I recently had an informal meeting with Ikon, Birmingham’s contemporary arts gallery, where we discussed how they can use social media effectively. Many galleries, museums, and other attractions have profiles in a number of social networks and Ikon is no exception. The main social media activity from Ikon is on Facebook and Twitter where they have developed a fairly active following. The Twitter account is particularly interesting when used to live blog from a series of talks. Encouraged by this initial success (which has come relatively easily), Ikon are keen to push forward and develop a more comprehensive social media strategy. I asked Ikon three key questions, and discussed a number of solutions for them. Ikon are keen for you to add more in the comments below.

Who talks for Ikon through social media channels?

One of the most difficult things to get right when tweeting as an organisation is voice: should Ikon tweet as Ikon, or tweet through individual members of staff? If the latter, then should these staff run a personal and work Twitter, or change their user names to include “Ikon” e.g. @JonHickmanIkon? Here are some options:

  1. One organisational Twitter account:
    • This is Ikon’s current approach and is working fairly well, but we were concerned that the Tweets might end up lacking personality and become broadcast in nature.
    • One option on the table is to sign Tweets by the appropriate member of staff, to add a sense of personality to them.
    • Another idea was for the Ikon account to be run by one person as their main account, something similar to the excellent organisational tweeting from OverheardAtMoo.
    • We also discussed being playful with the identity of @IkonGallery: can followers guess who is tweeting at any given time?
  2. Tweeting as individuals:
    • This can be problematic because staff are mixing their professional life and personal life.
    • This format also means that should someone leave the organisation, followers travel with them.
  3. Personal + Work Twitter:
    • This split personality approach gets over the objection to mixing private and personal thoughts, however it is is difficult to maintain when personal interest and work overlap: which account do you tweet from?
    • This solution doesn’t prevent followers moving with the member of staff, who can change their name (as timesjoanna did when she moved from the Birmingham Post and ceased to be postjoanna). Any social capital generated here is to the individual not the organisation.
    • There was an interesting discussion about mixing private & personal twitter accounts at West by West Midlands (hear the audio, led by Kasper Sorenson)

If you have any thoughts on these approaches please, do add a comment below.

How can Ikon’s social media be more engaging?

At the time of writing, Ikon has generated a Twitter following of 447 and a Facebook fan base of 766. It’s dipping its toe into being conversational with these communities. Answering the question of voice will certainly help to make Ikon more conversational. Current Ikon social media activity merely supports its traditional activity through trnasmission of marketing messages and by live blogging events. I suggested to Ikon that if its social media is to be more engaging it needs to move beyond reporting what is happening, and become the thing that is happening. Essentially this would mean 360° social media arts commissions; a project that would allow public collaboration and participation with the artist. A simple example of this would be for an artist to set a theme for a photographic project, with images collected from the public via Flickr and curated into a physical exhibition by a the resident artist. It is easy to see how this idea can be developed within a number of media, and into something much more in depth.

How would you use social media for collaborative arts? Please do add any thoughts to the comments.

What audiences could Ikon serve through social media?

As the social media audience is still a niche audience, Ikon wanted to know how much effort it should put into this activity. This is especially important if we are to consider a social media arts project as outlined above. I turned this on its head slightly, considering the different groups that Ikon serves or hopes to serve and how they feel about social media:

Members of the public who fall into Group 2 are an easy win: they will be interested in artistic projects and social media projects, and would perceive a lot of benefit from a social media arts project. The objective of a social media arts project might be considered to be to move as many of the potential audience into the Group 2 quadrant. Those in Group 3 are difficult to engage in social media or arts: they have no interest in either aspect. Groups 1 & 4 are potentially the most interesting for Ikon and other arts organisations: they have an interest in one of the two aspects, and this may be enough to get them engaged with a social media arts project. The hope is that then they will reappraise their engagement with arts or social media and continue to explore the newer interest.

The educative possibility of driving people from Group 1 to Group 2 is especially worthy of note. Digital inclusion is high on the government agenda, with several initiatives and policies driving towards the aim of increased online participation. Organisations such as Ikon have an education and community development remit. Driving users towards social media through participatory arts would be a valuable contribution to both organisational aims and the wider agenda of digital participation. This could be delivered through teaming up with social media practitioners and enthusiasts, using the popular surgery format pioneered in Birmingham.

How do you think Ikon could develop audiences and contribute to digital participation? The comments are yours…

Birmingham Centre For Media And Cultural Research

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