In my current role as archivist and media assistant for a private company I’ve picked up a few social media tips that can be applied to history museums, historic sites, and other institutions wanting to post historical content to social media platforms. Some of these tips are also informed by my time managing social media for a small non-profit museum. Many of these tips are true across the board -from large company to small non-profit -while a few are more specific to smaller institutions. Putting these out here in the hopes of helping a museum or historic site that is trying to jump start or reinvigorate their online presence. Let me know if you have any other tips to add!
- Have goals for your use of social media. Don’t just have accounts because you feel like you should in today’s media age. (Although many, in the millennial generation especially, will expect to find your institution on the web and on social media and not being there could cost you visitors.) Be clear about what you want to achieve with your platforms. Make goals for your audience or engagement levels and aim to use social media to ultimately increase interest in your mission and visitation to your institution.
- Tie historical content to the present. To increase reach and interest tailor your content to current events and relevant topics such as holidays, anniversaries, seasons, events, and this day in history type posts, etc. Be prepared to write about how history informs, impacts, and compares with the present. This helps your audience relate to your content and demonstrates the importance of history as lessons for the present.
Keep it short and sweet. As much as I completely understand the desire to be educational and share as much information as you can, keep posts short or link to longer content. Social media is a competition for attention spans. Keep it short and catchy and always try to include something visual to draw readers’ attention. Posting a link to your website for more information allows your audience to read more if they’d like without bombarding them with a ton of text in one post. Also, keeping it short may pique your readers’ interest enough to bring them through the doors to learn more.
- Take advantage of popular hashtags to reach a larger audience. #ThrowbackThursday for any content from the past; #TransformationTuesday for compare/contrast photos of a place/person/etc. in the past and today; #FlashbackFriday; #WaybackWednesday, etc. If a trending hashtag applies to your institution, take advantage and weigh in.
- But be unique. In addition to standard hashtags that you can piggy back on – branch out and come up with your own unique social media posts that fit your collection – examples – a medical museum I once worked at used #FreakyFriday for followers to guess the use of strange looking medical instruments from the museum’s collection.
- Plan in advance. Schedule posts out so you aren’t scrambling for content at the last minute. Take a look through your archives and collections for interesting and relevant content for the next month and plan out posts, images, etc. This helps you to get all of your social media planning done at once and takes up less of your time. Take advantage of Facebook’s scheduling feature and look into HootSuite or similar for scheduling tweets.
- Be flexible though. Fortuitous, relevant finds in your archives can make for great posts; world events might result in changes needed to your scheduled posts – be prepared to edit or switch out posts after you’ve planned them.
- Know your limits. You don’t have to post historical content every day, especially when you are just starting out. Determine how much staff time can be devoted to social media planning. Also, you don’t want to exhaust all your best content too quickly – spread it out so you aren’t repeating topics too closely together.
- Check your stats. Pay attention to engagement results and gear your posts towards what your audience seems to respond to the most. You can also use analytics to find out who your audience is and who you may need to try to reach better.
- Go behind the scenes. Consider sharing behind the scenes photos and videos about unique and interesting aspects of the museum or collections care. Instagram, Facebook Live, and Snapchat are all platforms well-suited to behind the scenes action.
- You don’t have to have them all. Focus on the platforms that work the best for you and reach your primary audiences. You don’t have to have Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, YouTube, Flickr, Tumblr, etc. You can pick the 2-3 platforms that make the most sense for your content and your audiences. Mostly sharing photos of artifacts? Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook are probably plenty, but Flickr may interest you as a way to store and organize images into virtual galleries. Videos? YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook may be the three you want to focus on. Wanting to keep more of a blog where there’s a bit more room to write–Tumblr or another free blogging site may be what you’re looking for. And you can share links to the blog content on your other platforms. Trying to reach a young audience with behind the scenes sneak peaks? Snapchat and Instagram may be what you need–but it will likely take a little longer to build audiences there.
- Diversify your content. Don’t always post the same thing to all of your platforms. It’s OK to replicate posts across platforms most of the time, but also try to diversify your posts. Facebook is better for longer posts, article shares, and video. Instagram is best for images and short videos. Twitter for short announcements, images, article links, and short videos. Mix and match and have some content be exclusive to a specific platform.
- Respond. Try to respond to reviews, comments, questions, and messages that come in through your social media platforms. A quick “like” or simple thank you message would suffice for many comments. Interact with your audience and learn from their feedback.
- Keep up your profile. Make sure your institution’s profile is up-to-date with correct hours, address, contact information, and website. Also, keep a consistent style, tone, and voice across your profile, platforms, and posts that fits with your goals for social media as well as your overall mission and brand.
- Don’t overwhelm your followers. Don’t post too many times in one day. You don’t want to overwhelm or annoy your followers. 1-3 times a day is usually enough on Facebook and Instagram. Twitter can be a used a bit more, especially if you are live tweeting an event or retweeting relevant, interesting materials for your followers.
These tips would hopefully help any institution striving to incorporate historical or educational content into their social media plans. Have patience in growing your audience and engagement. Link to your platforms from your website and be sure to let in-person visitors know what platforms they can find you on. Have any other tips? Does your institution do anything unique or have you had a successful campaign on social media? Let me know!