rest of the staff is pretty normal for a lot of webmasters, who tend to end up doing their own onlin e strategy rather than that of the museum.
Over time I have met with other museum staff who were willing to work with me and I was able to translate many of their job experiences online, such as the records department on Netvibes and Twitter and the museum’s conferences on Facebook.
I think that it is important to add that I’m not working alone: Maud Dahlem, a sciences mediator at the museums, works with me and is in charge of the contents. This has enabled us to delve into a lot of other areas, especially FlickR.
The museum’s organisation is currently in the process of being completely restructured and this will change the way in which we work. For the moment, the plan is to work closely with the department dealing with audiences which is a rather positive step, in view of the work we have accomplished so far. Ideally, I would like to form a real team of people committed online.
5. You both have Twitter accounts. What are they about and what do they say about you? Do you run them alongside your Museums' Twitter accounts? Do you think more generally that you have to devote your entire self online when you’re a webmaster?
Alain : @alainromang, I take information that might potentially regard my job as a webmaster and circulate it. Twitter has proved to be a very useful daily tool to both monitor and share information. Thanks to ‘direct messages’ I can also send and receive message through another account other than just my job email address. Last but not least, @alainromang allows me to focus on and clarify any details or requests originally coming from the official museum’s Twitter @lesabattoirs so as to avoid disrupting its coherence.
Samuel : On @samuelbausson, I tweet almost exclusively on museums and the web. I do a considerable amount of monitoring and find the platform quite a pleasant way to get to know people and engage in conversations with them. On the museums account, I tweet about the life of the museums and more generally, I take part in the museum ‘conversations’. Elodie Guiraud, who works as an archivist, is my ‘ally’ on the board: she enriches the museum’s threads with a daily scientific monitoring. Sometimes our paths cross but not too often fortunately.
I personally think that you should never devote yourself one hundred percent to an online persona. I use my real name because it is far simpler for professional contacts to find me if needed though I think that it’s understandable to have different pseudonyms online. The frontiers between professional and private life are becoming more and more blurred, as they are inscribed in a conversation flux and so it’s difficult to completely separate things, places and time. Perhaps, my point is best exemplified by the fact that I am answering your questions on a Saturday afternoon!
Alain : That is a tricky question and I don’t really have a proper answer. One part of the solution lies in creating an online identity which is halfway between your work-self and your private persona. This way, you can really give as much of yourself as you want online, with due protection. However, the question of what one can and cannot say remains a burning issue, especially when one works for a public service. In some cases, this seems quite incompatible with personalising your interactions online.
Samuel: I really have trouble perceiving the museum’s image from an outsider’s perspective and I am well aware that the internet users who follow us closely form a very minor part of the museum’s audience. I have bonded with fellow webmasters and people in charge of media in museums but at the institutional level these relationships prove harder to establish, as institutions are rarely able to concretise bonds made online. Despite very tough conditions, the institution’s online presence as I know it owes its success to the small few who are willing to work on it.
Alain: I have had a lot of positive feedback but I agree that it’s hard to measure the real impact of our work on the web without resorting say, to an in-depth survey of a large population sample. But we can safely assume that these new ways of informing and interacting with people contribute to creating a positive image of the museums. As regards the bonding with the institutions, I would agree with Samuel.
7. So, what’s on the cards for the near future?
Alain: Well, we started dabbling in social networks in 2007 and 2008. Ideally, we would like to take the work that we’ve already started and make it durable, before moving on to the refurbishing of the new website and the circulation of information through mobile phone devices. We need to attract a greater audience in our communities and improve the quality of our interactions with them, drawing inspiration from the Museum on Flickr. We will continue to closely monitor what we are doing because in this relatively new arena, you never know where the work is going to take you. The constant evolution in this field of work means that we need to think of new approaches all the time.
Samuel: As far as we -the museum- are concerned, our main goal is to continue strengthening the museum’s online community. I am also working hard on a project for mobile phone apps that for accompanying museum visits. But it’s still early days….
Interview by Claire Solery