Social Media and Public Relations

Social media can be an effective tool for attracting visitors who have never come to your institution and for keeping them engaged long after they have left. Also to join a community of information specialist in the digital world Museum Computer Network (MCN) offers resources and community, perfect for those working with social media.

Social Media Policies and Guidelines

The Virginia Association of Museums published this brief guide for creating a social media policy. This guide suggests strategies to help institutions design an approach to social media that is appropriate for the size and scope of their organization. It makes an effort to remind institutions that digital presence is the new “face” of the organization; having guidelines for appropriate behavior is essential for maintaining a positive public image.

As you develop your social media presence, the Social Media Policy Handbook from Idealware can help. To quote the authors,

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Screenshot from the Social Media Policy Handbook

For those who have limited experience with social media, this handbook will help guide you understand the role of social media and how to incorporate your institution’s mission with its social media policy. It also provides space for users to write down ideas and to brainstorm with the content provided.

Similarly, the Minnesota Historical Society provides a five-page slideshow of social media worksheets that museums can download and use. It discusses topics like social media goals, target audiences, the use of various social media sites. The worksheets also provide spaces for museum personnel to write their own ideas on the given topics.

If beginning social media seems like a major consumer of time and money, consider this one hour long webinar from the New England Museum Association. It will help you decide where to focus your energy to use your resources in the most effective way.

Center of the Future of Museums shared two blog posts that relate to using innovative ways to appeal to audiences through social media while still maintaining its overall mission. The first, was written by Jeff Martin, and discussed attaching cameras to two cats who roam the grounds of the Philbrook Museum of Art in Oklahoma. Before a press release was made, the cat cams went viral, without taking emphasis away from the mission of the museum. Visitors were aware of the cats, but by offering a “cat’s eye view” through the cameras, personal connections were made to the institution.

The second article considers using “celebrities” found in collections as a way to communicate with audiences. Mr. Blobby the Blobfish found in the Australian Museum in Sydney and Sue the T. Rex at the Field Museum in Chicago were interviewed to demonstrate how pieces from an institution’s collection can be “spoke specimens” for that organization. The interview also considered how these “spoke specimens” can be simultaneously online, and in physical displays.

The Western Museums Association blog features four brief video interviews with museum technology experts who discuss creating a social media strategy and the benefits of social media use. The third video, about determining who will speak for the museum on social media, is particularly relevant for institutions just establishing an online presence.

This article uses the San Diego Zoo as a case study to discuss effective use of social media. It highlights the tactics that the Zoo does well in its use of Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Pinterest, and blogs.

Using Social Media

This website is a user-friendly guide to using Facebook. It teaches organizations how to market themselves using the social media platform, and explains the uses of pages, profiles, and events.

Mashable has a thorough Twitter Guide Book for those starting out on the platform.

Screenshot from Mashable’s Twitter Guide Book

The Virginia Association of Museums offers the handbook,  Why Should a Museum Start a Blog? It discusses various approaches to consider for museum blogs, appropriate content, and platforms friendly to the new blogger.

What can you post on social media? The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project found that the organizations that were surveyed in 2013 use social media to sell merchandise, to post about current projects, to host podcasts, or to host educational webinars. Giving website visitors behind the scenes photos is a great way to connect with audiences. Your institution can also try pairing an item from your collection with a themed post.

If you are interested in seeing examples of blogs that work well, be sure to check out these links:

Texas Historical Commission,THC is the state organization for historic preservation. Their blog offers an insider’s perspective on projects and programs.
Museum 2.0, Nina Simon regularly updates her blog about her observations on contemporary museum issues.
Marketing Historic Sites, Heidi Glatfelter, no longer active, but an example of an effective history blog.


MailChimp’s logo, Freddie

If you are interested in utilizing online tools to connect to visitors, there are a few options available to you. Constant Contact makes it easy to send e-newsletters, announcements, and surveys as well as advertise programs and events. Similarly, MailChimp, allows you to manage campaigns and subscriptions and create e-newsletters. MailChimp offers a free account option.

Evaluation. Is this effective?

Many social media platforms and online tools have an evaluation feature.  Google Analytics is widely used for gathering data and generating reports and measuring the success of your online campaigns. The results can be presented to your board or used to improve outreach and fundraising efforts.

HootSuite is a social media management program and features an evaluation tool to gather data about your various social media profiles.  The results can be used to determine which social media platforms work best of your site.