ArtFeed- breakthrough content or just more marketing?

the Brooklyn MuseumOne glance at Twitter or just about any art museum’s website reflects how their marketing departments seem to be the only ones interested in adopting social media tools.

Don’t get me wrong, I think advertising events and such is valid and sometimes even helpful, since these are institutions we’re interested in. And yes, selling memberships is a good thing… But I can’t help feeling a bit like Peggy Lee and breaking into a chorus of Is That All There Is. Since these are creative institutions concerned with the art and culture of our time,  their outreach can/should carry the creative content rather than just point people to it. Give me something different and creative…Something that will make me like you.

That’s why I’m curious about the Brooklyn Museum’s announcement that it’s  about to launch a special feed on Twitter that will showcase the ideas of a specific artist once each month. It’s part of a special $20 “Social Networking Membership” called 1stFans, that combines this special art feed with exclusive events one day per month, free movie passes, and other sundries. They brazenly proclaim at the top of their page that 1stFans + Twitter = ART.

Man, that’s a huge statement to back up.   Huge.

When thinking about this initiative I have two concerns and a lot of hope. I mean, sure… I worry that they cannot back up their art claims, but Im also concerned that their packaging is all wrong.

I’m most interested in the art feed because I’m hopeful that it will not only present as a more interactive and creative way for people to experience the vision of the museum, but that the social dynamic will become a component of the art itself. They’re saying that they’ll have guest artists who will exploit the medium and create an interesting dialog. In fact they’ve even announced an open call for artists to participate. The museum has currently closed off access to the feed unless you’re a subscriber, so I’m in the dark as to how it’s being presented, but it’s a cool idea if they do it right.

Even if they do, Im concerned that combining it with membership could kill it. Look, if I still lived in the NYC area I’d probably join, in that I’d be coming to the museum anyway, and would want to connect in as many ways as possible. But I’m in Chicago now and while I’d like to connect and align myself with the BM brand, it’s not worth it to me….thus, I’m outside the fence, jumping up and down hoping to catch a glimpse…not a good brand impression.

This underscores a broader issue: People don’t pay for content online. In his most recent Digital article in Ad Age, Mike Vorhaus tells of a recent survey where they gave users the option of eliminating all display ads on their favorite sites for just a few dollars per month…a surprisingly low percentage said they would. People expect the internet to be free, and they virtually demand their social nets to be free. That’s free from cost as well as free from overt packaging. When the marketing groups get involved, it leaves  an odor that seems to drive away mass viral adoption. (and I say that as one who LOVES & respects marketing)

Combining membership dues with social networking could be a fatal step in the BM’s efforts to innovate and provide something really cool. If it’s a true art-as-social-media play, then take the walls down and open it to the world. The buzz and global acceptance will more than compensate your efforts. Add some other perk to the membership package if you need to, but don’t put up a wall between me and social online content.

It feels more like the guy with the idea for a Twitter art feed is getting comped based on the number of memberships he sells. It’s happened a thousand times – an early adopter puts too high a price tag on a great idea and falls victim to someone who comes along and does it dirt cheap (in this case, for free.). There could be far more negatives for the BM than positives, and their efforts could be nothing more than trailblazing a path for someone else to come along and do it right.

The Brooklyn Museum currently has 1196 followers on Twitter. The ArtFeed, which was launched just a few days ago has 12. Let’s see how this plays out…I wish them well.

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  1. Hi Dan,
    I think Shelley (whose post regarding Twitter follows mine on our blog) and I both agree with you that overt marketing by Museums on social networks doesn’t really work and actually turns people off. At the same time, one of the things that frustrate people who like the Museum (as a Museum, us as a location, us as an brand, whatever) but live far away is that there was not really a way for them to get anything significant out of being a Member. The regular Membership structure, as composted before 1stfans, does not offer specific benefits that people from out of town can enjoy. The 1stfans Twitter Art Feed changes that. It allows people who are far away from Brooklyn, like yourself, to take ownership of the institution (by being a Member) while receiving a great benefit that you can enjoy on a regular basis. One of the things we’ve been hearing from people who joined already (including one from Arizona and one from Washington state) is that they like the idea of a Museum addressing their online community so that those people are given a chance to be part the Museum’s family and not just a pageview or a clickthrough rate.

    As for the content of the Twitter Art Feed itself, you’ll just have to trust me when I say that we’ve thought long and hard about the concept and the execution of it, as well as the artists we choose and how they will be related to the Museum. Though your post ends with some broader thoughts about online content, marketing, and developing new uses for technology, I’ll spare you my thoughts on the philosophical ramifications of 1stfans for now. BUT, we have promised to remain completely transparent when it comes to talking about how this all plays out, so keep an eye on our blog if you’re interested in hearing more about it.

    Hope it’s warmer out in Chi-town than it is here!

    -Will

  2. Well thought out post. I agree with much of your argument and have my own if you click on my name above. Since social media is all about conversations, things get confusing when a membership and money comes into play.

    I’m curious to see how this turns out and so far I’m happy with the membership because I got an awesome Swoon print at the first event!

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