Imperial War Museum Image of Social Interpretation Blog title

What do Social Interpretation and Claire’s Accessories have in common?

We both own necklaces, for starters. Necklace, handmade, Turkish. On display at IWM North. EPH 796

So, what else does Claire’s Accessories have to do with Social Interpretation?

Recently, Claire’s Accessories got into a bit of bother. They were apparently caught taking a little too much inspiration in their designs from an independent jewellery designer. This post isn’t about the ethics of design and intellectual property however. Instead, it’s about how Claire’s reacted when their users started to complain / debate / kick-off about their actions.

Or more specifically: how they didn’t react.

Here’s how the Guardian put it:

Claire’s then compounded the PR disaster by refusing to Tweet or comment on the situation, maintaining silence on all its social networking platforms, which only increased the intensity of the anger.

You can find the original article here

Claire’s has put in a good load of work creating spaces where their consumers can talk to each other – and to the company itself. But then, when their users were really talking,they fell silent. As far as I can see this just compounded an already bad situation. A similar (although not identical, as Tate were actively involved) situation was seen on Tate Debates last year. Spoonfed have a brief write-up about it.

Social Interpretation puts IWM at risk from this kind of problem. It is explicitly encouraging debate and discussion, often of contentious issues. We’ve started talking about if, and how, the IWM should be active in these discussions. We are explicitly not making any promises about an ongoing conversation with the museum – just one facilitated by us. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t get our hands dirty. Carolyn Royston (Head of New Media and soon to introduce herself on this blog) and others are particularly focussed on making sure that we learn lessons from Claire’s, Tate’s and others’ experiences.

So far, we’ve not decided what we’ll do: if we’ll be passive, social, active, or reactive. But, as ever, we’ll keep you posted on our decisions.

A few definitions (from me and in context)

In list of increasing resource requirements:

  • Passive
    Allowing the systems we build (such as the liking of comments and reporting), to solely guide behaviour and not partaking in discussions at all, allowing users to say and do what they want and only acting as moderations if a comment is reported to us
  • Social
    IWM staff taking part in discussions as members of the public. They could self-identify as staff, but wouldn’t be there to police – just as interested parties
  • Reactive
    We take some indicators – such as discussions that are particularly active, or those that are heavily linked to – and intercede as IWM if we feel we need to
  • Active
    We decide to invest resource in visiting as many discussions as we can, keeping an eye on them, interceding as required

And lastly

A quick question for you all: what would you think is a “required” state before IWM or other staff got actively involved in a discussion?

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