Groundswell: corporate models and community models

I’ve been thinking about the book we read, groundswell, and if it’s appropriate to borrow groundswell techniques used by corporations and apply them to museums.  To me, corporations and museums are fundamentally different institutions and it’s important to acknowledge their differences when trying to understand and apply appropriate groundswell and social media strategies.  Initially, my question started off as: are these groundswell techniques universal in the sense that we can apply them across the board to for-profit corporations as well as non-profit institutions?  Now, my question has just evolved.  Maybe it’s my hippie parents and my punk rock youth, but I’m skeptical of corporations and their business models of unlimited growth cultivating a dept society that perpetuates the wealth of wealthy shareholders.  We are currently witnessing the collapse of this unsustainable Wall Street model.  So, if this business model is failing can we still gain insight from the groundswell techniques that are employed by these businesses?  Or, to ask the question differently, is it important that we are looking at groundswell techniques that are designed solely to increase corporate profit? And how, if at all can we apply these techniques to museums? I think it’s an interesting time to be looking at business models and comparing them to museums.

Museums, I think, are actually at a significant advantage when we consider our economic unraveling and restructuring. While reading groundswell I kept thinking, man, museums are in such a sweet spot and corporations have it so hard!  Museums have real community, where as corporations have to cultivate a facsimile.  Corporations have to convince people to buy stuff that they don’t really need and they go to great lengths to do so.  They execute elaborate advertising campaigns, fabricate “community”, and buy evangelists to hype up their products.  Proctor & Gamble’s beinggirl.com was about as insincere as it gets.  So, this is where museums come in.  People trust museums, unlike corporations, because we’re not trying to sell something people don’t need.  What we have is something people will always need.  What we have is sustainable and authentic: continuing educational, collections that the public cherishes, and beautiful public spaces.  People come to museums and have an experience.  During our economic restructuring I think it’s important to focus on this.  We have a built in community.

Ultimately, I think the techniques employed in groundswell originate out of a community model, not a business model.  In a slightly different way we can now listen to our visitors, talk to them, energize them and provide them with opportunities to contribute.  But this has always been there; perhaps we’ve just lost sight of this or taken it for granted. Groundswell offers some concrete steps for formulating a social media plan if you don’t have a built in community.  Now, imagine what museums can do with the communities we already have.

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