How social media and written texts affect the interpretation of works in the GLAM sector.

Social media is now a vital part of all our lives, from the start of the early 2000’s we have seen an increase in online activity and social media has now taken over as the most popular way to communicate with people from around the world. These platforms not only highlight a new way to connect with one another, they also provide a platform to be able to spread and share knowledge at seconds at a time simply by one click.

Social media has it’s up’s and down’s and I think it’s fair to say that over the most recent couple of years the majority of stories coming out about the influence of social media seems to be having a negative side effect. But within this landscape we have the chance to be able to provide knowledge and information to audiences that go further than just the communities that institutions are trying to reach. The GLAM sector relies heavily on marketing and PR as well as advertising to promote the works of art/exhibitions and programmes that they put on. This in turn helps them to generate money they need to stay open in these times of austerity. Social Media has become an easily accessible tool for GLAM institutions to reach out further and engage more people in important work in the field.

However, we have to be careful when it comes to social media and the sort of stuff being posted on platforms. There are many things to consider such as ethics and accessibility of the posts, the design and the types of images being represented, the way that text is also interpreted needs to be carefully curated so as not to easily offend anyone who might see the post. Whilst in our personal lives we post what we want and think, with the institution’s reputation on the line social media becomes a bigger ball game when trying top shine a positive light on your own institution.

‘The culture of social media owes itself largely to the culture that arose in the advent of networked computing, which championed openness, immediacy, creation, collaboration, and reciprocity (Kollock 1999). A discussion of its sense of ethics developed in the past few years as it has entered everyday life and been professionalized within various sectors.[1]

Ethical consideration has to be considered when creating and curating content for the wider audiences. Content needs to be generated in such a way that it attains the voice of certain social attitudes, meaning that the general consensus is that everything posted online needs to be informative and not offend but educate and inspire to create a interest in what the sector has to offer. A hard balance to strike when works of art from certain artists/movements are provocatively meant to cause offence to get their message across. But alas we cannot change the hearts and minds of every person who wishes to engage with the cultural sector. Instead this is more about understanding one another and trying to find a route of communication that opens up discussion and allows for further examination.

When writing text for content it is equally as important to make sure that what is being said is concise and clear so that the audience can understand. Especially with the environment of major art galleries/museums the general public already feel alien to the ‘Art world’ and the meaning of paintings/objects. Written context whether it is online or in person is vitally important for EDI and accessibility issues as well and the sector works hard on trying to advance the ways in which written text can be available for all, (for example providing audio guides and brail versions of text). ‘Interpretation will always be work in progress. What is right for one thing, at one time, in one place or context, is almost certain not to be right for the same thing – or another – at a different time, place or context. All art changes, however slowly or imperceptibly over its own lifetime, while its audience is in a constant state of flux.’[2]  Of course the inevitability of causing offence to someone is bound to happen, we can’t please everyone. But if we use clear guided structures that help the smooth application of communication then we have a stronger chance of reducing offence and rising inclusivity. Many institutions have drafted up their own policies and procedures of how to communicate with their audiences and carefully design what content is drafted up and posted for consumption.

Written information and interpretation of works are the biggest skills used in the GLAM sector and the miscommunication or wrong use of information can cause a scandal along the artworld. But we also have to question the hypocrisy of scandal and offence taken at certain works, especially when it relates to certain historical and political contexts. Social media and written texts are the main ways in which the GLAM sector communicates with it’s audience and the principals and policies they all individually have put in place help the control the every fluctuating world of interpretation and idealism in our society. The ways in which we communicate however can sometimes be trimmed back and censored, how can we overcome barriers and how can we learn to communicate with each other in more inclusive and informed ways?

[1] Wong, Amelia S. “Ethical Issues of Social Media in Museums: a Case Study.” Museum management and curatorship (1990) 26, no. 2 (2011): 97–112.

[2] Helen Luckett, ‘Seven Wonders of Interpretation’, Engage 20 (2007): 6–11. [NOTE: this is a themed issue on ‘Strategic Interpretation’.