Social Media Strategies – Ethnography and Marketing – Part 3

A quick recap…

In the previous part of this 3-parter post, I was thinking about how the Long Tail can be adapted by museums to think about their use of social media; as a tool for increasing access to objects and buildings, as a tool for personalisation of communication with users, and as a tool for user generated distribution of information making it more locatable for individuals.

In this final part, I am thinking more about the possibilities for digital ethnography and how this can contribute to museums’ use of social media.

How ethnographic research can improve matters

The KSU Digital Ethnography Working Group uses participant observation on YouTube to attempt to analyse context collapse, when communication is removed from a predictable context [20]. This approach to social media as having loose context can transform the nature of the use of the tools, where those tools are mediating relationships rather than content. This digital ethnography can be summarised with Wellman’s statement of networked individualism as a move from “place-to-place to person-to-person” [21]. This echoes Putnam’s Bowling Alone which has greatly influenced research into the social capital of tourism, which impacts directly on the development of strategies for communication by museums [22].

Ethnographic approaches have traditionally maintained that audiences and their experiences are hard to measure and are long-term and diffuse [23]. Ruddock highlights the problem of the tendency to define studies of audiences as being merely an instance of communication, using objectivism and relativism to analyse impacts [23]. The separation of science and hermeneutics from practice is essential to ensuring that the impact on society of experiences can be contextualised. Marketing researcher, Mariampolski’s statement is a useful illustration of this:

“Guerrilla marketing and word-of-mouth marketing defy traditional views of the relationship between marketing and media.” [24]

As it highlights how explanatory and exploratory research objectives must be combined to achieve enhanced enquiry [24]. Mariampolski combines positioning studies and process description with motivational, comprehension, cultural analysis and consumer segmentation to provide a toolkit for the qualitative analysis of research [25].

Ethnography’s methods that encourage placing an emphasis on Wesch’s cultural inversion where there is increasing individualism occurring simultaneously to an increasing importance of community [20] can provide a way to predict who will encounter museums using social media, and marketing approaches, with the analysis of textual data. This has real possibilities when combined with Meyer’s marketing approach to this phenomenon; the concept of ‘centre-edge organisation’, where centrally based experts communicate to edges, and these are connected to one another and therefore actively enforce the central policy [26]. In the instance of social media and museums, the central experts are communities of interest as well as the museums themselves, and the edges are social media users. The central ‘experts’ communicate ideas and experiences outwards and the edges actively engage with one another as well as with the central core, which reinforces ideas coming outwards.

Designing a social media strategy

So what does this all mean for museums and their use of social media?

Christidou’s work on museum visit motivations provides a useful starting point for the development of a methodology for the adoption of an ethnographic framework to incorporate notions of identity into conversation analysis carried out at museums; it builds on the ‘centre-edge’ approach. Christidou achieves this through the recognition of what the individuals being observed demonstrate to be relevant context to the formation of identity [27]. Kozinets’ ethnographic-based approach of netnography, where there is a recognition of the move from mass production to mass customization through the study of “language, motivations, consumption linkages and symbols of consumption-oriented online communities” [28], could provide museums with a way forwards if the considerations of the need for deep learning could be incorporated into this approach where context is key.

Key points for a social media strategy

So in view of all of that, this is what I would conclude.  Its just an initial thought, and many more people have thought much cleverer things, but the way I see it, in order to design a social media strategy for museums, the following key considerations could be put forward:

  1. Context
  2. Individual engagement
  3. Assumptions
  4. Motivations
  5. Cultural inversion

A break-down of 1 to 5:

Learning, and the context within which this occurs, must be considered at all times, as must the meanings that individuals give to events that are occurring in association with a museum, and Bruner, Whaling and Anderson provide ways to ensure that this can be more accurately understood [18, 19, 17]. Individuals are central to social media strategy and Meyer’s centre-edge theory helps to support this [26]. Assumptions must be taken into consideration and Ruddock and Mariampolski provide ways to do this to improve depth of engagement [23, 24, 25]. Christidou and Kozinets’ methodological approaches can help to achieve a consideration of motivations behind engagement [27, 28]. Wesch’s cultural inversion awareness could help to incorporate awareness of the univocal nature of much current marketing research [20], improving cognisance of context.

Adopting the above approach as a guide to considerations for the design of a social media strategy could contribute to improving the depth of the impact of a museum’s engagement with its stakeholders.



[17] Anderson, C., 2004. ‘The Long Tail’. WIRED Magazine, 12:10. Available at:

[18] Bruner, J., 1996. The Culture of Education. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA

[19] Whaling, H., 2011. ‘5 Ways Social Media Has Changed Marketing Campaigns’. Modern Media Agency Series, mashable, 12th May 2011. Available at:

[20] Wesch, M., 2009. ‘The Machine is Changing Us: YouTube Culture and the Politics of Authenticity’. Personal Democracy Forum, NYC, 29-30th June 2009. Available at:

[21] Wellman, B., 2001. Physical place and cyber-place: The rise of networked Individualism. International Journal for Urban and Regional Research, 25: 227-5

[22] Putnam, R.D., 2000. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, Simon & Schuster: New York

[23] Ruddock, A., 2001. Understanding Audiences: Theory and Method, Sage: London

[24] Mariampolski, H., 2006. Ethnography for Marketers. A Guide to Consumer Immersion, Sage: London

[25] Mariampolski, H., 2001. Qualitative Market Research. A Comprehensive Guide, Sage: London

[26] Meyer, C., 2009. ‘Centre-Edge Organization: An Alternative to Traditional Hierarchy.’ Working Wider, 12th October 2009. Available at:

[27] Christidou, D., 2010. ‘Re-Introducing Visitors: Thoughts and Discussion on John Falk’s Notion of Visitors’ Identity-Related Visit Motivations’, Institute of Archaeology, 20

[28] Kozinets, R.V., 2002. ‘The Field Behind the Screen: Using Netnography for Marketing Research in Online Communities’. Journal of Marketing Research, 39, February: 61-72

Social Media Strategies – Ethnography and Marketing – Part 2

In my last post I was talking about the possibilities that marketing approaches to participatory media might have for museums.

Allen-Greil et al. argue that by using business approaches to consumer trust, museums can begin to understand how public trust can become more sustainable [16]. They suggest that social media could result in new models for collaboration within organisations [16]. This could be expanded upon, in the context of this paper, to consider instead the possibilities for new models for collaboration outside of the organisations.

Benefits of the use of social media are often reported as increases in ‘eyeball’ and rises in search engine ranking leading to business exposure, and an increase in qualified leads. These factors have been identified in Anderson’s The Long Tail where the phenomenon of the biggest money being in the smallest sales is outlined [17]. Anderson’s model could be summarised as follows: make everything available, lower the price dramatically, and make everything findable. Since the mid-nineties, most studies of visitors’ engagement with museums have been based on Bruner’s theory that identity is negotiated through interactions [18].

In-line with this, Anderson’s long tail approach could be adopted by museums for their use of social media:

  1. Social media as the tool to make more information about the collections and buildings available online and not maintaining an online presence that mirrors their offline character. For instance, a museum can only display objects from the collection within the bounds of the buildings within which it operates (on- and off-site), online there are no physical barriers to display.
  2. The price incurred by individuals in relation to museums is the time required to physically or virtually visit an exhibition, or to locate and then experience the information generated during that visit. Social media tools can be used to personalise communications with museums so that experiences are more focused and therefore engaging.
  3. User generated distribution can make information more locatable on an individual basis.

Following adoption, Whaling provides an overview of engagement metrics for social media [19], and these are directly relevant to museums as they are indicators for non-impression engagement. They include quantifying time spent on content, instances (such as comments), references and endorsements, multimedia content (such as images and videos), and users and also users’ referrals.

Next I am going to try to apply this approach alongside ethnographic approaches to museums use of social media.


[16] Allen-Greil, D., S. Edwards, J. Ludden, E. Johnson, 2011. ‘Social Media and Organizational Change’, Museums and the Web 2011 Conference, MW2011, 6-9th April 2011, Philadelphia, PA. Available at:

[17] Anderson, C., 2004. ‘The Long Tail’. WIRED Magazine, 12:10. Available at:

[18] Bruner, J., 1996. The Culture of Education. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA

[19] Whaling, H., 2011. ‘5 Ways Social Media Has Changed Marketing Campaigns’. Modern Media Agency Series, mashable, 12th May 2011. Available at:

Social Media Strategies – Ethnography and Marketing – Part 1

I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading lately on ethnographic approaches to Visitor Studies.

SO FAR, THE ETHNOGRAPHIC METHOD OF STUDYING VISITORS FROM A DISCRETE SPOT SEEMED TO BE WORKING QUITE WELL. - From the Flickr Commons. By Gottlieb, William P. Portrait of Ralph Burns, Edwin A. Finckel, George Handy, Neal Hefti, Johnny Richards, and Eddie Sauter, Museum of Modern Art, New York, N.Y., ca. Mar. 1947. Part of William P. Gottlieb Collection (DLC) 99-401005. URI:

I’ve also been doing some reading on marketing and the web.  And it got me to thinking, what would happen if you put these two things together? Those wonderful techniques that we use for visitor studies in museums, combined with marketing-type approaches to analysing online interactions?

My thought is this: What are the significant factors from ethnography and marketing for consideration when designing a strategy for social media use by museums?

I started my thoughts on this by identifying how current approaches to participatory museum design could benefit from the adoption of social media.  It seems to me that the most pertinent issue in this adoption is the development of a social media strategy.

So I am proposing to put forward a list of key considerations for museums when developing such a strategy, through identifying how appropriate theoretical approaches in social media research and museum audience studies can be combined.

Introduction to museums and social media

We all know that the idea of the ‘museum’ has had an evolving purpose since its inception, today a consideration of ICOFOM’s definitions for the museum’s functions are a useful starting point: preservation, research, communication, management, architecture [1]. Recent work by Kelly further expands on the social responsibilities of the museum, to provide socio-cultural learning and narrative [2]. In tandem with these ideas, has been the move to achieve conversation, communication and curation through participatory design [3]. Social media provides an ideal arena for this struggle to promote identity through communication [4].

Current approaches in measuring impacts in museums have been heavily influenced by ethnographic approaches, where cultural agency is seen to be constantly negotiated [5,6,7,8]. This perspective with its emphasis on context and agency dictates that culture has a direct impact on societal factors including a country’s economy or socio-political characteristics [9]. It follows therefore that museums could benefit from developing strategies for engagement that have more of an emphasis on the cultural economics of society. Current work around marketing and economics provides us with a useful methodology for engaging with this communication.

Considerations for the development of a social media strategy

I am interested in developing the key consideration that context is essential to the development of any social media strategy. Work on the impact of multi-national settings on the implementation and interpretation of the concept of marketing orientation [10] provides a useful introduction to the impact that cultural values can have on the shaping of that interpretation.

The differences between ethnographic and marketing approaches to analysing social media can be better understood using a comparison with Nightingale’s work on cultural studies and mass-communication studies where the difference is identified as “what texts do to the audience and what texts mean to them” [11]. Marketing-based studies generally concentrates efforts in developing methods for the analysis of the effects of the use of social media on individuals and groups, whereas ethnographic studies use observational methods to establish explanations for the meaning of social media to those using it. Ethnography works to better understand why people act in the way that they do by looking at tacit meanings in actions.

Falk states that museum visitors are active meaning-makers with differing motivations [12], and this ties into Qualman’s work on socialnomics [13], considering the impact of social media on business from a people-driven perspective. Falk’s meaning-makers would benefit from this people-driven approach, whilst Tapscott and Williams book Macrowikinomics puts forward case studies for the new models developing out of current trends online for openness, sharing and acting globally that could be applied to a museums context [14]. Both Qualman’s and Tapscott and Williams’ methodologies take much from philosophy’s positivism, basing much interpretation on the assumption that the world has a fixed observable structure that can be measured if the correct methodologies are identified [15].

More to follow in my next post on marketing approaches to social media…


[1] Davis, A., Desvallées, A., Mairesse, F., (eds), 2010. What is a Museum? Dr. C. Müller-Straten München and the International Committee for Museology of the International Council of Museums

[2] Kelly, L., 2010. ‘Engaging Museum Visitors in Difficult Topics Through Socio-cultural Learning and Narrative’. In Cameron, F., Kelly, L., (eds), Hot Topics, Public Culture, Museums, Cambridge Scholars Publishing: Newcastle-upon-Tyne: 194-210

[3] Grincheva, N., 2011. ‘The starfish of cultural diplomacy – social media in the toolbox of museums.’, The Language of Art and Music: An International Symposium on the Potential for Artistic Expression to Cross Cultural Barriers and the Relationship between Art, Culture, and International Relations, LOAM2011, 17-20th February 2011, Berlin. Available at:

[4] van Dijk, J., 2006. The network society: social aspects of new media, Sage: London

[5] Goulding, C., 2000. ‘The museum environment and the visitor experience’, European Journal of Marketing, 34 (3/4): 261-278. Available at:

[6] Hooper-Greenhill, E., 2001. ‘Changing Values in the Art Museum: rethinking communication and learning’, International Journal of Heritage Studies, 6 (1): 9-31. Available at:

[7] Meyer, J. W., Jepperson, R. L., 2000. ‘The ‘Actors’ of Modern Society: The Cultural Construction of Social Agency’, Sociological Theory, 18: 100–120. Available at:

[9] Yúdice, G., 2003. The Expediency of Culture: Uses of Culture in the Global Era, Duke University Press: Durham, NC

[10] Nakata, C., Siyakumar, K., 2001. ‘Instituting the Marketing Concept in a Multinational Setting: The Role of National Culture’, Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 29 (3), Summer: 255-276. Available at:

[11] Nightingale, V., 1996. Studying audiences: The shock of the real, Routledge; London

[12] Falk, J., 2010. ‘Situated Identities and the Museum Visitor Experience’, The Visitor Studies Group Conference, 29th January 2010. Available at:

[13] Qualman, E., 2010. Socialnomics: How Social Media Transforms the Way We Live and Do Business, Wiley: London

[14] Tapscott, D., Williams, A., 2010. Macrowikinomics. Rebooting Business and the World, Atlantic Books

[15] Fay, B., 1996. Contemporary Philosophy of Social Science, Blackwell: London