Communications Strategy

These resources will help you lay the foundation for a strong communications strategy for your small museum or historic site.

Making a Communications Strategy

According to KnowHowNonProfit, “a communications strategy is designed to help you and your organization communicate effectively and meet core organizational objectives.” Their site offers a step-by-step guide that directs the communications strategy writing process. It breaks down writing the statement of purpose, assessing the current strategy, and identifying organizational goals among other important factors to consider when creating a communications strategy.

Nina Simon details three parts to creating a manageable social media plan. Her blog post How to Develop a (Small Scale) Social Media PlanThe three parts are to first, define your goals. Are you hoping to use it for advertising or as another method for engaging the public? Second, define your resources and boundaries. How many people will it require to execute the social media plan? Third, develop your ideas and explain the plan. Simon stresses the importance of explaining why you are doing this and what will it take to maintain this plan.

The Colorado Nonprofit Association provides a comprehensive three-part Communications Toolkit (PDF). Part I covers the Principles and Practices for establishing communications guidelines. Strategies for planning and a list of communications tools are provided. Part 2 is a 15 page document of FAQS regarding copyright, starting a media campaign, and creating an effective press list. There are worksheets to help you define your audience, draft a message, and identify media channels. Part 3 is a 25 page document of samples.

The Centre for First Nations Governance created a workbook (PDF) that will help you develop a communications plan beginning with determining your goal, defining your audience, developing the message, and choosing effective communication channels, implementation, and evaluation.

Unsure how to deal with a crisis that arises for your institution? The Colorado Nonprofit Association provides this Crisis Communication Plan: Nonprofit Toolkit (PDF) to help you to develop a strategy around a crisis. The toolkit includes a checklist from the first step of ensuring safety of all parties, guidelines for responding to the media, as well as information evaluating the effectiveness of your crisis communication plan. A sample “emergency phone tree” is provided.

Press Releases

Geoffrey James from CBS News: MoneyWatch explains how to write a press release at this link. His top suggestions? Think like a salesperson: the press release is communicating a message to a prospective audience, so make your information appealing. Also remember that press releases with cluttered wording risk losing readers, especially when the information provided isn’t relevant. He provides examples, which can be viewed here and here.

The website, TheBalance, lists the elements of a nonprofit press release and includes a sample press release. It considers the importance of content as well as format in its example.

Public Service Announcements

The Community Tool Box contains a section about public service announcements for television and radio. If you are thinking of using a PSA for your institution, these guidelines include instructions about writing, producing, and getting the announcement on the air. This chart from the site compares the length of an announcement to the number of words it includes:


The Center for Digital Education wrote a guide to assist the creation of a filmed or recorded public service announcement. It suggests finding a topic, gathering background information, considering the target audience, creating a script and storyboard, and filming and editing the project.

Social Media for Programming

If your institution’s physical location limits how many visitors can be in the space or if you close for winter months, you can still engage with visitors through social media. Not only can social media such as Facebook and Twitter be used to attract visitors, it is an excellent way to engage with visitors. In this article, These two women are building an African American history museum online, Lanae Spruce and Ravon Ruffin talk of how they use the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s social media platforms to engage visitors who are not able to attend their in house events as well get tickets to the museum. Although they are working with larger budgets and more staff, smaller institutions should consider using social media beyond posting hours. Perhaps your Facebook page can be used to highlight an object of the month. Another way to engage with the public through social media is participating in “National Holidays” hashtags on Twitter, like #NationalSiblingDay or #National HorseDay. National Day Calendar is an excellent way to keep track of these holidays and plan ahead which objects or stories you would like to share on Facebook and Twitter.

Social Media for Social Justice

Another use for social media within museums is social media for social justice. Some museum practitioners who are committed to diversity and inclusion have made social justice as part of their concerns. The museum community can use social media to engage with a variety of issues and current events. In particular, Aleia Brown and Adrian Russell have created the hashtag #museumsrespondtoferguson and since then have created weekly chats on Twitter to engage all interested in discussions about social justice and museums. They have created an archive of their conversations as well as resources.