Small Museum of the Month: Chemical Heritage Foundation

CHF_blue_logoThis month, Sustaining Places is featuring the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Old City, Philadelphia as its Small Museum of the Month.

From their website, “CHF is a library, a center for scholars, and a museum and an archive. We preserve, study, and interpret the history of chemistry, chemical engineering, and the life sciences. Our staff and fellows study the past in order to understand the present and inform the future.” CHF is an institution that uses social media effectively: it engages and interacts with its audience to foster real dialogue about the history of chemistry and how science may shape society in years to come. Their posts on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram include promotions of special events as well as images of items from their collection and intriguing facts about chemistry.

We interviewed their social media specialist, Hillary Mohaupt, to share what she knows about maintaining a successful digital presence through social media. Follow along below to learn useful strategies for effective use of social media.

Sustaining Places: What prompted CHF to use social media?
Hillary Mohaupt: When CHF started using social media, “content strategy” and “engagement” weren’t yet the pervasive buzzwords they are today. Like many other non-profits and cultural organizations at the time, we recognized that new communications tools were becoming available and we wanted to take the opportunity to use these new outlets to connect with our audience. For the first few years our approach was purely promotional, but over time we’ve started to understand the value of listening and conversation, and our strategy has shifted accordingly.

SP: How do you define social media in relation to CHF’s mission? Was that a challenge?
HM: CHF’s mission can be boiled down to a simple idea: “science has a past and our future depends on it.” We use social media to respond to relevant conversations in real time, to make connections between the rest of the world and our collections, to share behind-the-scenes glimpses of life at a museum (and a library and a research institute, because we are those things, too), to share our expertise, and to foster dialogue with our constituents. When it comes to social media at CHF, engagement is our primary goal: we want our social media followers to understand that the history of science is relevant to their everyday lives. In some ways, this is an ongoing challenge, but that’s not necessarily negative. This current political moment has made our work seem even more urgent and important, at least to me. And that’s exciting, and makes any the frustration worth it.

SP: How has CHF shaped its social media content? Whose responsibility is it to generate content?
HM: CHF has accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Tumblr, as well as YouTube and Vimeo. I oversee the content strategy on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn, and manage one of the Pinterest accounts, while the library staff manage the other Pinterest account as well as a very popular Tumblr account; the multimedia producer on staff generally manages YouTube and Vimeo, though I review the analytics for YouTube. This is all to say that CHF is a complicated organization, with lots of irons in the fire, and as the social media specialist I manage the fire. I’m fortunate that our curators, librarians, researchers, and administrative staff are, in general, eager to collaborate on social media projects. I manage an editorial calendar that covers most of those platforms and run brainstorming meetings for special projects for occasions like Harry Potter’s birthday and National Photo Month. There’s some content we put out weekly: on Twitter, for example, we participate in #MuseumMonday, focus on the library on Tuesdays, highlight oral histories on Wednesday, and promote the magazine on Thursdays. I like to think that I give other people the tools to collect fuel, and I provide the oxygen that keeps the fire alive.

SP: How do you organize material to post regularly, and how far in advance do you plan posts?
HM: It’s important to get organized, to keep an editorial calendar, and to use a system that works best for you. Pay attention to what works for you, and stop doing it when it stops working. For nearly two years I tried all kinds of fancy content management tools and I sent a weekly email to my colleagues with a run-down of what was in store for the week. Recently, I switched tactics: I maintain a separate social media calendar in Outlook, which makes it easy to plan out and repeat campaign; it also makes it easy to keep track of historical anniversaries, which are social media gold for us, and to see at a glance when posts need to be scheduled. I try to have a good sense of the month ahead, but every Friday afternoon I sit down with my calendar for the following week to make sure I know exactly what content I’ll need to schedule and at what time. Ideally, I have everything scheduled at least 24 hours before its publication time, but sometimes that’s not possible. It’s also important to leave time in your editorial calendar for last-minute things that come up, because they will, inevitably, come up. For longer campaigns, to promote a particular event or a specific podcast episode, I try to schedule all the posts in one go, and then review on a weekly basis. If you do scheduled posts far in advance, it’s important to review them close to publication date, just to be sure nothing’s changed.

SP: What managing platform do you utilize to post on Facebook, Twitter, etc? Can you elaborate on the pros/cons of using one to post material?
HM: I use Hootsuite to schedule posts on Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn; I schedule Facebook posts directly through Facebook. I manage nearly all of my statistics with Sprout Social, but only because it lets you look at several accounts. Facebook Analytics and Twitter Analytics are very robust; LinkedIn and Instagram analytics are improving.

SP: What has surprised you about regularly using social media for CHF?
HM: Humor works wonders on social media.

SP: What is your one piece of advice to small sites interested in utilizing social media?
HM: My mantra: Goals before tools. Always keep in mind WHY you want to use social media and review your goals regularly to make sure you’re doing what you set out to do. Modest goals are better than no goals, because they’ll help you understand what works. And keep a calendar, in whatever way works best for you: timeliness on social media is key.

Many thanks to Hillary for sharing her social media tips and tricks. Be sure to check out CHF’s Facebook, TwitterInstagram, and other accounts to get a glimpse of how these ideas work in action!

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