Less news, more letters, please

(Reading time: 2 minutes, 48 seconds)

TLDR: What newsletters in the cultural space do you subscribe to and read with some enthusiasm? Which museum professionals have a newsletter that you enjoy? Are there any museums, science centers or historical societies, that are putting out a newsletter with a compelling point of view — not just “here’s what’s happening at the museum” content?

Think about it for a second … Now, hit reply and let me know. You don’t have to send me links — I can do the googlin’. Thanks!

Earlier this month I came across an article in the New York Times by Mike Isaac called The New Social Network That Isn’t New at All:

My favorite new social network doesn’t incessantly spam me with notifications. When I post, I’m not bombarded with @mentions from bots and trolls. And after I use it, I don’t worry about ads following me around the web.

He’s talking about newsletters, of course.

(I wonder how many more museums and other nonprofits would start investing more in their newsletter content if they thought of newsletters as “social media.”)

Anyway, newsletters are having a moment. Or, rather, email has been having a moment for decades, and the medium isn’t going away anytime soon. (It’s also decentralized, so it won’t be undermining the fabric of our society anytime soon either — just a little bonus.)

Isaac’s article got me thinking about the kinds of newsletters museums produce.

I don’t subscribe to many museum newsletters — or any other sort of cultural organization — because they’re usually too noisy and monotonous. My inbox is flooded with events and calls to become a member. It all blurs together after a few weeks.

Even when I want to know about the events, I usually wind up ignoring the emails. (Let’s return to that topic another day.)

One exception would be Nina Simon’s blog, which I very much enjoy, but those emails are an RSS feed. (Stay tuned for more on Nina Simon’s work, which I find so exciting, in future letters.)

These letters I send to you are also an RSS feed now, but I treat them as letters first and blog content second. I think It’s an important distinction because my goal is to invite replies and thereby learn from readers as much as it is to clarify my thinking through writing. I like keeping individual readers in mind when I write and sharing things I would like to say to them in real life.

Nina Simon is the only executive director I know of that’s exploring ideas in public. Yes, it's more of a personal blog, but I think she's representing her museum. It's the closest thing I've found to what I have in mind anyway.

There must be others — but why seemingly so few?

Writing can be such an amazing way to connect with your audience. If museums want to cultivate relationships, why aren’t they expressing a point (or points) of view more people can connect with? Why aren't they using their internal resources — individual's knowledge and experience — to help cultivate "badass" patrons, as Kathy Sierra would say.

Curators and educators seem like they would be natural communicators. It seems like at least some of them would be interested in sharing their knowledge through something like a newsletter on behalf of the museum.

What’s stopping them?

I imagine it could be fear of KPIs. It’s not unreasonable for the museum to expect some measurable benefit from an employee who’s writing on behalf of the organization.

Or there's the classic objection: “There’s no time.” That may be true, but it’s also true that people make time for what matters.

I'll bet another big blocker might be the need for collaboration. A newsletter is more likely to succeed if it's written for a specific audience. Presumably marketing folks and designers would the keepers of that knowledge — e.g. personas, user stories, and journey maps. Curators and educators would need to work with them to set goals and measure outcomes. The need for collaboration alone could be enough to stop a content experiment in its tracks.

Anyway, today I want to hear from you.

(I actually want to hear from you every day, but today I'm hoping for something very specific.)

Hit reply and let me know what museum or similar institution is putting out a newsletter that feels like it’s written by a human being and has a point of view.

Thanks for reading,


Kyle Bowen