Aligning the Virtual with the Physical: Social Media, Strategy, and Arts and Gardens

Aligning the Virtual with the Physical: Social Media, Strategy, and Arts and Gardens

Georgette E. Dumont (University of North Florida, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8188-0.ch007


Social media need to be understood as more than engagement tools as they also impact an organization's internal systems. This chapter analyzes how the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens (The Cummer), a medium-sized museum in Jacksonville, Florida, continues to adapt to both environmental and technical changes to successfully utilize social media, how it has overcome some obstacles, and the challenges it still faces. Using sociotechnical theory as a framework, the intersection of the museum's technical, social, and behavioral systems are brought to the fore to better understand the strategic changes the museum had to undergo to better utilize social media tools to align with its mission. A key component of effective social media use for The Cummer has been its ability to adapt its policies and procedures for online engagement through integration of its online and offline systems, so that online media align with off-line messaging and the dynamic changes in the technological platforms.
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Over 10 years ago, Bimber (2003) noted that the Internet had revolutionized communication. Where once organizations were limited in their reach, they now have multiple avenues to provide information to a diverse array of stakeholders; time and location were no longer barriers. However, organizations are still learning how best to utilize the potential of the Internet. One set of tools that are intensifying the flow and timeliness of communication messages are social media, which allow people and organizations to be social in a virtual space and across time and distance. This engagement provides an opportunity for organizations to build trust and engage in a dialog with their stakeholders (Kent & Taylor 2002). While many nonprofits have a social media presence, the extent to which they strategically use these tools to engage stakeholders varies.

Social media are ubiquitous, making their application increasingly important for nonprofits. Social media can assist a nonprofit organization in achieving its goals, such as increasing the donor base, marketing, promoting events (Waters, Burnett, Lamm, & Lucas, 2009), boosting capacity to strategically communicate with stakeholders (Lovejoy & Saxton, 2012), or broadening the scope of stakeholders at the governing table (Saxton, 2005). Still, more needs to be understood about how the organization’s interaction with these tools impacts its structure and processes.

Too often, social media platforms are decoupled from the individuals and organizational units that use them. As such, the focus becomes the use of the tool itself, not how it can be leveraged to continue the conversations taking place on other mediums, both online and offline. The techniques are different, but the skillset required to effectively communicate through the different mediums remains constant. Offline, organizations are careful to maintain their brand, provide a consistent message, and make sure their printed materials compliment each other to communicate the organization and its services as a single entity. However, when moving the message to social media, often the traditional rules are set aside. Social media become an avenue to push out information, too often without a plan and metrics to measure their effectiveness. All modes of communication need to enhance an organization’s image and brand, regardless of whether the purpose of their use is to acquire donations, to provide information about programs or events, or even to offer a brief description of what the organization does. This includes online communication.

Like other communication mediums, nonprofits need to know how to best integrate social media into their organizations. However, social media are more than tools that exist in a silo; these platforms also impact systems within the organization. Social media are avenues for informational inputs into the organization. These inputs are then processed and organizational systems are adjusted as needed to adapt to the external environment. Organizational leaders and managers need to understand how these interactions can be synced to be able to optimize the use of these tools for mission achievement.

Museums have become adept at using new technologies to enhance a visitor’s experience (Charitonos, Blake, Scanlon, & Lones, 2012). McTavish (2013) went beyond the individual visitor by writing about the relationship between the museum as an institution, and the wider world, to create a public value. She opened her book by stating “[t]he modern museum does not exist. It is a mythical entity that has never been achieved. The museum cannot be situated in a single location or explained with reference to a linear, historical narrative, but it remains a public idea” (p. 3). The idea of a museum and the relationships formed are not place bound; they extend beyond the walls of the institution. This extension exists in the physical as well as the virtual world.

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