Interview with Old Stone House Executive Director Kimberly Maier
February 13, 2020 - All
When thinking of the Old Stone House, digital is likely not the first thing that comes to mind. Important in many eras of Brooklyn and American history, the building was a focal point in the Battle of Brooklyn, it was the original clubhouse of the Brooklyn Dodgers and it has been a home for numerous families. Now the relocated, reconstructed building is home to a permanent exhibit, event space, a soccer field, playground and public bathroom, all while being nestled between a middle school and three major streets in Park Slope. While their use of digital differs from other institutions in that they don’t need a database for their collection and there is no technology currently located in the exhibit, they do have a comprehensive direction set in their strategic plan for their website and social media aspects of the museum. While they have a very small staff, they are catering their social media content on each platform based on the analytics, and while somewhat cautious of their ability to calculate its success, they don’t deny that it may be working. I spoke with Executive Director Kimberly Maier for a brief chat to get a better understanding of what her plan looks like, its success and what they want to focus on in terms of digital as they look ahead.
PC- What does the Old Stone House’s digital strategy/strategic plan look like? What are its main objectives?
KM- So our main objective is audience development and opportunities to access increased amounts of information that are not available in our static exhibits. So, the strategy consists of continued development of web resources through our website, as well as the social media platforms that includes Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and in a very limited way video through YouTube or Vimeo.
PC- Is it a new plan? What years does it cover?
KM- It’s a plan that’s been evolving over the course of the last five years.
PC- So is there a deadline for when the stuff in the plan is achieved?
KM- Some of it has been achieved already, obviously you know it’s a strategic plan we do things in three year elements and it’s part of our overall strategic plan, the digital aspect is just one aspect of the overarching strategic plan, so there are some things that we have achieved, like getting more information online, getting our annual report onto our website, expanding some of the historic resources that are available on the website and then just growing the social media platforms has been another part of the plan and we have had some successes along those lines as well. And one of the major elements was hiring somebody who would focus on that social media interaction in a paid format, so somebody who has experience in that area.
PC- So that was going to be my next question, so who is in charge of achieving it? I guess you’re hiring people?
KM- So that responsibility kind of falls under my purview as the Executive Director, but we have discovered that it’s something that has to have a focus and needs to have a plan and it’s important to have somebody that understands the impact of the work — what is the digital story and how do those different platforms meet different audiences — and how does the story change from platform to platform. You know the information that goes onto Facebook is more kind of resource oriented, articles about history, events, things that are coming up, Instagram is really more of a narrative about the story of the house and the park and perhaps more of a contemporary bet so it’s more of what’s happening now.
PC- How do you measure your plan’s success? And do you think your current plan is successful?
KM- I don’t know. I have very mixed feelings about social media to begin with personally and I think that might have something to do with my age. But I also feel like there is a lot of good information. I think it’s very interesting to see what kinds of Facebook posts are popular, for instance if you look at our Facebook page you’ll see there are some things that really for us blow up, 400 PEOPLE you know, and things about the changes in public history, you know the Tennessee State Museum, and usually they’re very history related about the evolution of public history or key findings, and then Instagram the things that get a lot of likes are you know beautiful things happening in the park so it’s much different, there are very different audiences and the only way that we can really measure success is by an increasing number of followers and likes or the number of people that have come to an event that’s been promoted through any of these platforms and that has definitely increased along with general visitation, people who have found us through social media that wouldn’t have found us before. We’re very small.
PC- Yes. So are there any ideas for a next digital plan?
KM- Our next focus is really continuing to strengthen the historic resources that are available through the website, and so our next thing is a much more intense time intensive project that’s going to involve, were going to be writing a museum of Institute and Library Services Grant that will help us aggregate all of our digital resources for the Revolutionary War period, the nineteenth century baseball period and then what we call our reconstruction period from the 1930s and over the course of three years pulling together digital assets that you will be able to roll out on the website and in the gallery so there are increasing resources here on site but also increasing access to a broad public that would be looking for that information online
PC- That sounds cool, that’s all I had for you, do you have anything else to say about your plan or digital in the Old Stone House?
KM- No, you know I think it’s definitely one of the challenging aspects of a small organization is how much time do you devote to social media for instance, especially a public history organization because the information that goes out needs to be thoughtful and solid and it’s really part of the branding of the organization, and because we have limited resources in terms of staff you know we try to have people who have experience that can bring some expertise to it but it also cant be the primary focus of the work that they do
The conversation got slightly off topic at this point as I finished my specific questions, we were discussing the MDC program, the course, the reason for the interview and the daily happenings taking place at the house, but there were some insights within that conversation that I have transcribed below:
“I would say you know for a small organization like ours the whole idea of a digital strategy is really challenging.”
“I had to think about it in an all encompassing way rather than just an activity that’s just part of our strategic plan and I think that organizations like ours have a lot to learn from larger organizations that do have resources to put towards this and can afford digital PR firms with a digital focus, so maybe the results of what you’re doing could be redeployed back into the community that would be really helpful to people like us.”
“And the idea of lumping it all into one strategy is maybe a little challenging because for instance the museum is very low tech because it’s really hard to maintain the digital assets in the museum, you know people try to steal the iPad, they spit on it, they break down, the internet doesn’t work and then you end up with more than half of your exhibit offline if you’re really dependent on digital assets as part of the exhibit and then there’s the whole depth of research that happens online for us like our access to sites like Fold3 or Ancestry that help us view the underpinnings of the kind of family related research that we do, so kind of thinking about that holistically it encompasses a lot more then just social media and so looking at what other people have done and how they have done it I think is really interesting and not always easy to access.”
Interview with Old Stone House Executive Director Kimberly Maier was originally published in Museums and Digital Culture – Pratt Institute on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.