Do what you’re good at

Ill-formed and probably ill-informed, but as a sector have we all started doing too many things and lost our focus on what we each do and should be doing well? I’m thinking about organisations that spend time figuring out social media and how to drive engagement or user interaction, and collections that focus on telling their story and the story of their collection items. In the long-run how important are these activities when compared to putting the same staff time and money back into developing systems that allow others to do that on their behalf?

I talked to someone recently who noted that a lot of the activity related to WW1 commemoration at the moment couldn’t happen if it weren’t for the organisations that collected the documentary evidence of the war. Those organisations had a focus: to collect and make available documentary heritage. Because of that, other organisations and people have been able to access and build stories on top of the collection. The source organisation hasn’t had to.

My point isn’t that organisations should never tell stories or engage in social media. Those activities are good for raising profile, and good for staff morale. But should it detract from the central focus? In these times of fiscal restraint (read: less money), I’d argue no. We need to get back to basics and focus on our core areas of expertise and make the systems as good as they can be for allowing others to build on our work.

Be clear about your focus. Be clear about how people can use your content, and make it easy for them to do so. Let them share it for you and find ways of tracking that re-use. By all means be users and sharers of you own content, but not if it detracts from your core purpose. Pare your work back to what you can achieve and achieve it to the highest possible standard.

Quick update with a quote from Global Audiences, Zero Visitors: How to measure the success of museums’ online publishing (my emphasis in bold, and acknowledging that I’m taking it out of context):

When so much content is offered, and so little of it seems to attract readers, the goal of museums joining the online publishing game should not be to reach the largest audience, but rather, to create platforms that expand research and the production of knowledge that builds on the museum’s mission statement and expands it, regardless of how many hits it generates—a difficult leap to make, especially in terms of the way museums represent their activity and receive funding.