Where do we go from here?

Might the past be the future for digital museum communication?

Your Facebook reach is a shadow of its former self, the Instagram algorithm is becoming paranoid, and who knows where Twitter is going other than down? Aren’t you happy you held on to your website and your email newsletter after all?

As we bravely enter 2018 there seems to be a shared feeling of impending doom among digital museum people of the communications and marketing persuasion. The end may not exactly be near, but the world we’ve built on top of a pretty landscape of endless social media fields is under attack by the forces of unmistakably decreasing organic reach, increasingly complex (i.e. unpredictable) algorithms, exploding cost of paid reach, and a flatlining (if not decreasing) interest in public sharing among our audience.

Not everyone is seeing the entire apocalyptic spectrum but most acknowledge that Mordor, at least, is on the march.

Is it time to panic? I think we’re all entitled to a little panic now and then, so go ahead. But I suppose we’ll have to soldier on, and here’s what I think may well be about to happen.

We’ll return to the past.

Not completely, and certainly not all at once. But the current degree of disillusionment with important aspects of “social” will have museum professionals fall back and regroup around decidedly un-fancy platforms such as websites, email newsletters and blogs. Don’t get me wrong: These tools obviously exist (and will continue to exist) in a larger online ecosystem in which social media will play a large and important role. Social media are not dead by any reasonable standard, but we will all feel too burned to trust them to the degree that we have in the past.

Also, what social media will have reminded us and our organizations is that visibility, engagement, and dialogue is important — whereas the name or URL of the platform is not. We do not, and should not, care about who built what and we certainly should be utterly skeptical of the notion that museums must build everything themselves. We have understood that the only sensible distribution model is really “everywhere”.

Either way, as 2018 comes crashing in, strategies may need to be revised to suit a more hostile and jaded online landscape. Do object if you think I’m being too cynical but “social” isn’t what it used to be and there’s no guarantee that it will ever be again. We’ll keep at it and great people will still be able to do great things but our collective enthusiasm will wane with waning metrics.

Where, then, will we turn our attention? My hunch is that we’ll turn to two very different models (apart from reviving the virtues of the past) — but that’s a topic for another entry. For now, let me just wish you a thoughtful 2018 and a wholesome online presence.