Abraham Ritchie (photo: Anna Wolak)
I’ve always been interested in learning more about the person behind any organization’s Twitter feed. In short, I always want to know what intrigues and excites them about this particular type of social media.
Recently, I reached out to Abraham Ritchie, the social media manager at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and he was kind enough to reply in great detail to my questions.
(PS: If you aren’t following the MCA already on Twitter, you should do so, posthaste.)
What’s the goal/mission of your organization’s Twitter feed?
Our goal and mission on Twitter isn’t singular; it can’t be reduced to 140 characters. This is because we don’t have a single, monolithic audience on Twitter. We have artists, scholars, families, students, teachers, teens just starting to get interested in art, tourists making plans, longtime Chicago residents, other museums, and on and on. Our strategy is to serve these diverse audiences while being aware of the danger of trying to be everything to everyone. Our tweets therefore are a mix of news, information, and art-insider content. In a general sense, the mission of our Twitter feed is what I call “turning the museum inside out”—that is making the exhibitions, programs, and scholarship that we do as a museum more digitally accessible and relatable to audiences spread all over the globe and also here in Chicago.
What’s the mix of tweets you like to send out on any given day?
I start with that day’s events, usually with a couple of tweets throughout the day, since not everyone who is on twitter in the morning is there in the afternoon and vice versa. There are also items we need to include each day for a certain time span prior to an event; we tweet about our MCA Stage performances regularly in the weeks leading up to the performance. This determines the regular and planned content, and from there we try to be spontaneous and timely in starting or joining larger conversations about art or linking our art and resources into related conversations. I try to balance tweeting about the MCA and what’s happening here with larger discussions that are taking place.
How do you interact with other organizations in (or outside) of your field?
There’s actually a Facebook group called “International Social Media Managers” that I’m a part of where we exchange tales of triumph and trial, or as it’s commonly called, best practices. It’s crucial to understand that museums do not “compete” with each other, we’re colleagues, and together we make up a cultural landscape. We’ll plan and cooperate on wider museum campaigns. The most recent was #MuseumSelfies, suggested by UK’s @CultureThemes but carried out in the U.S. by a group of museum professionals, including myself. So museums will tweet back and forth, work together towards a common goal, share information and stories, and, importantly, connect artworks and collections.
What’s the most valuable aspect of Twitter for your organization?
Connections. Connecting to our amazing audience, and the opportunity it presents for them to connect back to us.
What types of social media software do you use to manage the organization’s Twitter account?
I just use Hootsuite for scheduling tweets at times when I’m not here. There are a lot of great programs out there that marketers try to convince us that we need, but at our size these tools work just fine.
Have you ever had any new and compelling partnerships come together via Twitter?
Yes, we’ve had a variety of partnerships come through Twitter. A few examples come to mind immediately. Recently, I presented an overview of our social media activity and philosophy, plus our initiatives, for Social Media Week Chicago. Before that, I participated in a Chicago Ideas Week chat about public art, and we also participate in a weekly Twitter Chat with Queens Museum about art education topics. In a more #IRL sense, I set up a special group visit with a parents group called Neighborhood Parents Network. They brought in nearly 100 parents and kids when they visited! We’re also continuously strengthening ties to our online ‘influencer’ community whether on Twitter or Instagram.
One of the most compelling things that came out of Twitter was from a Throwback Thursday. I posted some documentation from one of our very first exhibitions and a Twitter follower replied that he had correspondence between the first director of the museum and the artist Marcel Duchamp. I checked with our library and we did not have this letter in our archives! I reached out to the Twitter follower, and working with the library, we were able to get that document into our archive, filling a hole. That’s an ideal (and extremely rare) way Twitter can work.
How you respond to critics/complainers on Twitter?
It’s important to distinguish that these are two very different things. As an art museum we are open to critics of all kinds who will weigh-in on our exhibitions, programs, performances, and beyond. They are doing their work as critics, and as the museum, it’s important to respect their voice and opinion. In fact, we value that feedback, positive or negative. It’s an opportunity for all of us to learn or consider something in a different way in the future. So we let critics do their work and we take their opinions and feedback in stride and with attention.
Complaints, on the other hand, indicate an immediate issue, usually about a visit or experience. Twitter has become another avenue for customer service interactions which I handle closely. To me there’s nothing better than changing someone’s experience, or making sure their feedback is considered and leads to a change. Let’s consider the humble light bulb as an example: I’ve seen a couple tweets about light bulbs burnt out in galleries. We check these in the morning, but over the course of the day lights can burn out; it’s something that just happens and will continue to, but it can really affect a visit if a key light goes out. So several times I’ve had bulbs changed while the person was still in the gallery. That’s an easy, low-level thing we can do to improve a visit immediately and reverse a complaint.
So tell us: What are your go-to-Twitter feeds in your field? For fun? For Chicago goings-on?
As I’ve mentioned, the Social Media Managers in US museums, particularly contemporary art museums, are pretty interactive with each other. I keep my eyes on what @walkerartcenter @artinstitutechi @sfmoma @artsmia @hammer_museum @ybca are up to. Here in Chicago, smaller institutions like @DePaulArtMuseum and @MOCP_Chicago are making use of their ability to be nimble and are closely connecting with their exhibitions. It’s important to follow the news closely during the day, so I follow a number of local, national, and international news media outlets. I also follow a lot of artists (surprise!), especially those interested in social media-centered artwork.
I think it’s also important to note other innovative or daring Twitter feeds beyond your field. I follow @riotfest closely because they tweet in a very distinct and sassy voice—great brand match. I follow a lot of comedians because humor is a powerful tool on social media and it’s frankly tough for a museum to really do that well and consistently.
How does your company cover your feed? 24 hours a day? Weekends? Holidays?
We tweet 365 days a year, but we’re definitely not tweeting 24 hours a day. Tweeting signals you’re available for interaction and at some times of the day we’re not. The museum has distinct operating hours which could broadly apply to Twitter; I don’t think you’d really want to see tweets from us at 11:40 pm on a Friday night. And if you tweeted us, I might not be able to tweet back. I have the museum’s Twitter routed to my personal phone and iPad so I see interactions the entire weekend and holidays—social doesn’t sleep, and connection is part of the job.
Any “aha” moments in your Twitter usage? Great revelations? “Uh oh” moments?
One interesting thing I’d share is that we often live-tweet tours of our exhibitions, sharing insights about the work from the artists and the curators. However, while live-tweeting generates a lot of interactions we always shed a much higher-than-usual number of followers due to rapid-fire tweeting. At first I worried about this, but then I looked back at the museum’s mission one part of which is to educate the public about contemporary art which is exactly what I hope live-tweeting a curator or artist’s tour would do. So I’m not going to give up tweeting tours because we shed followers—perhaps it wasn’t a good match to begin with. They can always re-follow us.
A big aha moment for me has been Amanda Ross-Ho’s MCA Plaza Project. Audience photography is a fundamental part of her project and she and I worked together to track these photos as well as inform people of the right hashtag to use: #ILLUMINATEDTHINGS. I’ve learned a lot about what works in creating effective public signage to let people know about the hashtag and nudging them to use it. There’s also been some unexpected learning experiences too, the project has been extended months past its original end date, which we really didn’t anticipate. Turns out that when all these signs are buried under snow people using the right tag (or any tag at all) slows way down.
If you have more than one person responsible for your Twitter account, how do you keep the voice & tone consistent?
No, I’m the only one, which is important for consistency’s sake, especially on Twitter.
Who would you like to see interviewed next for this feature?
Friends, it’s almost St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago. Time to pick your parade outfit, find your favorite Irish pub, and celebrate with friends and family.
I’ve teamed up with Phil Thompson of Cape Horn Illustration to create a card that celebrates the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago. My meditation on the subject (see below) inspired his wonderful illustration and it’s our gift to you.
St. Patrick’s Day, Chicago Style: A Meditation by Max Grinnell
In the Windy City, the Chicago River is everything and nothing. People pass over it on rusty old bridges without a second thought, and whether on foot, bicycle, or car, it is nothing.
On St. Patrick’s Day, it is everything.
People travel thousands of miles to experience the dyeing of this much maligned body of water. As the green dye (natural, you know) courses through the river’s very being, the crowds gather close, they huddle on the Michigan Avenue Bridge, they amble around down on the Riverwalk, they make merry on the packed all-you-can-drink party buses, and so on.
And this tradition? Is it as old as the Cliffs of Moher? The arrival of the first Irishman to this here Wild Onion gathering? Or the first pint of Guinness poured in these here parts?
No, no, and no: it just stretches back to 1962, when one Stephen M. Bailey first tossed out the idea of turning the river oh-so-kelly green. This first generation Irishman by way of Bridgeport brought together his plumbers and 100 pounds of dye that first year to make it all come true.
Yea, the river ran green for a week and some said if you squinted your eyes you felt as if you were on the River Shannon.
That’s a bit of exaggeration indeed, but no one ever accused an Irishman of understating anything, don’t you know?
This year will be just like every other year, but the participants will change, of course. Some from last year’s celebration will be gone and others will have come to take their place.
But why don’t you come on down? Take a look at the river, see how she flows.
Hello again winter.
We are at the end of January, just a few days from when a furry rodent will pop out of the ground in a tiny town to tell us the upcoming weather.
Will it be six more weeks of the cold stuff, whipping around our faces, falling down from the sky as precipitate or no? Better question: Why are we placing our long-term weather forecast in the paws of such a tiny beast? Wouldn’t it be better to ask him about what’s going on in his burrow? I am guessing that he would have first-hand and irrefutable evidence in this matter.
Frankly, the winter weather is something that eventually gets to me each and every year. Yes, I love the changing of the seasons, yes, I love the variations in climate, mood, and cadence that the first falling leaf brings or that first dusting of snow.
But in the depths of it, weeks, yea, months into it, it’s hard to find solace. A friend says “Remember our summer? It was so hot and humid.” Yes, yes, I can remember. It doesn’t matter to me. My skin can’t remember it, my fingers can’t remember it, my other extremities surely can’t remember it. It exists in my mind, as a place I can recall (oh yes, Shakespeare in Welles Park, the picnic out by Lake Michigan), but this seems of little consequence.
And the coping mechanisms that are de rigueur for such frigid times, including putting on a third sweater, purchasing chunky boots, and finding facial coverings that are warm but avoid that “Hi, I promise I’m not here to rob your bank or place of business.” look.
Right. Those coping mechanisms, those vestments and attachments to keep out the cold? No thank you.
Millions share my feelings here in these United States. Many of them have gone so far as to pack up their belongings and weave their way down to Scottsdale, Charlotte, and the promised land of southern California. Goodbye creaky, run-down Rust Belt, hello everywhere else!
As for me, I’ll make it through the winter. So will many of my brethren here Up North. Winter will pass, spring will come and we shall do it again.
In the meantime, I’ll love to see the temperature rise about 25 degrees Fahrenheit in the near future.
Punxsutawney Phil, can you make this happen?
It’s a New Year, so it’s time for my next installment in my “On the Corner” series.
This time, I turned my feet in the direction of North & Halsted, a corner whose history, architecture, and general vitality has always intrigued me.
You can read the complete piece here and I hope you’ll make your own visit there soon.
Indianapolis has always been an intriguing place to me. It’s a major metropolis in a state that is most decidedly known to many as predominantly rural and agrarian. In preparation for my latest visit to the Circle City, I decided to dig deep through the shifting, whispering world of the Internet to bring you, gentle reader, a few resources that will help you prepare for your next visit to Indy.
1) Consider the Poetry of James Whitcomb Riley, the Hoosier of the 19th Century
I know what you’re thinking: Wasn’t President Benjamin Harrison the Hoosier of the 19th Century? True enough, he was president but poet James Whitcomb Riley held audiences enthralled with his dramatic recitations of his works like “The Raggedy Man” and “Little Orphant Annie”. He was praised by Longfellow, made a fortune through his speaking engagements, and was the darling of many literati in the heartland and back East.
Visitors to Indy should definitely make a pilgrimage to his home and museum in the Lockerbie Square neighborhood. As a way to get prepared for such an adventure, you should listen to Riley read a few of his poems, provided courtesy of the Indianapolis Public Library
2. Cat’s Cradle and More
Kurt Vonnegut is certainly one of my favorite authors and he sung the praises of his native Indy frequently to audiences, friends, and others. The Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library is a place that celebrates his literary spirit by providing a range of readings, workshops, and conversations about writing and much more. It’s worth taking a look at their events page to plan a trip around one of their wonderful confabs.
3. Walk Indianapolis? Yes, please!
It is exciting to see how many cities have embraced walking programs and trails as a way to excite locals and visitors about the world that exists right around them. Indy is no exception to this trend, and the folks at Walk Indianapolis are doing a great job. On their site you can download the “Monuments & Memorials” and the “Downtown Venues” tours to learn about the unique architectural and cultural legacy of the city, all narrated by architects and other experts.
4. The A to Z of Indy
Wouldn’t it be fun to carry around a 1600 page book on your travels throughout the city? Unless you’re preparing for an Iron Man competition, you’d probably rather use this excellent online version of the Encyclopedia of Indianapolis, provided courtesy of IUPUI. The print version first came out in 1994 and it is a stellar reference work and just a bunch of fun to browse around when you have a moment or two.
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