15 Social Media Tips for Museums and Historic Sites

Now more than ever possibly digital engagement is necessary and important for museums of all sizes. I compiled the below tips before the corona virus pandemic, but they hold true even in these strange times.

I know these are trying times, but I believe museums have a lot to offer the public now as always and staying connected with communities now will lead to more people through museum doors once this situation passes. I have experience managing multiple social media platforms for a large multinational company as well as for small non-profit museums. Many of the tips below are true across the board -from large company to small non-profit -while a few are more specific to smaller institutions.

If you need more help developing digital content or using social media tools, please reach out. It is one of the services I offer and I can work within your budget. It also one of several of my services that can be done remotely for your safety as well as mine.

1. 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, especially younger audiences, 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, provide mission-based content, and increase visitation to your institution. Everything you do should be mission based including social media.

2. Tie historical content to the present.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. 

3. 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. Each platform has varying optimum caption lengths with Facebook and Instagram allowing more characters and longer captions performing better.

4. 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. Popular hashtags so far during the pandemic for museums include #MuseumAtHome & #MuseumAlphabet

5. 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. Know your collection and your strengths and play to them.

6. 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.

7. 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. This is especially true now when you are postponing and cancelling events, aren’t sure when you’ll reopen, and may be working hard to create new content or take your museum virtual or digital for the first time. Take your time to create good content, but do so efficiently.

8. 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. Some posts can be simple & fun. Some can pose questions to your audience or ask for user-generated content. You can repost something you shared months ago. You can and should make use of any existing web or digital content you have.

9. 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.

10. Go behind the scenes. Consider sharing behind the scenes photos and videos about unique and interesting aspects of the museum or collections care. Instagram and Facebook Live are platforms well-suited to behind the scenes action. You may or may not be able to get on-site to create this content right now, but if you have behind the scenes images or can create videos, do so. It helps audiences to connect personally with your staff and institution and see all of the hard work it takes to run your museum.

11. 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.

12. Diversify your content. Don’t always post the same thing to all of your platforms. It’s OK to replicate posts across platforms, 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.

13. Be Social. 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. Ask questions, conduct polls, like and follow other institutions that relate to your mission. Reshare content from relevant and reliable sources.

14. 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. Now especially, it’s important to let your followers know how you’re responding to the pandemic.

15. Don’t overwhelm your followers. This is usually a very important point, but right now with so much saturation of news and many people spending more time at home with increased screen time, it’s ok to experiment with posting times and amounts. But you still don’t want to 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 used more, especially if you are live tweeting something or retweeting relevant, interesting materials for your followers.

Let me know what you think of these tips or if you have any more to add for small museums. Let me know how you are going digital in these strange times or if you have questions about how to do so. And above all, stay well and do your part to flatten the curve by staying home if you can.

The images in this article are screenshots from two museums I currently assist with social media, the Ava Gardner Museum and the Tobacco Farm Life Museum. All images appearing in these social media posts belong to the respective museum or were available for fair use.

 

Published by Beth Bullock Nevarez

I am a historical consultant, offering research, collections care, and outreach services to museums, businesses, and other organizations. I graduated with a Master's Degree in public history from UNC Wilmington in 2015. I am also an alumna of UNC-Chapel Hill, where I majored in History with a concentration in American History and minored in Archaeology and Spanish. I write about all things history including my work in the field and all things relating to presenting the past to a public audience. I also love coffee, baking, books, sitcoms, and 90's rom-coms. I live in my native eastern North Carolina with my husband and our dog Dia.

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