Sarah Banks is the Manager of Online Engagement at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. Sarah has a fascinating background that led her in a round-about way to this position. As an undergraduate at Haverford College in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania she majored in comparative religion and Judaism graduating in 2005 with her Bachelor’s degree. When I asked her why religion she said it was because “it interested her” though she never had any thoughts of finding a career in it. However, during her time at Haverford she worked as a special assistant in Haverford College’s Quaker and Special Collections department, where her interest in the museum science field began to take root. Following graduation she determined that she would like to go into the museum field and immediately applied and was accepted into the Master of Art’s in Museum Studies program at the University of Leicester in England. She graduated there with her M.A. in 2006 having completed the program in one year. Upon returning to the United States she got accepted to do an internship in the fall of 2006 at the Smithsonian Institute’s Museum of Natural History. At the end of her internship she was immediately hired as an independent contractor for the Museum of Natural History for New Media and Web Content Development. For the next two years she worked as a contractor putting together all manner of content for their web site In November of 2008 she was hired as the New Media and Web Content Specialist. . It was during this time that social media began to take shape and begin to have an impact on our culture. In October of 2009 the museum asked Sarah if she would be interested in taking charge of this new emerging media for the Museum of Natural History and she was then hired as the Social Media and Special Projects Manager, a completely new position devoted to exploring and harnessing this new Internet tool.
Sarah had to feel her own way as there were no roadmaps at this juncture in the new social media markets to follow. Initially utilizing Facebook and even YouTube she began to map out new ways in which the museum could reach newer audiences with engaging content. By 2011 her position had now evolved into a position called Audience Engagement Specialist. As she described her, “As the Audience Engagement Specialist, I furthered the mission of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History via social media platforms and websites, and advocated for the needs of their online communities.”
In May of 2013 she was hired by the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum to become its new Manager of Online Engagement, where she continues to work to this day. When I asked her about her primary audience I was surprised to hear that the majority of her followers on social media and its various platforms was actually older adults. She has been utilizing platforms such as Instagram and Twitter, as well as Facebook and others. Recently she has been doing more and more Facebook Live broadcasts, which have proven quite popular. She also engages with classrooms digitally as well. To see a complete list of activities that Sarah oversaw with their social media, check out their findings in the 2015 Annual Report on Digital Outreach and Engagement.
It was really interesting to listen to how Sarah came from a non-marketing background and has used that in her current job. I really liked hearing how she is trying to expand the museum’s audience outside of aircraft enthusiasts. Photography is a great way to gain visitors and we have seen many examples in class of how museums have used Instagram to expand their audience.
Robby Sexton, who I interviewed, was also a pioneer of social media for his institution… its really interesting to hear about how social media has grown and changed over the last 5-10 years from people who have watched that first hand! Also– I love how her title changed from Social Media Manager to Audience Engagement Specialist.. It notes such a shift in the idea of how online interactions shape (and are included in) the museum experience
Sarah is an inspirational woman. I was happy to hear about Sarah using “live” footage. She was one of the few that mentioned it. I wasn’t surprised by the age group of her online community… The voice and tone of the posts are something that I feel would really interest 35 and up.
I agree Jasmin, I really liked her use of “live” events. I admit I was surprised by the age demographic. I would think there would be more kids involved, but I agree that her tone and voice in her posts are geared more to an older audience. I think she is trying to find ways to reach out to those younger audiences now.
Sarah gave a great interview. She’s achieved a lot of success from an initial internship. I’ve heard the University of Leicester has a great Museum Studies program. I like Sarah’s story concerning the restoration of Star Trek’s Enterprise, and their call for follower’s photos to help them replicate the ship. Sarah’s outline of the demographic differences amongst different Smithsonian museums is predictable, and a fun challenge for staff who work across different museums. Finally, I found Sarah’s comment regarding the fact that young kids don’t want to interact with the brand, as adults do. If this is intact a trend, it presents a new challenge for social media managers.
I loved the Star Trek story too. Being a sci-fi nerd myself, I knew she would have no problem getting the photos she needed of that specific Enterprise exhibit. As I interned at the Air and Space Museum back in the 80s, it was fun to interview her.
Great insight with Sarah Banks discussing the demographic makeup of followers for both the Museum of Natural History and the Air and Space Museum. I was not surprised to hear that the bulk of the followers for the Air and Space Museum Facebook was males 40 – 65, but was a tag bit surprised that younger females age 25 to 45 liked the Natural History Museum. For some reason, I was thinking the demographic might have been a tad older for both museums.
Craig, I thought the quote “People see themselves in the story we tell” (10:55-10:57) that Sara highlighted was a powerful quote. I thought that this quote reflected the purpose behind why we strive to create interesting content. Really interesting content is something that is relatable to the visitor’s personal life in some manner. By creating content that is relatable to visitor’s lives, it can be much more effective.
I agree Katie, that was my favorite quote from the interview. Then again, she has got soooo many cool toys to highlight in her stories 🙂 I have loved that museum since I first visited it when I was 16. Flight inspired all of our imaginations, even our dreams.
I really liked how Sarah referred to social media strategy as “layers”. I find it very interesting to think this way – especially when it’s a case like the Air and Space museum where most of the audience isn’t local! It also shows the importance of social media as a accessibility tool. I also really like what Sarah spoke of using social media content planning to highlight and attract a more diverse audience.
Sarah gave great insight into the audience that the Air and Space Museum has. She’s fully aware that their audience is mostly male in an older age range but because she’s aware of this, she plans out ways to help other audiences to “see themselves” in their posts. I think this is a great strategy because it gives any social media manager a chance to create more inclusive content.
Being in an emerging field can be exciting, and I think Sarah is paving a great path for future social media managers by thinking about best practices. It is great Sarah wants to have more posts that engage their audiences by asking questions or allowing users to contribute content. I think it is interesting that the Smithsonian has used Kickstarter to fund projects. I found out that Kickstarter has a museum dedicated page to manage the growing number of museums from around the country which are using the Kickstarter platform to raise funds for diverse needs.
Sarah being a pioneer of social media for her institution, the large institution it is, is very impressive. She apparently hit on the uprising social media trend at just the right time and the timing was just right when she was able to become the pioneer. We all strive for those types of opportunities and I one day hope to take advantage of a newer social media approach that I have just begun to think about and look at, which I hope I can soon share with everyone. But time will tell.
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