#MuseumLove: Working together to promote local cultural institutions
AbstractAs digital engagement specialists in today's world, we are faced with an ever-changing landscape. New technologies are introduced regularly, each day we face pressure to re-capture audiences and exploit the new hashtags, and the answer to “how to engage millennials” seems to shift hourly. In mid-sized and small museums, this role is often filled by a single individual, so we're often left tweeting as fast as we can just to stay in place. In this paper, we bring together three online engagement specialists from diverse backgrounds, different departments, and different museums to open discussion about the benefits of co-promotion, instead of competition, between mid-sized museums. In particular, we want to focus on three topics, using examples from our own experiences: 1. We propose that by emphasizing a broader #museumlove on social media, we are being advocates of not just our institution but cultural organizations around our city. Instead of focusing on pulling attention away from each other online, we promote visiting multiple museums and emphasize our individual uniqueness. 2. We propose the #museumlove creates an opportunity for open discussion between institutions. In order for co-promotion to work, we need to have knowledge of each others' museums. This also leads to broader discussion about the work we are doing. By sharing successes and failures with other local cultural institutions, we can grow in a way that we wouldn't be able to within our own institution. 3. We propose that co-promotion allows for the humanization of our digital accounts, which creates a stronger connection to the audience and visitors. By creating in-person connections with one another and with key influencers, we are able to create more meaningful connections that lead to more prolonged engagement online. Co-promotion has had a positive impact for our area and institutions, and we aim to generate discussion and open this subject to the floor.
Keywords: social media, #musesocial, collaboration, mid-sized museums, forum
My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.” The Red Queen, from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass (Carroll, 2008)
The world of social media and digital engagement often has the feeling of the “Red Queen’s” race; we are tweeting as fast as we can just to keep the pace, and if we want to do more we must be twice as fast. In small and mid-sized museums, the role of the digital engagement specialist is often held by a single individual who does this as only part of their many roles within the museum. New technologies are introduced regularly, each day we’re under pressure to re-capture audiences and exploit the new hashtags, and the answer to “how to engage millennials” seems to shift hourly.
In order to “run twice as fast,” we propose a new hashtag that embodies a different kind of approach for our local institutions: #MuseumLove. The goal of this is three-fold:
First, by emphasizing a broader #MuseumLove on social media, we are being advocates of not just our institution, but cultural organizations around our city. Instead of focusing on other museums as competitors, we shift our emphasis to co-promoting local museums and emphasizing each institution’s individual uniqueness.
Second, co-promotion allows for the humanization of our digital accounts, which creates a stronger connection to the audience and visitors. Interaction between institutional accounts shows warmth, humor, and lacks the appearance of more traditional promotion.
Finally, it creates an opportunity for open discussion between our institutions. In order for co-promotion to work, we need to have knowledge of each others’ museums and digital outreach. By sharing our strategies, successes and failures, we can learn more than we could as individuals, and unlike open sharing occurring online, the results are tailored to our community.
In this paper, we discuss the background of our decisions and the goals we have set for #MuseumLove; some of the recent outcomes; and what we hope to achieve in the future.
Following the advice of Alexandra Yarrow, Barbara Clubb, and Jennifer-Lynn Draper (2008), we seek not only to provide a description of this endeavor, but also share the successes, failures, and challenges: a step that is just as important as the act itself. The goal is not to set forth a concrete model for other institutions, but rather to begin an open discussion around these ideas. We are at a critical time when the relevance of museums’ is being challenged and we need more than ever to strengthen our ties to our local community. We offer #MuseumLove as one model for doing so in the digital realm.
Introduction to NOTA museums
In its current form #MuseumLove, both the hashtag and concept is being developed by three different institutions within the Neighborhood of the Arts (NOTA) in Rochester, NY: The George Eastman Museum, the Rochester Museum & Science Center, and the Memorial Art Gallery. Despite the differences in primary collections and audience, there is overlap in the desire to increase membership and attendance, offer an engaging digital experience, and become more relevant to the community.
The George Eastman Museum was founded as a non-profit institution in 1947 on the estate of George Eastman, the pioneer of popular photography and motion picture film. The museum holds unparalleled collections in the fields of photography, cinema, photographic and cinematographic technology, and photographically illustrated books. The institution is also a longtime leader in film preservation and photographic conservation. Social media and online engagement fall under the realm of the manager of digital engagement, who also runs the website, e-newsletter, portions of the on-site technologies like mobile tours, and aids with programming (George Eastman Museum 2016).
The Rochester Museum & Science Center (RMSC) brings together its hands-on Science Museum and RMSC Strasenburgh Planetarium on a campus in the Neighborhood of the Arts and its 900-acre Cumming Nature Center an hour south in Naples, NY. With its interactive exhibits and programming, RMSC works to spark curiosity in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) in the community while also preserving the rich heritage of the Greater Rochester Area through its stewardship of over 1.2 million collections items. Within the institution’s advancement team, the online marketing specialist manages its social media platforms, website content and e-blasts, supports other marketing and public relations efforts, and assists with advancement events (Rochester Museum & Science Center 2017).
The Memorial Art Gallery (MAG) provides visitors with works from over 5,000 years of art history, from the relics of antiquity to works in the vanguard of contemporary movements. The permanent collection houses more than 12,000 objects; MAG’s 14-acre campus includes a sculpture garden with urban space; and they offer a year-round schedule of temporary exhibitions, lectures, concerts, tours, and family activities. When not managing the museum’s extensive social media presence, the public relations manager designs and produces collateral pieces, manages the website, creates weekly news updates, and produces some video and photography content (Memorial Art Gallery 2017).
Here, we provide a brief overview of some of the major articles and online discussions that influenced our approach to #MuseumLove, including works on collaborations between museums, effects of brand warmth, and importance of inter-organizational networks.
Collaboration and co-promotion
While there is little formal research on museum collaboration in the digital realm, there is relevant discussion within the broader museum sector, particularly relating to collaborating with other non-profit and for-profit institutions. In researching collaboration, we wanted to determine what the benefits were and what approaches make inter-institutional collaboration effective. Kate Arnold-Foster and Stuart Davies (1998) report is one of the oft-cited documents when examining collaboration. Their review of museum collaboration found that among UK institutions, 82% were engaging in some form of collaboration, and success of the collaboration, regardless of type or duration, depended on communication, clearly defined aims, and commitment to the project (1998: 74). Benefits identified in the study include access to different expertise, cost-sharing, and new networks of communication (though these projects had the potential to be time-consuming when there was a lack of communication or organization).
Yarrow, Clubb, and Draper’s (2008) review of collaboration and cooperation between public libraries, archives, and museums provides both a literature review and summaries of case studies and best practices. They argue that given the challenges of the modern world, where much research and learning is done online from anywhere, museums and other cultural institutions can successfully use collaboration as a means to extend their reach beyond their physical boundaries, create more meaningful engagement with the community, and maintain their own institutional goals (2008: 37). From these case studies, they provide an outline of steps for a successful collaboration from planning to implementation, and ending with sharing of results with the broader non-profit community regardless of the outcome.
Another benefit of a collaborative approach is the mutual promotion of one another in place of direct promotion of our own exhibitions. Third-party endorsement has the potential to lend greater credibility to the message than if it came from the organization in question, as as endorsement does when coming from other consumers. Studies have shown that marketing is often more persuasive when it comes from other consumers, rather than being directly marketed to the individual (Brown, Broderick, & Lee, 2007; Willemsen et al., 2011). As noted by Dornan (n.d.), communication between museums can be a way of combating the marketing movement. He argues that “There’s something appealing about, say, celebrities or brands we respect interacting on social media. Seeing them step away from the corporate, marketing approach and have a bit of fun with the platform can be entertaining (if done well) and the subsequent impact can be huge… If two museums you like have a conversation on Twitter, it’s like an endearing glimpse into something you don’t often see.”
In order to connect better with the local community and create more accessible online spaces, one of the goals of #MuseumLove is to increase brand warmth. Stefan F. Bernritter, Peeter W.J. Verlegh, and Edith G. Smit (2016) argue that individuals tend to anthropomorphize brands on social media and other forms of advertising and that their choice to endorse a brand (through likes or sharing) is often attributed to its perceived warmth, more than its demonstrated competence. This is not necessarily because consumers value an online entity that provides positive feelings over their ability to deliver on expectations, but potentially because warmth is the characteristic they naturally judge first in interpersonal interactions (Ybarra, Chan, & Park, 2001). Because of this, a social media account that is friendly and engaging will receive more attention, positive feedback, and increased visitor engagement than one that is less outwardly warm but demonstrates its competence. This sharing and engagement presents another valuable type of third party endorsements for an organization (Brown, Broderick, & Lee, 2007; Willemsen et al., 2011).
The reasons behind consumer sharing in response to brand warmth include the motivation of identity “signaling.” Bernritter, Verlegh, and Smit (2016: 28) found that individuals who endorse nonprofits on social media that are considered “warm” brands are more likely to experience a favorable boost in their own identity and social standing through their association with the brand. By liking and sharing a positive account that is perceived as friendly and personable, the user in turn receives positive benefits from their peers. One could say that the content is relevant to the consumer because it is relevant to the online identity the individual wishes to build or maintain. The study found furthermore that warmth did not only encourage this one-time behavior, but was also a predictor “for ongoing endorsement by interacting with branded content” (Bernritter, Verlegh, & Smit, 2016: 33).
Forum for social media managers
Collaboration between museums also allows for sharing of resources, knowledge, and experience (Arnold-Foster & Davies, 1998). Within the collections and curatorial sides of museums, collaboration is often more common. J. Aldo Do Carmo Jr (n.d.) notes that among curators and collections-related museum professionals there is a lack of competition due to the uniqueness of their collections, and their training emphasizes a culture of collaboration. Further, Do Carmo Jr. (n.d.: 1) argues “collaborative partnerships allow institutions to accomplish endeavors otherwise impossible.” He found that one of the more productive means of collaboration between museums was the creation of forums, where museums share knowledge and advice at the local, regional or international level.
Research by Jill E. Perry-Smith and Christina E. Shalley (2003: 91) explores how dynamic social networks influence innovative thinking, both in terms of content knowledge and creativity. While communicating with others in one’s area of work, a person stands to gain a deeper understanding of that area as well as a number of relevant ideas and example solutions. The former helps gauge the feasibility of an idea and the latter encourages new connections and ultimately more divergent, creative thought patterns. Teresa M. Amabile (1996: 1160) found that creating a space for diversity of backgrounds, areas of expertise, and responsibilities is particularly important to generating creativity. By bringing together individuals who are dissimilar in their approach and background, there is a greater opportunity for creativity and innovation.
Work within the digital humanities has shown the benefits of working within a collaborative space on digital projects, particularly when it comes to knowledge sharing. Unlike traditional humanistic studies where the solitary researcher studies a single facet of discourse on their own, digital humanities work often engages a team of researchers, developers, and programmers to achieve their goals (Spiro, 2011: 44). A survey by Siemens et al. (2009: 119) found that the most cited reason for this collaboration was the necessity of having different team members with diverse skill sets. Moreover, as previously discussed in Perry-Smith and Shalley (2003), diverse networks also encourage creativity. By bringing together individuals with various skills from different backgrounds, research can move forward at a pace and in a manner that is not always possible with a single individual.
Over the last few years, a number of social media methods have been used by museums to connect with new audience members, reinforce the relationship with loyal followers, increase perceptions of brand warmth, and increase our relevance the community. In particular, these methods often involve more than one institution, and require collaboration between museums. These methods include “social media swaps,” creating social interaction and “banter” between institutional accounts, and focusing the effort on creating meaningful connections with the broader community.
Museum-based Instagram swaps have been an exemplar of co-promotion and increasing brand warmth. Russell Dornan led the first #MuseumInstaSwap in 2014 as a way to demonstrate the connections between museums in London. He argued that “The idea of #MuseumInstaSwap was to show our audiences a different museum’s material and vice versa. It was a way for our combined audiences to discover new museums, or see their favorites through a different lens” (Dornan & Tarasyuk, n.d.). Other regions have followed this example and taken place in areas like Munich (Dornan, n.d.), New York City (Stinson 2016),and Los Angeles (Wick 2016). Not only do loyal visitors and followers of museums in these areas get the opportunity to discover new institutions and learn more about their favorites, they are often well-publicized and inspire public involvement in finding connections. Additionally, banter between museums on social media has also increased, with campaigns like #MuseumGiftSwap, #Catsgiving, and others, such as those sponsored by CultureThemes (2017).
By engaging in these forms of co-promotion, we also help each other increase perceptions of brand warmth by creating online experiences for users that are more approachable, more social, and more likely to have positive engagement. This in turn could lead to increased museum attendance and membership. Mar Dixon (2017), a social media maven, has argued that museums in particular need to bring the “social” back to social media. She argues that “social media has turned into one massive scheduled marketing job and quite frankly it’s doing the sector a dis-justice.” If the goal of social media is to extend the experience of the museum online, then we need to be creating a more emotional and personal experience for our visitors, not just continue marketing to them.
Locally, inter-organizational engagement carried out by Eastman Museum has shown a positive response to this form of engagement. Banter about what films to see between the Eastman Museum’s Dryden Theatre and The Little, a local independent cinema in Rochester, led to an exchange of animated gifs and spike in engagement for both institutions. One follower noted that the exchange was “the best thing I’ve encountered in forever!! #rocproud!!!” (Magnus Champlin, @magnusapollo, 2016). The #Catsgiving feud between Eastman Museum and the National Museum of American History was also extremely positive for both accounts, with comments like “This @EastmanMuseum vs. @amhistorymuseum #Catsgiving cat fight is the ONLY thing I need to follow on @twitter this week! #arthistory #kitsch,” “When the @amhistorymuseum and the @eastmanmuseum have a #catsgiving showdown on Twitter, we all win,” and “Today’s awesomeness was brought to the internet by @EastmanMuseum & @amhistorymuseum #Catsgiving competition of #museumcats. Thank you!” (Brigette Supernova, 2016; CatsHeardYou, 2016; MaggiesMuseum, 2016).
Figure 1: Merrisa_brown, 2016. Tweet from #Catsgiving
The setup of a “battle” allowed the audience to connect with it on their own terms. It invited participation and a feeling of being involved by allowing the audience to take sides and root for Eastman Museum or the National Museum of Natural History, if they were so inclined. As an additional benefit, what’s relevant to the people is attractive to the media. Rochester’s weekly publication, City Newspaper, caught wind of the activity and spread the word to their own audiences, tweeting “Storify ‘cat’ fight between Eastman Museum and American History Museum. Attention must be paid!” (roccitynews, 2016).
Proposed aspects of #MuseumLove
With these thoughts in mind, we set out a three part plan to not only help our own museums, but to create an online experience for our community that is more relevant, engaging, and accessible.
Collaboration and co-promotion: #MuseumLove allows for co-promotion and endorsement of the institution by another institution
The concept of #MuseumLove, for our institutions, began and continues with the general promotion of the exhibitions, events, and collections items of our museum neighbors that would be of interest to our institution’s audience.
For the 50th anniversary of Star Trek in September 2016, RMSC quoted a tweet about a screening of the movie at the Eastman Museum’s Dryden Theatre. It was an easy way to create a connection between the RMSC’s science audience and the Eastman Museum’s Dryden Theatre’s screening of Star Trek: The Motion Picture (rocRMSC, 2016).
Figure 2: rocRMSC, 2016. Star Trek tweet.
Other recent examples include the following Instagram post and tweet identifying “Escher-esque” motifs at the Eastman Museum and RMSC during the MAG’s M.C. Escher exhibition (magrochester, 2017; EastmanMuseum, 2017).
Figure 3: Examples of M.C. Escher inspired social media.
These types of posts invite visitors to make connections between the exhibitions, and think critically about the world around them. Further, it gives us an easy way to promote each other’s exhibitions, and museums in general. We engage our audience to think differently about our museum, but also open the potential for our audience to learn about another cultural institution.
Brand warmth: #MuseumLove humanizes the accounts and increases brand warmth
While more difficult to measure, one of the goals of doing these types of activities is increasing the perceived brand warmth of our individual institutions, which in turn leads to greater loyalty to the institutions, more followers, and, hopefully, more membership and visitors. We argue, as has Dornan and others, that interactions between institutional accounts shows warmth, humor, and lacks the appearance of more traditional promotion, which in turn leads to greater brand warmth. One of the primary ways we aim to do this is through challenges, swaps, and engaging the public.
In December 2016, our three institutions teamed up to #WarmUpROC in the winter with our fire-related content and collections. These included artifacts made in fire, fire fighting equipment, photographs of fire, highly flammable motion picture film, paintings of fire, and more. Not only did it complement RMSC’s Elements of the Extreme exhibition, it showed off the diverse objects that can be found in each of our collections, and gave each museum a bump in “likes” and followers. We also received positive commentary, including “If you’re not following #WarmUpROC today, you’re missing out on some fascinating info from @rocRMSC @EastmanMuseum and others, #ROC!” (Patriciau36, 2016) and involvement from other local brands. The hashtag was trending within the Rochester region.
To continue engaging in #MuseumLove, we are planning a #MuseumInstaSwap in early Spring. In particular, we want to focus the upcoming swap on the Rochester community. Each of our institutions has close ties with the city and its development, and portions of our collections reflect that local history. As we exchange Instagram accounts to further emphasize the connections between museums, we will ask users to participate by sharing insights of their own. This will celebrate their responses by having them participate as equals in the endeavor, whether inspired by their trips to cultural institutions, their personal history, or experiences around the city. Additionally, we hope to expand the swap beyond our three museums and make connections with other local cultural institutions, including a local independent theater, performance hall, animal shelter, writing and reading center, and others. As Nina Simon (2017) has argued “your work matters when it matters to people.”
We hope to continue this type of positive engagement and repartee among the NOTA museums that celebrate our collections, increase local engagement with the museums, and create warmer associations with the online accounts. For future types of online engagement, we will also aim to increase participation on non-institutional accounts and visitors by directly asking questions.
Generating a hashtag trend increased visibility to all of our content, gave our audiences a new lens through which to see our collections and exhibits, and contributed to warm and innovative brand personalities.
Forum: #MuseumLove promotes forum-style discussion between the individuals at each institution and with the broader community
As part of this initiative, our three institutions have begun to meet bimonthly to discuss a range of topics. These meetings are used as a way to discuss upcoming opportunities for museum co-promotion, such as new exhibitions or events, recent acquisitions, or local happenings within Rochester. For example, we’ve discussed the different ways we can promote things like #MuseumSelfie day and “Museum Mashup,” and have talked about how we are using new Instagram features like Stories.
Additionally, these meetings serve as a space for knowledge sharing about new strategies and approaches toward online engagement in museums. All three of us come from different backgrounds: one is an anthropologist and digital humanist, another comes from a marketing and advertising background, and the third has experience in art, graphic design, and public relations. We also have very different networks that we can pull resources and inspiration from, allowing for us each to bring a different perspective—even in writing this paper, we approached it from dramatically different angles.
Finally, we’ve begun to open these forums to other cultural and non-profit institutions in order to more broadly discuss the Rochester community and how we can create more relevant experiences for our audience. Relevance is one of the major challenges of cultural institutions today, and the forum provides one way to increase it in the eyes of the local community. By discussing as a group our successes and failures, by examining local news and trends, and by finding connections between one another, we increase the relevance of cultural institutions more broadly.
At this point our #MuseumLove co-promotion and campaigns have only just begun. However, we can offer some lessons from our experience. Social swaps and challenges work the best when we prepare for them in advance and discuss what we want to get out of them. When doing #WarmUpROC, it would have run more smoothly if we discussed more specifically which items we would be sharing so that we could make more meaningful connections between the museums. When looking to future online challenges, we are planning further in advance and discussing the flow of the conversation a little more.
#MuseumLove also works better when we’ve met and discussed our exhibitions, events, and collections with one another. While we do want to celebrate other museums in our neighborhood, we also want our own accounts to stay on brand. By meeting and discussing what is happening, we can create meaningful ties between the museums. For example, RMSC has an extensive collection of photographs, and sharing these is on brand with the Eastman Museum. Likewise, the Memorial Art Gallery holds the original artwork that once resided in George Eastman’s mansion, creating a connection between our two museums.
#MuseumLove is more meaningful when there are Rochester specific connections—when we not only create connections between, but show why these connections are important and relevant to our local community. During the #WarmUpROC challenge, posts that related more to Rochester received more engagement than those that did not, such as items relating to Kodak, which was invented by George Eastman.
The biggest challenge we face is the limitation of these efforts to social media and the digital sphere. In an ideal world, we would continue our efforts “off-line” by bringing together the resources from our diverse museums to serve our community better. However, at the moment we are limited to our departments and even more limited to the online space. A recent article by Emily Kent (2017) on CMO argued that brands that collaborate can create powerful partnerships that lead to innovation, positive virtue signaling, and greater brand appreciation: however, it requires more than a superficial connection.
In the future, we hope to expand this to more #IRL (In Real Life) events that would physically draw more community members into our spaces and add to the diverse group of voices sharing what they would like to see in the museums. Other successful social media accounts and campaigns have made similar efforts in Rochester and met with an enthusiastic response. For example, Explore Rochester (2017) hosts periodic Instagram meet-ups, dubbed “ROCstameets,” and this past summer I Heart ROC (2016) invited its interviewees, fans, and local social influencers together for a summer block party. Additionally, we hope to use technology as a way to engage the community in the physical space. For example, we are looking into using Membit (2016), an augmented reality photo sharing app (or a related technology) to leave collections objects from each other’s museums across the city.
Our goal with this paper and presentation is to begin a discussion about how we as museums and cultural institutions can work together in digital spaces to reach new audiences, increase brand awareness and warmth, become more informed about social media in general and happenings locally, and strengthen our ties to our local community. #MuseumLove is one possible way for museums within the same city to come together, benefit from their diversity in collections and staff, and improve their connections with the community.
Over the next months, we will be experimenting with museum and local swaps on social media, attempt to create more #IRL opportunities for engagement, and advocate for #MuseumLove in other departments within our respective institutions. Further, we hope to increase the relevance of our institutions within the community by demonstrating connections with Rochester and the diverse people who live here.
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