Twitter: Would You Prefer Sweet or Dill?

By Jeremy Clark

Roughly 84 years ago, I worked as a personal trainer at a YMCA. After hours one summer evening, the entire staff gathered mandatorily to watch a customer service training video (apparently management felt we needed some inspiration). We viewed a heavy-handed but heartfelt instructional film produced by motivational speaker and ice cream magnate Bob Farrell entitled "Give 'em the Pickle." (I provide the link for reference only; the video is somewhat outdated, obvious and overstated. Essentially, Bob wants you to make your customers happy.)

Bob likes to talk about going the extra mile, symbolized by his giving patrons free pickles at his burger joints; it's a small way to humanize the company and make a genuine connection to customers. As I was considering Lydia Johnson's recent post concerning authenticity, for some reason Bob and his message sprang to mind. From there, it's not hard for me to imagine how Twitter just might be one of the best pickle identification and delivery systems available for museums.

Now, I know what you're thinking: not another post about Twitter. Well, yes. And it's not just because of the massive growth it's enjoyed (a trend that should be taken with a grain of salt). It's because I've had recent conversations with multiple museum executives who replied to my questions about their institutions' use of Twitter with a pitch perfect Lisa Simpson "meh," or worse. This worries me.

Hundreds of self-styled "gurus" will tell you that Twitter is the ultimate marketing tool. But even when you discard hyperbole, the potential of Twitter is, at the very least, substantial. One seasoned user experience designer believes that "Twitter is the best way for visible brands and companies to get feedback on their products, services, campaigns and decisions." And she's not alone. I believe this could be a huge boon to museums, organizations that--in theory--seek to serve audiences composed of actual people.

Even though it's several years old, many people are still figuring it out. Some profess there is no right or wrong way to use it; others see some museums missing the mark in their attempts to connect. My own experience on Twitter indicates that some museums are treating Twitter like websites circa 1999: "tweeting" is the role of the intern or junior associate. While this certainly isn't the case across the board, I would encourage more executives (especially those leading small museums) to consider Twitter, its reach and potential. What other tool permits and even encourages similar levels of immediate, authentic engagement? I'm sure they're out there, but why not learn more about this one?

I understand times are hard and resources are, as always, limited. And, no, Twitter is no educational, marketing, or public relations cure-all. Maybe most of your present audience isn't using it. Maybe it still just seems like a waste of time. But doesn't it behoove administrators to consider all options? I encourage you to listen to what people are saying about your museum and go from there.

As Bob Farrell would say, you are only doing what you're doing because of your customers. They are everything. So why not make it easier to give them the proverbial pickle?

And if you want more food for thought, listen in on the conversation over at Museum 3.0.




love this. I'm already droppin' the give em the pickle thing all over the place now re:museums and use of "web 2.0" tools! this is big, JC.

Interesting take - I agree too many organisations think that Twitter (or insert innovation here) is the domain of junior employees.

Thanks - nice post. We've had discussions about Twittering on our Museum 3.0 network. Twitter as a business tool has been the most discussed post so far. As well a blog post was started by (I suspect) a Twitter skeptic.

I share James' point about Twittering being left to junior people. Altho I will say that at least someone is doing it and it doesn't matter at what level you are, it's about how you are perceived in the institution - if you are seen as an early adopter/experimenter and given impramatur (sp?) to do it then that's cool too.

Anyway, my main frustration is that the biggest Twitter naysayers have never gone into that space to try it for themselves. I don't even bother responding to those people now unless they've looked at it!

Might be worth revisiting the lessons learned from my earlier blog post here about organisational buy-in.

Clearly social media like Twitter is critically important to engaging audiences. In this example, the pickles seem to have been given away in order to create a moment of direct and initially unexpected communication. This is really important. We need to do this. However, my concern with this analogy is that I prefer half sours and I like them as a side dish. We need to find ways to create authentic interpretive experiences (some using technologies like Twitter that are fully integrated and not on the side. So how do we do that? If we use Twitter to empower audiences to become part of a conversation are we prepared to listen and respond?

Too true, Dr. Zucker and thank you for posting here! SmARTHsitory is probably one of the finest examples we have of the democratization and increased access of museum-type information, especially for sincere engagement designed to enhance the lives of those using it.

I think Jeremy's post was intended to be provocative as well. Jeremy?

Thank you all for the great comments.

Lynda, I've recommended to many people your posts here as well as Museum 3.0 in general. The trouble is that these people--experienced leaders in the museum field--typically do not read blogs of any kind, so the battle is certainly going to be uphill.

Dr. Zucker, I too love half sours! But, more importantly, thanks for your observation regarding authenticity and priority. It's certainly a tough question. Unfortunately, I foresee many museums transitioning rather uneasily to the point where they'll use Twitter or any similar tool to communicate with and empower audiences. But if the audiences are ready, museums need to be ready to respond responsibly.

Finally, yes, my use of "84 years ago" was completely arbitrary and intended to imply that that chapter of my life was long ago (at at least it seems that way to me!).


I've been thinking about your ideas for a few days now, waiting to figure out whether it has changed my mind. I don't think it has.

I really question whether museums "belong on Twitter" as you suggest. I've been tweeting for a few months now, and I don't recall ever reading much about "what people are saying about museum." Twitter seems to be much more tailored to individual participation than organizational. There are lots of museums on Twitter, but for the most part, they are using Twitter as an RSS feed. To me, that is the ultimate "meh."

I'm not sure Twitter will ever be a good marketing outlet for museums. And I kind of like that. On Twitter, I find museum *people* - not museum monoliths. Hurray.

Hi Lydia -- I've been waiting for you to show up :)

Actually, I think we might be in agreement on this (maybe). As you say, "Twitter seems to be much more tailored to individual participation than organizational." I would love museums to realize this and stop broadcasting as "monoliths." Can you imagine a museum that included 2, 4 or even 6 people whose only job was to use tools such as Twitter to engage with people from around the globe? These people would put a genuine face on the museum and, I believe, could ultimately have more impact than any website, press release or newsletter in terms of positive marketing (which would be, ironically, only a secondary goal).

Of course, we're talking about 6 special people working in a special museum. The people would have to write well, know what's interesting about who they are and where they work, and--above all--want to engage people via the tool. And the museum would have to understand that Twitter can and should be more than another RSS feed.

Finally, I must re-emphasize that people are talking about museums (or at least some of them) on Twitter. Do searches at or put together Tweetizen groups for search terms. I've got one for "sweet museum" currently running here on my site: Two days ago, someone tweeted "MoMA in New York - the museum audio tour is accesible using their free wifi network and an iPhone. Sweet!" and about an hour ago another said "The international spy museum is pretty freaking sweet." So people are indeed talking.


Oooohh...I'm feelin' ya with the 2, 4, or 6 twits - that could be VERY interesting...!

There are some organizations that have rotating twits (credited or anonymous), which is an interesting concept, but I've noticed that after I've witnessed a great week of a certain twit's work, I'm inclined to add a follow to see what comes next in his/her life if I can, rather than to develop an increased interest in the host organization. Is that a fail? Hmmm...

As for the comments about MoMA and the International Spy Museum...those are fun, feel-good tweets, but I would argue that the twits sending out those tweets were much more interested in using MoMA, IMS, free wi-fi, iPhone, and international spies to enhance their personal brand (so to speak) than to offer valuable feedback to the museums...but that takes us off into a whole new direction: what is branding really good for? (uh oh)

Love this discussion. Thanks for posting! pleased that this post has engendered such interesting and engaging dialogue. I am inclined to say that basically, I do not really agree with Jeremy as twitter being about the pickle - the free, soaked cucumber -- and I am inclined to agree more with Dr. Zucker that there's a need in get with on-line communities in a thoughtful and meaningful way.

Or to have fun -- maybe twitter's more about Farrel's awesome birthday sundae delivery system (also "the pickle," to use Farrel's concept), as made famous on the Simpsons. For funny, irreverent and wonderful tweeting, maybe best in the industry right now, please follow @mattressfactory.

On the otherhand, I totally agree with Jeremy that more have to be "on" and more leaders should follow the lead of @MaxAnderson and jump on in!

Twitter's like the old A.P. ticker, but we all have access -- we are the news room and it is important they blast the release.

I agree with Lidja that it's nice to know there are individuals behind the "tweets." And some corporations are embracing this idea of the individual behind the monolith's message, like Comcast with their personal tweeters, like @ComcastBill.

Way to instigate, JC!

A lot has been said lately in various forums comparing the news industry with the museum/arts industry--particularly with regards to the potential or perceived potential of the demise of each.

With that in mind, I feel I should point out that at the end of each and every one of the news broadcasts I watch in the evening (and often throughout the course of the broadcast as well) each one of the newscasters and anchors urges the audience to follow them on Twitter--for more breaking news and for personal thoughts and comments about the news they are reporting. That fact alone makes me think that museums should sit up and take note of Twitter and figure out how it can be used effectively. I think that the individual voice rather than the monolithic voice will win out in the end (as it already has with the news).

But I think museums also need to think about why so many people are following Ashton Kutcher rather than just rolling their eyes and bemoaning the lack of cultural priorities in their audiences. Transparency and personalization of experiences are the key here. Sure, you can read about Ashton's exploits in the tabloids, but when you hear them in his own "voice" tweeted directly to your feed, that creates a sense of personal connection that is hard to duplicate.

Museums and the nonprofit world in general have been talking quite a bit about the necessity of transparency in order to better connect with our audiences. Twitter seems to be an excellent tool for exactly that.

Just found this post and couldn't agree more that Twitter, used wisely and creatively, is an amazing tool for museums. Just look at how four museums in New York used it to promote, encourage, and engage with event goers last week:

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