April 13-17, 2010
Denver, Colorado, USA

Sessions: Abstract

Small Towns and Big Cities: How Museums Foster Community Online   go to paper

Dana Allen-Greil, National Museum of American History, USA
Matthew MacArthur, National Museum of American History, USA

The early years of the Internet offered museums new possibilities for reaching broader audiences, and yet the anonymous character of most on-line interaction posed significant challenges for those who sought to foster a sense of community in the digital realm. In recent years, social media and other new tools have enabled museums to more successfully cultivate on-line relationships and even blur the lines between their physical and virtual communities. Borrowing terminology from German sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies, this paper uses the archetypal qualities inherent in traditional village life (Gemeinschaft) vs. life in big cities (Gesellschaft) as a framework for understanding museum approaches to on-line community. While the formally constrained (gesellschaft) expert-novice relationship that has so long been the paradigm for museums is still valued, we find compelling reasons to also explore the potential of gemeinschaft “whole person” interactions to change the nature of community relationships with museums. Using this framework, we review examples from the National Museum of American History and other museums using technology to foster community.

Session: Social Media: Reconstructing the Elephant [plenary - social media]

Keywords: community, social media, Web 2.0, audience, strategy, Gemeinschaft, Gesellschaft