Vicky Pearce

Museums unleashed

Vicky Pearce, 26.05.2015
It’s time we learn to speak our audience’s language
Last week the Natural Science Collections Association's (NatSCA) annual conference was held at Bristol’s M Shed, with the aim of discussing the use of digital platforms, television and other forms of media.

Day one kicked off with a presentation from Wendy Darke, the head of the BBC Natural History Unit, which was a fantastic demonstration of the power of film to appeal to both the head and the (equally important) heartstrings. Sari Zeidler, who runs social media channels for BBC Earth, also offered an insight into the socially-powered success of the brand.

Having had the various platforms set out, a varied selection of speakers offered examples of how social media can spread our stories, while everyone was encouraged to share the tools and inspiration to further their reach. If you were ever in any doubt what, when and why to share your specimens, the resulting compilation of NatSci-themed hashtags is the perfect place to start.

There was an opportunity to hear from scientists who had used media networks to promote their specialism. Tori Herridge, from the Natural History Museum, shared her experience of taking mammoths to the media while Plymouth University's Iain Stewart argued for the importance of learning from the “disasters and dinosaurs” representation of popular geoscience.

Discussion on the day turned to specific issues with a Fight at the Museum session, in which the Horniman Museum and Garden’s Paolo Viscardi and the Grant Museum of Zoology’s Jack Ashby clashed over the decision to charge for filming.

The audience majority sided in favour of charging wherever possible, but not before a spirited discussion on the multi-faceted benefits, and limitations, of allowing TV crews into collections.

Above all, speakers emphasised the potential for social and other new media to reach new audiences. Not just to be used as way to spread the word to the converted, it offers an opportunity to reach those disengaged with science, if we approach it with the right attitude.

The greatest embodiment of this message came from Mar Dixon, the founder of @CultureThemes, who implored museums to embrace the hashtag and the voice afforded to them by engagement campaigns such as #AskACurator and #MuseumSelfie.

Perhaps it is time we took the impact of these events as an indication that social platforms are not just for teens, but now the most important means of speaking to the audience we don’t have yet.

For those of us unable to attend the second day, the power of the hashtag was immediately underlined. #NatSCA2015 enabled anyone to join the discussion around real-world examples from the sector, such as the Grant Museum's Mark Carnall’s workshop on challenging comments, or the behind-the-scenes tour of Bristol Museum and Art Gallery’s Natural History stores.

For more from Museums Unleashed, take a look at Twitter, check out the conference abstracts, or keep an eye out for further coverage on the NatSCA blog.

Vicky Pearce (@vicky_pearce)is the community and social media executive at the Natural History Museum

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