Inviting a bunch of vocal tweeters into your exhibit is a great way to find out which objects and ideas are stickiest. In the case of Souvenir Nation, opening August 9, 2013, at the Smithsonian Castle, a display of little snippets of hair from President Washington through President Pierce is social media gold.
The tour was attended by about 25 history buffs and social media fans of the museum. The exhibition would open to the public on August 9th, so the group had the opportunity to see it first. As in other Smithsonian tweetups and socials, participants asked questions, looked closely at the objects in the show, chatted with Larry (who also signed copies of the book), learned new things, and created some buzz around the exhibition.
Because many of my colleagues don’t use Twitter, I decided to categorize some of the tweets to give them a sense of how a social media enhanced tour is different from one that doesn’t have a social media component. Here are a few of the categories I came up with and examples. (I apologize that the examples are not attributed to the person who tweeted them. I wanted my colleagues to focus on the content/sentiment and not who said what. I will add attribution soon!)
Quotes and comments from the curator:
- Early Smithsonian emphasis was almost exclusively scientific; collecting historical artifacts was secondary #SouvenirNation – @chrisubik
- Most interesting part of these items’ histories: “circumstances under which they were given.” – curator Bird #souvenirnation – @rocchijulia
- Humble things have the power to evoke emotion and forge a personal connection for you. -curator Bird #souvenirnation – @rocchijulia
- Seeing items like Napoleon’s napkin makes me wonder what oddities we’ll collect generations from now. Angry Birds hats? – @rocchijulia
- A lady’s glove w/ Lafayette’s face. Think of it like an 18th century #Bieber t-shirt #souvenirnation pic.twitter.com/nTFNHsWjBO – @worlddistrict
- The most fascinating thing about early America souvenirs?: they represent a shift in values from vandalism to conservation. #SouvenirNation – @chrisubik
- My favorite part of history is storytelling. It comes alive only when you can laugh, gasp, and cheer at what happened. #souvenirnation – @rocchijulia
Photos and facts about objects (by far the most common type of tweet on this tour)
- Miniature compass embedded in a NUT! #mountvernon #souvenirnation instagram.com/p/cuCceRSLb6/ – @serenetyhanley
- A more recent souvenir: Magnifying glass & hanging chads from Broward County, Florida #SouvenirNation pic.twitter.com/NqnxuFnOST – @lizlieutenant
- This was Bird’s favorite item in the collection and I think I’d have to agree #souvenirnation pic.twitter.com/VKkPOyII6S – @worlddistrict
- As a Francophile, I love this piece of the Bastille #souvenirnation instagram.com/p/cuDqW2yLeg/ – @serenetyhanley
- My favorite object: a fish-shaped can opener used on Teddy Roosevelt’s African expedition. #souvenirnation pic.twitter.com/6PdNHwShpf – @rocchijulia
- Come for #SouvenirNation, stay for the faboo architecture. Larry Bird and the tweetup participants in Schermer Hall. pic.twitter.com/eZhNnfSoeh – @chrisubik
- The #SouvenirNation exhibit is worth a stop at the @smithsonian Castle. It’s got some great pieces with even better stories. – @mikesmith916
Tweets from people not in the room
- ooh! This looks amazing.
- Can’t wait to get back to DC and see it!
- Weird Artifacts is my middle name!
Other categories appeared to be: “I’m on my way to the museum” pre-event tweets as well as “that was great, thanks” tweets at the end. What categories of tweets or other social media posts have you seen at socials and tweetups?
In addition to sharing what the online part of the tour looked like with my colleagues, I also wanted to brag about how great it was. My theory is that we’ll be able to share more and better content on social media if people see its positive effects. Here are a few facts I shared:
- #SouvenirNation was a trending topic in Washington, DC.
- Potential impressions: 6,866,000 (This is the potential number of times tweets containing the hashtag appeared in a Twitter user’s timeline.) The last #SItweetup, which was an all-day event as opposed to a one-hour event, had 35,750,754 impressions. Impressions are a little like newspaper circulation–you know how many newspapers you put on front lawns, but you don’t know how many people actually read the papers delivered. (This number is from Topsy.)
- Reached 27,750 Twitter accounts (number from TweetReach). This is the total number of unique Twitter users that received tweets related to the tweetup. The # SItweetup had a reach of 1,155,945 but was a longer event.
- On a normal day, the museum’s Twitter account gets a total of about 30-50 mentions (times when people talk to the museum account). On tweetup day, we got a total of 119 mentions, meaning that many more people talked to and about the museum. (This number is from HootSuite.)
As much as I like big numbers, I sometimes worry that they mainly indicate that @Smithsonian and @amhistorymuseum have a lot of followers. The image below (from TweetArchivist) shows that many participants sent more than 10 tweets in the hour-long tour. I was happy to see numerical evidence that it wasn’t just Smithsonian museums talking to and about ourselves but also about our guests sharing their own messages.
Perhaps the most powerful impact of interacting in-person with the museum’s social media folks is that these individuals are no longer just followers or acquaintances—they are friends and advocates, ready to share their feedback when we need it, spread our messages generously with their own contacts, and partner with us as we increase understanding of the American experience.
If you’re curious, here’s some background on why we did this tweetup… The tour came about after a previous tweetup in which attendees saw some of the Souvenir Nation objects behind the scenes in collections storage. Curator Bird mentioned the upcoming exhibit and we promised to let the group know when it would be opening and do our best to arrange a tour for them. Since the last tweetup, I’ve occasionally e-mailed the group and said, “We haven’t forgotten! We think it’s opening in August.” When we finally had a date to do the tour, I invited that original group of tweeters as well as the folks who were wait-listed for that tweetup (which had far more limited space). Once I had a headcount from those two groups, I put out an open call to people who wanted to attend. About 13 people applied through the open application and I was able to fit all of them onto the tour.
Erin Blasco is an education specialist in the New Media Department at the National Museum of American History.