Taking Stock

May was a busy month for both mentor and mentee. Suzanne opened Maharaja: The Splendors of India’s Great Kings (on view through August 19), and I prepared to open Jasper Johns: Variations on a Theme and Antony Gormley: Drawing Space (both through September 9), as well as a new museum cafe, Tryst at the Phillips. To manage the sheer volume, we gave our May mentorship exchange a miss and took a little break from blogging. But silence can be deceptive. Throughout the month, mentorship was especially on my mind as I noticed changes in my work, evidence of Suzanne’s guidance and ideas sparked by our conversations. Some highlights:

  • I packed my latest press release with hyperlinks, program highlights, and relevant citywide events
  • Accessibility and welcome is the core of a summer ad campaign I’ve been involved in, which positions the Phillips as the “place to be” and features extended hours every Thursday night (social networks are fully integrated)
  • We paid it forward with a guest post about mentorship on the Emerging Museum Professionals blog
  • I now augment press releases with timely blog posts (coordinated through a new layer on Google calendar)
  • Plus, spring yielded a flourishing first vegetable garden for the Wichmann family. I’d be remiss not to note Suzanne’s encouragement on the work-life-balance front.

Resource Roundup

Suzanne returned to Lamplighter's chalkboard to illustrate a communications idea. Tactics may constantly evolve but basic strategy remains simple - send out a carefully packaged message to inspire. We weren't certain our "message in a bottle" actually communicates, but after a week at the beach, I love the graphic.

And we’re back after a brief travel break! I was in Panama for a friend’s wedding and Suzanne in New York for business and fun. I came back to a virtual pile of resources from colleagues, friends, and mentors. Here’s a digest:

The Social Hub: Facebook vs Blog

Part of a series on key takeaways from The Communications Plan session

An organization’s website is a source for reliable information, brand identity, mission, expertise. Hopefully it’s also a forum for visitors to engage with each other, rate experiences, share recommendations, stream videos and podcasts. But unless you work for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, etc, your website is not a social network.

So organizations have learned to go out and meet people where they are. We set up pages (or, shortly, timelines) and work hard to engage fans. We join conversations (and #followtrends). We offer incentives to check in. And we try to make sure all of these activities are easily associated with our organizations and drive traffic home.

Suzanne and I discussed Facebook as a hub for our many scattered profiles, a digital 3rd place. Pages are highly customizable–this recent New York Times piece gives a how-to on 12 less-known functions from polling to blocking abusive comments. I wonder how the shift to timeline will affect our organizations’ Facebook identities.

In my experience, an organization’s blog can also be a social hub, and maybe a more useful one. Its content and style can be carefully vetted yet remain spontaneous, responsive, personal, collaborative, authentic, and out just a little ahead of the “institutional voice” represented by your website and press releases. A blog may seem as if it would share your website’s issues–it’s not a well-known digital gathering place, at least not yet. But as readers become engaged, it can steadily infiltrate RSS feeds, Google+, reddit, delicious, FB social reader, and help you jump to the top of search results. Why not use it as your daily newspapers and glossy magazines use their blogs?

Facebook, blog, or something else? Will Google+ play a roll, especially with the hangout function? Take the poll, comment, and tell us about your efforts to build a hub online.


Part of a series on key takeaways from The Communications Plan session 

Our communications plans live in master calendars – both external (we looked at VMFA’s long-range exhibitions and programs schedules) and internal (we looked at a departmental planning calendars).To be effective, calendars must be integrated and dynamic (aka subject to change).

A giant white board in Cecilia's office keeps exhibition dates and deadlines for media, promotions, and events top of mind. Coffee helps too.

Suzanne agreed that the optimal internal calendar layers working schedules across channels, such as press announcements, story arcs for social media, drop dates for major elements of ad campaigns, and promotions roll-outs. It goes without saying that communications timelines are all always subject to change. Being (appropriately) responsive trumps sticking to the plan.

Electronic calendars (I use Google’s) are free and sharable. Each channel can be color-coded and easily hidden or expanded for a focused or comprehensive view. So far, my team mostly has used our shared Google calendar to coordinate and track meetings and programs, a more informal and dynamic counterpart to our institution-wide Outlook calendar. Since The Communications Plan session, I’ve started to experiment with additional layers. In my calendar at left below, orange indicates meetings/programs and blue is a revamped news release timeline. In the coming weeks, I’ll play with three additional layers: social media, advertising, and marketing promotions/events. 

(left) Cecilia's shared Google calendar has become overwhelmed with meeting planning so will evolve to include additional layers (right) Suzanne's calendar captures a month of exhibition, program, and release dates.

Potential challenges:

*Organizational structures can make integration tricky –> as a result calendars don’t tell the whole story and can reinforce institutional silos.

*We often need to respond to trends and issues faster than we can document a plan –> calendars fall out of date. Digital tools make staying on track easier than ever before, but coordinating and sharing updates requires finesse. I predict (based on previous personal experience and Suzanne’s evolving practices) that the social media layer will be the most challenging on this front.

What do(es) your communications calendar(s) look like? What kinds of procedures do you have in place to integrate and share updates? To stay on track?