Socialize or Perish

A little melodramatic, perhaps, but in today’s digital world, if your historical organization, museum, or archives isn’t using social media to share your collections with a broader audience, then you may as well be dooming that rich history to the dustbin of, er… history.

The header for MHS's Facebook page.

This Saturday, we’re giving a talk–“Socialize or Perish: Bridging the Social Network Divide Before Your Archives Get Left Behind”–at the New England Archivists Spring 2012 meeting at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. It’s part of a larger panel presentation called “Start the Presses! Publishing to Promote Your Archives.”

It’s by no means a comprehensive review of all the social media options out there. But it does provide a detailed look at how MHS has used some common social media–Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc.–pretty successfully over the past couple of years. If you can’t make it to Middletown, here are some highlights from our part of the presentation:

Social media should not be used in a vacuum. You don’t have to use every social networking medium out there, but those you do use should be used in conjunction with one another. The more someone sees something, the greater chance it will have of sticking with them. Posts may need to be slightly customized for each medium, however, and may not be appropriate for/adaptable to some.

Don’t be afraid to do something just for fun; don’t always take your archives so seriously. To a point, of course. History is serious business! But social media is a more relaxed atmosphere than traditional print. It has a younger, broader demographic in many cases. Find fun and inviting ways to engage users.

Write/present well. You can be hip without falling into the black hole of bad English—even in 140 characters. Good, solid writing will still get you noticed. Proofread before you hit “post” or “send!”

Use a variety of posts and features. If you only post or feature one type of thing—regardless of how engaging it might be—it will eventually bore people. Vary the type of posts (although you might have a consistent day of the week for one particular type) and always be thinking of the next clever idea. MHS examples (all of which have images/collection items that go along with them):

  • Mystery artifact
  • This Day in History/Maine history tidbits/tie-ins with holidays
  • New items on Maine Memory Network
  • Teasers about upcoming/current exhibits
  • Programs & events
  • Longfellow-related items
  • Staff functions & parties/”Seen at MHS”
  • Fundraising/membership appeals (with a light touch)
  • Reposting of other posts/tweets
  • Reposting of interesting, relevant articles
  • Questions to followers about memories of Maine, Maine history, etc.
  • Scavenger hunts that take followers into your archives to find something
  • News from the collections (new accessions)
  • Staff changes and accomplishments
  • Museum store specials; Vintage Maine Images print specials

Frequency: Determine what is just enough but not too much. Put up enough posts to make sure you’re engaging a consistent following, but not so many that you annoy people. MHS standards:

  • Facebook: daily, sometimes 2-4 posts/day
  • Twitter: tweet everything (almost) that goes on FB, but shortened
  • Blogs: primary blog (this one!) is 2-4 times/week; Maine Memory Network blog is, on average, once a week (or slightly less)
  • E-newsletters: E-Connection (with multiple sections) is sent the first Monday of every month; a shorter “This Week at MHS” newsletter is sent all other Mondays

Handle any issues of concern—inappropriate comments, questions of copyright, etc.—quickly, rationally, and diplomatically. Nip problems in the bud so they don’t fester. Consider writing a social media policy so that all staff members are on the same page when it comes to using social networking on behalf of the organization. Mashable offers some great tips.

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