At the Nature Museum‘s volunteer dinner earlier this year, I was given an assignment of sorts. The museum’s butterfly haven has a population of about 25 button quail, little birds who serve as the haven’s cleanup crew. They’re also adorable, and some of the volunteers actually like them more than the butterflies.
At the dinner, somehow the conversation at my table turned to Beyonce, and from there it somehow developed into the phrase “What we need is the Single Ladies video, with button quail.”
Because I am capable of being an idiot, I said, “That would be easy.”
It wasn’t, but after a few months, the video was done:
So, how does this benefit the museum? On its own, probably minimally. It’s hardly been a viral hit (not that it was intended to be anything more than a gag between friends) so there wouldn’t be much marketing impact. Of a bit more value was its impact on camaraderie: I enjoyed making it, the people I volunteer with enjoyed watching it, and maybe it even brought us closer together.
Of course, whatever benefit the museum might have derived came with zero effort on the part of the museum and its paid staff, so any benefit is a net plus. And that makes me think that there may well be value in museums encouraging fan-made works generally.
A quick survey of major museums in Chicago didn’t reveal a whole lot of efforts on this front, although the Shedd Aquarium does highlight fan photos on its Facebook page every week, and several others at least welcome people sharing their museum-related pictures on the museum’s Facebook page, if not explicitly encouraging or seeking them out.
What’s the value in this? Well, I’m not privy to how the museums themselves see it, but I can at least run some thought experiments:
Marketing. Facebook is quite good as a sharing engine. So while a photo that an individual shares might not be seen by a huge number of people, it will be seen by their friends, and it comes with an implicit (if not more) personal recommendation: “I saw X at Y and I thought it was cool enough to share with you.”
Engagement. It’s nice to feel a part of something you respect. Museums offer several ways to do so—membership, volunteering, events—but they all require a fair level of commitment that a lot of people realistically won’t make. Sharing a photo, however, is pretty easy, and a positive experience doing so can lead to more of the same and possibly bigger things.
Mission. It takes more effort and involvement to create something based on what you see in a museum than it does to just look at it. Improved understanding is at least a likely side effect of that effort and involvement.
I’d love to hear about museums’ experiences with encouraging their fans to make museum-related things.