I've encouraged folk seeking to start or advance their museum careers to jump in and do interesting work, with or without institutional support. Even as the internet has undermined the economic models for traditional avenues of communication, like newspapers or academic journals, it has provided a way for anyone, regardless of age or status, to share their thoughts with the world. If those are intelligent and creative thoughts, you can develop a professional status and reputation that would have taken years, if not decades, to build under traditional methods of advancement. For example, I bet that Nina Simon’s blog Museum 2.0 was a significant factor in jump starting her career.
Technically, starting a blog is easier than ever. Platforms such as Blogger and WordPress offer free, turnkey operations. But there's no point speaking to an empty auditorium, so how do you build readership? I've gotten that question a lot in the past year, so this post is a brain dump on my experience from 6 years of blogging.
I launched the CFM blog in February, 2009, and the first post I lobbed into the ether was Stone Soup, addressing the role museums can and should play in helping their communities and society at large. Since CFM barely existed at that time, it’s not surprising that post had a grand total of 96 page views. Now the blog gets about 23,000 – 25,000 hits per month, with a cumulative total of over 550 thousand page views.
Your readership for any given post is going to be partly driven by what you write about, especially if you cover a variety of subjects rather than carving out a specialized niche like pop-up museums, or micropaleontology. When I look at the most widely read CFM posts by topic, for example, I notice:
- People are anxious about their jobs. Whether it is thinking about the future of work in general, or museum jobs in particular, people want a peek at what may be coming down the pike that will influence their personal careers. No surprise, eh?
- Museum folk are very interested in how education in the US is shaping up, whether it is an overview of potential futures of edu, or specific observations on the current push for standardization and testing.
- Posts generally looking at the future specific subsets of the field like campus art museums or natural history museums sometimes go viral
- People welcome commentary on the forces shaping our economic future, such as influence of metrics, or the rise of crowdfunding
- Humor never hurts, whether it is interviewing museum social media “spokespecimens” such as Sue the T. Rex or Mr. Blobby the Blobfish; exploring what happened when the Philbrook Museum of Art put a video camera one of the museum cats; or lamenting the fact that museumers have a less hip image than librarians
Le't assume that your written on a topic that some number of people are going to want to read. How do you help them find it? Here is some advice on getting the word out and cultivating readership for your blog:
- Build your social media network. Establish a presence on other communication platforms, such as Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, etc. Use those accounts to share content from other folks, as well as links to your own blog.
- Be a reciprocator. Lend your social media support to projects related to your work (e.g., #askacurator, #futrchat, #musesocial). Demonstrating you are a good digital colleague builds relationships and widens your network.
- Enlist social media mavens. When you feature, interview or host a guest post by a person who already has a broad social media presence (personally or through their institution), they can help you reach new audiences, some just for that post, some who will become regular readers. Or, drop a note to a widely-followed tweeter about post on a topic they are interested in, and ask them to spread the word.
- Tap into existing networks. reach out to communities of interest that might be particularly interested in a given topic. When I write a post of interest to natural history museums, I might put a link on the NHColl Listserve. For a post about philanthropy, I might email the leadership of DAM (the Alliance’s Development & Membership Professional Network), and suggest they invite their membership to read and comment.
- Make strategic use of hashtags, and use them when you tweet about a post. People who have never read your blog before but are passionate about (fill in the blank: #3dprinting, or #accessibility for example) may find you in this way.
If you are a blogger, please contribute your advice in the comments section, below. If you are thinking about starting your own blog, or trying to build your readership, don’t be shy about asking questions there as well—if I can’t answer them, perhaps another reader will weigh in.