Social Museums

Hi there!

For those of you who do not know me, my name is Melinda Phelan.
I am the Media Coordinator at a small media advertising agency in Toronto, and I also have a background in Medieval Studies and Museology. As such I have a passion for the arts and culture!



I recently came across an interesting article about how museums around the world are accepting social media and utilizing it to engage visitors and enhance their experiences when visiting a museum.

The first step museums need to take before devising a social media strategy is to accept it according to the article (Gilbert, 2016).
According to the author Sophie Gilbert, she reports that museums have struggled for years with the idea that social media can have a positive impact on heritage institutions (Gilbert, 2016). Directors and curators were never sure about how to approach the topic. Now, museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art have retracted their policy on use of cell phones in the galleries (Gilbert, 2016). Other museums are following suit or have already done so about five years ago when the MET did (Gilbert, 2016).

This retraction gave rise to a new type of gallery experience for visitors. Curators are now designing exhibits to include the use of mobile devices and partnering with tech shops to develop sophisticated apps (Gilbert 2016). The article goes on to give examples of different ways in which museums have altered their ways of thinking to include Augmented Reality apps, digital information beacons, and path-finder applications.

These digital formats tie into visitor accessibility via social media. A visitor can now access additional information about an artifact that they are looking at in real time, they can track their progress through a museum, and they can engage with art via the infamous selfie!

Not only can social media platforms open up new ways to design exhibits, but they can also prove to be beneficial to a museum’s growth. To me, one of the main components of a “successful” visit is that I can engage with an object or gallery on a personal level, and can easily get to what I am most passionate about seeing. The development of new apps that can allow me to access more information on my favorite museum spaces or objects on the spot is a huge wow factor. I agree with the author in that social media, and mobile devices are here to stay, and they are a part of our modern lives. Museums need to recognize this and adapt to remain relevant.

But… On the other hand, when the author refers to examples, most of them are referring to art galleries. It stands to say that perhaps other cultural institutions are lacking on the creative train for social media because it is much harder to devise non-traditional levels of engagement with an artifact that is not an “artwork.” The article does mention the ROM and the Smithsonian Museums using unique augmented and virtual reality techniques to enhance the visitor experience, but the majority of new applications revolve around the world of art (Gilbert, 2016).

One particular item mentioned is the Google Art Project which I do not agree is a positive thing. The article describes this project as a “Museum in your pocket,” it can provide accessibility to these institutions to anyone no matter where they live geographically (Gilbert, 2016). I feel it is far more valuable to go to a museum to see it, (and feel it where possible) rather than looking at a high-resolution picture of it on Google Art Project via a computer or mobile screen. To me, this kind of widespread digital access detracts from the museum experience and the authenticity of the “real” object or artwork.

I suppose this is an eternal uphill battle for museums, finding ways to provide innovative accessibility without taking away the authenticity of history and art.

Please let me know your thoughts on this!

If you wish to explore more articles on the topic of social media in museums check these out:

Thank you for reading.

Gilbert. S. (2016, October). Please Turn On Your Phone in the Museum: Cultural institutions learn to love selfies, tailor-made apps, and social media. The Atlantic. Retrieved from

FACEBOOK POST: Do you feel the urge to whip out your phone in the middle of the ROM? Check this out:

TWEET: It’s ok to use the P word in a museum-


One thought on “Social Museums

  1. Very intriguing topic! I agree that it’s far better to experience art and artifacts in person, and in the venue where they’re housed, but having a device and applications on hand that can enrich understanding and personal feelings about what you’re seeing sound good to me. I suspect they also help with the bottom line, by bringing in a wider audience and thus more revenue to help these important institutions stay alive. I’d definitely like to try one of those ‘augmented reality’ applications to see for myself! Thanks for presenting this for us to consider.

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