Visiting the Smithsonian On Vacation | Beth's Blog

Visiting the Smithsonian On Vacation

Personal Reflections

Photo by Geoff Livingston

I’m on vacation this week and next!   We’re visiting family at the Jersey Shore, but stopping in DC to take the kids to the Smithsonian and other DC highlights.     You might see a few blog posts or tweets but don’t expect a fast reply via email.     Playing tourist in DC,  it is interesting to see how much your online digital life impacts your offline life.

The Smithsonian is one of the Networked Nonprofits we feature in the book.  My kids, who had been introduced to the Smithsonian through the popular movie “Night at the Smithsonian” were excited too.   There were a number of online/offline participatory visitor experiences.

We spent most of the day at the Smithsonian.   At the Natural History Museum, we visited the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins,  an immersive, interactive journey through the origins of human beings and the dramatic stories of survival and extinction in the midst of earth’s history of climate change.

There was one exhibit that the kids just loved.   It was a photo booth that took your photo and transformed you in an early human.   That’s me as a Homo floresiensis,.   It’s what I would have looked like if I lived  95,000 to 17,000 years ago on an island in what is now Southeast Asia.

You had the option of emailing the photo to yourself and it came with a description as well as a mention of what to purchase in the gift shop or where to donate.

At the Museum of American History, we visited the First Ladies Exhibit.  Outside the exhibit I noticed this sign and shared it on Twitter.  I wondered whether or not the information was of any value and asked?

Next stop, the Jersey Shore!


4 Responses

  1. Wendy says:

    Have a great time! Watch out for The Situation and Snooki!

  2. Beth, thanks for inquiring about our approach to Twitter at the National Museum of American History. We see this social tool as a way to further our mission by getting people talking about history and the American experience. One of our public programming strategies is to practice conversational interpretation and learning exchanges–and Twitter is an excellent platform for this kind of activity.

    In the museum itself, visitors will find electronic signs that scroll through the events of the day, the museum’s amenities, and a new screen–one that prompts viewers to “follow us” (you caught a pic of this: We’re also testing out smaller signs on stanchions near popular exhibitions including the Star-Spangled Banner and First Ladies (your photo above) that ask visitors to share their experiences. These signs are some of the first of what I hope to be more experiments with connecting the on-site experience with the online world through social media and mobile technologies.

    In the online arena, we have saved searches set up to find mentions of the museum’s name in tweets. FourSquare check-ins also show up on this list. We try to follow up with every check-in and mention of a visit with a personal tweet–asking things like “Thanks for visiting the museum! Was Julia’s kitchen your favorite artifact? Any other favorites? Suggestions for improvement?” and “Busy day! Thanks for visiting the museum! What were your favorite artifacts? Favorite exhibit? Any dislikes?”

    With this strategy we’ve seen a very high level of response—and some fascinating comments (both positive and negative). In addition, it is our sneaky way of letting people who tweet about us know that we have a Twitter handle. It takes only a few minutes to do this once a day (we schedule the messages to go out late at night) and it helps our follower list grow by striking while people’s minds are fresh from the visit. Our focus here is on relevant followers–by focusing on quality we’re hoping to help encourage an ongoing relationship with these visitors and foster a community conversing about historical topics.

    Our mission is one of national outreach and so we also use Twitter (as well as our blog, online exhibitions, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, email newsletter, etc.) to engage people who haven’t yet–and might never–actually get to visit our building in Washington, D.C. We’d love to hear feedback from you or your readers about our approach, ideas you have, things you wish you could do in a museum with social media, etc.

    -Dana Allen-Greil, New Media Project Manager
    National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution
    @amhistorymuseum @danamuses

    p.s. I recently contributed to a book, Twitter for Museums (, and called out your blog as an excellent resource in the “Analyzing, Measuring, and Reporting” chapter. Thanks for all the work you do in the field!

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