Twitter Whatever Twitter is, everyone suddenly seems to be doing it. Twitter is basically a forum for people to post updates on what they’re doing, what they’ve recently read or talked about, or what they’re thinking. Messages are limited to 140 characters—it’s short and sweet! Younger folks will make the easy comparison to Facebook’s status updates or Instant Messaging’s away message.
Both people and institutions have Twitter feeds. You can read others’ Twitter feeds without having an account yourself. If you create an account, your home page will display a running list of your contacts’ most recent updates. You can “reply” to folks by typing “@nameofcontact” to respond to their updates. You can also choose just to read others’ Twitter feeds without posting yourself.
Some people’s tweets are pure navel-gazing: here’s what I just ate, here’s where I’m getting ready to drive. However, we’ve seen lots of examples of public humanities institutions using Twitter. Sometimes it’s a matter of staff members sharing their daily schedules or new developments in their field. The former, especially, creates a great sense of transparency. We especially love the Smithsonian’s Twitter feed, which gives quick snapshots to unusual items in the collection, updates on that day’s events (like concerts, symposiums, exhibit openings, etc.), and even a funny interactive game where SI posts a picture and asks followers to try to figure out where in the institution it was taken.
Twitter may seem a little overwhelming, but we especially like three possibilities it offers for small cultural heritage organizations. First, as with all new media projects, it communicates to your community, especially younger folks, that you are meeting them where they are. Two, it’s an easy way to instantly let your community know about events or highlight objects from your collection. Finally, you can follow high-level museum, new media, or other public humanities professionals (or innovators from smaller institutions) to see what they’re doing; this seems an easy way to keep abreast of developments in the field. When they read something, attend a conference, see an original exhibit or website, they will probably tweet it. Now you’ll know it too.
If and when you start a Twitter feed, have clear goals for what you hope it will help you achieve. Again, the free cat warning: new media is easy to get, but then you have to take care of it! Of course, when you start your Twitter feed, be sure to blog about it on your website.