Reflections from a first time tweetup attendee

After organizing a tweetup, you’re always curious what participants really thought of the experience. #Docsocial tweetup attendee Priya Chhaya generously offered to blog about her experience participating in the tweetup to provide a sense of what worked, what didn’t, and how museum professionals can continue to improve the tweetup format. 

In January, Erin Blasco posted about the #docsocial tweetup, a collaborative venture between the National Museum of American History and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. At that tweetup, in addition to plenty of other diverse attendees, was a contingent of staff from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, representing a newly minted employee-run Emerging Professionals Network (EP@NTHP).

#Docsocial attendees pause for a photo in the "Camilla's Purse" exhibition

#Docsocial attendees pause for a photo in the “Camilla’s Purse” exhibition

As part of the program, EP@NTHP looks to foster and develop skills and knowledge to aid employees further their careers both within and beyond the National Trust. A segment of that involves basic training on technology and tools linked to online communication and engagement. We looked to the event not only as a way to cultivate our love for history (we are all history nerds), but also to see opportunities for tweetups like this in our work with saving places.

Who we are:

  • Julia: A regular Twitter user/tweetup participant. You heard a bit of her feedback in Erin’s last post here. (@rocchijulia)
  • Priya: An avid Twitter user, but first-time tweetup participant. (@priyastoric)
  • Diana: Occasional Twitter user, first-time tweetup participant (@dtmax16)
  • Jackie: Occasional Twitter user, first-time tweetup participant (@jackievicino)
  • Kelly: Newbie Twitter user, first-time tweetup participant (@kellyeschindler)

Prior to the tweetup, Julia held a quick tutorial on Twitter for those who were just foraying into the tool. Users learned about hashtags, retweets, and mentions. She also set the stage for what the tweetup might be like on the ground.

Following the tweetup, we all met again to talk through the process. What was useful, what was not? What made it difficult, and what made it smoother? Here are some of the challenges and opportunities we saw.

What worked:

Pre-Tweetup Materials: Erin and Elissa sent us a number of things to prep for the tweetup. From access to Twitter lists so we could easily connect with our fellow attendees to a guide for spelling and identification. All of these were essential to allowing for a smooth conversation.

Ask the Expert: The ability of the expert to serve as a knowledge base is essential. It was great to have people there to answer questions and help us to make further connections between the objects and broader historical arcs.

Curators explain main themes of the exhibition

Curators explain main themes of the exhibition

Challenges:

The Pace. For the first time tweeters, the pace was a little intimidating and led to a few frozen fingers.

Reflection: Because Twitter is so in the moment, oftentimes tweetups become mired in many people saying the same thing. In the case of #docsocial, and particularly because of its ambitious nature (two museums over a half day), the built-in reflection time often got lost in transitions between spaces.

The Experts:  Yes, we loved having the experts, but especially where Camilla’s Purse was concerned, it was difficult to navigate between the in person conversation with the desire to feel the flow of the exhibition and to read.

The #docsocial group at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

The #docsocial group at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Suggestions:

From Julia:

Assign “beats” to participants. Ask each participant to focus on either a theme or channel, and have them cast their realtime experience through that lens (be it literal or figurative). For example, a teacher in attendance could look at the exhibit in terms of curriculum development. Or a strong photographer in the group could post from Instagram rather than Twitter for the event. In essence, play to your crowd’s strengths—and in doing so, you could ensure a variety of perspectives and personal reflections.

Build in the tweetup equivalent of applause lines. The curators know their information inside and out, but with familiarity comes speed. I’ve noticed on all my tweetups now that in their eagerness to share their cool stuff, they neglect to leave breathing room for participants. Coach your curators (or exhibit designers, historians, etc.) to pause for a minute or so after significant facts or takeaways. This break will give attendees a chance to compose and share the information, as well as take a second for reflection and additional interpretation.

From Jackie:

What did the museum want/need the audience to take away from the tweetup? Having a sense of what the coordinator’s goals were for the tweetup would help the in-person audience make the connection between the exhibit/object and Twitter.

From Diana:

It might be that for something as ambitious as this two-museum tweetup that the number of actual participants was lower. The introductions took longer to get through (as valuable as it was) which definitely effected the overall time flow for the program.

Final Thoughts (From Priya):

While I’ve participated in a number of live tweeting opportunities, primarily at conferences, this particular opportunity forced me to really engage with how the virtual audience connected with the story the curators were trying to tell. In some ways, much like in-person visitors, you are dealing with varied attention spans, and individuals who may not be seeing every single tweet. What I realized is that tweetups at museums is that we are actually “acting curators.” While in its very nature Twitter is about archiving, cataloging, and interpreting the world around you, tweetups are more deliberate—and in the case of Camilla and Helene’s purses, we were given the opportunity to frame these stories within our own worldview.

….and that’s where the strength of this tweetup comes in. It is really all about the subject matter. When it is something as compelling as coaxing the extraordinary out of the everyday the inspiration portion of your work is done. What’s more difficult is finding ways to have an even experience in both the physical and virtual world.

One suggestion I have is holding an initial Google hangout or video tour of the objects before hand – which you can share with the virtual audience prior to the tweetup, so that they aren’t “jumping” at the back of the crowd. The benefit for the live tweeters to interact with experts is still there while also providing a broader context to those who could not attend in person.

Priya Chhaya is an Associate Manager for Online Content at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. A proud public historian she manages the Preservation Leadership Forum blog and is an editor for History@Work the blog for the National Council on Public History. Learn more about her at www.priyachhaya.org and follow her on Twitter @priyastoric.

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