Should Your Museum Stay on Social Media?

You might feel like social media has already peaked and that it’s experiencing some sort of irreversible downward trend. Between privacy concerns, hostile bot farms, and information overload, more and more people are logging off of social networks for good. So is it still worth it to keep your museum on social media? A few years ago, I would have told you to treat social media like its own channel and to create strategies for producing immanently shareable content. I would have said social media should be a full-time job, and that you should be posting several times a day. Today, I’m not as enthusiastic as I once was. Social media users seem to be doing much more shouting than listening, and it can feel like your museum’s message is getting lost in the noise. But that doesn’t mean you should stop using social media altogether. Instead, just recalibrate your expectations and plan on doing more with less.

Since the dawn of social media marketing, institutions, brands, and marketers struggled to demonstrate an ROI on social. But still, as social media became more ubiquitous, almost everyone with a website rushed to link to their own Facebook and Twitter accounts, whether or not they had a plan for the channels.

And, over time, some museums did find innovative ways to use social media and to create fun and meaningful content. Perhaps the best example of really treating social media as its own channel with its own strategy is the Field Museum’s @SUEtheTREX Twitter account. The real-life SUE, also known as Specimen FMNH PR 2081, is the largest, most complete T. Rex ever discovered. But on Twitter, she’s a Jeff Goldblum-loving, GIF-posting Twitter celebrity with personality and humor. And she doesn’t just post great content, she responds to some people and retweets others, giving them a personal connection to SUE, and by extension, to the Field Museum.

EMPOWER YOUR AUDIENCE

The model for social media success seems to be shifting from creating your own buzz to enabling others to do it for you. One way to encourage people to engage with your museum online and to share your brand with their friends is to demonstrate that someone is listening, and valuing the content they are creating for you. Some museums have gone as far as to create selfie-friendly spaces that empower their fans to become informal ambassadors and content producers.

Take Newfields, who showcases Instagram photos take on their campus right on their homepage. This tactic also reinforces the mission “to enrich lives through exceptional experiences with art and nature”. One common mistake for social media marketers is to put too much emphasis on follower counts and “viral” content. Museums like Newfields and The Broad observed the way that people use social media, and created mechanisms that leverage the authentic content that already exists, rather than putting the onus on themselves to produce it.

KEEP THE LIGHTS ON

One very concrete reason to stay on social media is to demonstrate that the lights are still on, and that someone is still home. Nothing says “we might not be open anymore” like a two-year old tweet at the top of your timeline. Fortunately, it only takes a very light touch to keep the lights on.

Here are a few other tactics that would take less than an hour of someone’s week, but still keep your museum’s social media accounts alive and relevant.

SYNDICATION

Does your museum have a blog or newsletter? If you are publishing or creating any sort of recurring content, there is no reason you shouldn’t be sharing everything you publish on social media. Every blog post could be tweeted or posted on Linkedin, or even Facebook. Any new piece to which you have the publishing rights could be an Instagram post. Some curatorial guidelines may prohibit sharing certain images from inside the galleries, so make sure you check with other departments first. But the point is, there is always something being produced onsite or online that can also be shared socially.

INFORMATION

A glance at your Google Analytics might tell you what sort of information people are most commonly visiting your website to learn. Museum hours, exhibition information, and cafe locations might be your top pages by traffic. It would be a totally legitimate use of social media, then, to push out the type of information you know people are looking for. Is the museum closed due to weather? That’s a tweet. New latte flavor at the cafe? Instagram post. Just because it isn’t flashy, doesn’t mean it’s irrelevant.

Even if it feels like social media is waning and that you aren’t getting the same levels of engagement you once did, just remember that some people will still be vetting and judging your museum by what they see online. So I would encourage you to worry less about “likes” or followers. As long as you post regularly post something relevant to your active channels, even just once a week, your current and potential visitors will know that your museum and its mission are still alive.