In May 2012 I wrote a blog post about a meeting of Photo Forum, a loose group of publicly funded photography organisations. Although there were many expressions of solidarity the only concrete point of agreement was that Twitter would be used as a way of highlighting one another's activites through the hashtag #photouk. I think it would be fair to say this has not caught on.
This evening the Belfast Photo Festival will open and on Friday the Photo Forum group will meet again to talk specifically about festivals. But before that meeting takes place I thought it might be interesting to see how the common interest of this group expresses itself on social media. All the organisations use Facebook but how many of them refer to one another in their posts? And who is most often the beneficiary of these links? I looked over all their posts from January to November 2012 and this is what I found.
On a positive note it is clear that all of these organisations do refer to one another sometimes, if not perhaps very often. There is also notable strain of what I call 'capital city syndrome', people in capital cities are oblivious to smaller towns (although competitive with other capital cities). So here the Photographers' Gallery is linked to by all the other galleries but hardly acknowledges any in return. This is even more noticeable with the Tate and V&A (also invited to the meeting) who would be very unlikely to tell their followers about the work of smaller galleries.
This highlights another aspect of the way organisations use Facebook or Twitter. In large organisations this is often the job of either dedicated social media staff or part of the role of the marketing department, some distance from the curatorial staff. However, in many of the galleries on this list the curators and directors are very active on social media although often via personal accounts (eg. the Twitter accounts for the directors of The Photographers' Gallery, Ffotogallery, Impressions, Belfast Exposed etc.) so paradoxically you find out what the organisation is doing not from its own Twitter stream but from the personal accounts of its staff.
And of course some organisations have closer links than others as a result of personal connections, touring shows or simply proximity. This becomes a little clearer when you look at who linked to who. But then not that clear, I would have expected the two photo galleries in Scotland to have linked to one another at least once in eleven months?
The picture I get as a result of looking at these numbers is that although the people who will be attending Friday's meeting may feel they have common purpose with one another, this remains invisible to the audience they communicate with via social media. The galleries themselves, the organisations they work for, only occasionally tell their visitors, 'If you like our photograph shows, you might also like this gallery...' which is the very least of what I would expect from a photography network.