As a leader, you need to get to grips with how to benefit from social media without getting lost in the details of each social media platform. This guide summarises the essentials of what you need to know. Whether you plan to use it in your overall marketing strategy, to create a network with fellow heritage experts or to improve how you preserve and interpret your cultural or heritage site, the guidance here will help. By the end, you will have a good idea of which platforms are right for your goals and how to make the first steps to making social media work for you.
Our expert, Dr Patrick Glen, University of Leeds, summarises what you need to know about social media as a heritage leader.
Many social media platforms are available, and each has different benefits and drawbacks. Most organisations successful in social media will target several different ones to reach different audiences with different types of media. People within your organisation may require in-house or external training to use social media platforms effectively and most importantly to understand the sensitivities and pitfalls that may be involved.
Different social media platforms focus on different kinds of engagement. Some focus on you sharing your work, opinions and information while others encourage discussion between content creators and audiences. Regardless of the emphasis of the individual platform you use, it is important to remember that users on most social media platforms can contact you publicly, and they can become forums for public complaints. This is why it is important to think carefully about how your organisation engages with the public on social media. Understanding the right platform(s) for you is an important first step.
Twitter is a microblogging website. People and organisations write short posts or ‘tweets’ as well as adding embedded audio and video. People who do not have a Twitter account can see posts if you make them public. This can help you reach a large global audience and communicate your ethos and practice.
Instagram is a photo and video sharing platform. It has a huge audience of 25-34 year-old users. If you create an account using the ‘business account’ setting, you have access to free tools to track engagement with the content you create. Instagram can be very useful in creating a visual aesthetic for your organisation helping to distinguish it from other organisations and strengthening its brand recognition. It also lends itself through the Stories and Reels features to creating short form videos which can be used to give audiences behind-the-scenes glimpses of your organisation and its work.
Facebook is a social media and social networking website. As an individual user, you can ‘friend’ (add to your network) other users and share text, video and audio either publicly or privately. You can create an organisation or ‘page’ which for many smaller organisations may be more effective and manageable than building and maintaining a formal website. Facebook is free, whereas creating a website may involve hiring a firm, a freelancer, or using in-house expertise to build and maintain it. Facebook is very useful for publicising your events and inviting potential attendees. Posts you make on Facebook have a limited reach unless you pay to ‘boost’ posts which can get expensive.
Pinterest is an image-sharing website. You can use it to compile folders according to interests or hobbies or follow the Pinterest boards of another user. It has an audience biased towards women aged 25-54. As an organisation, you can upload images for your followers to save to their own profiles. It drives more purchases and sales than any other social media platform. In 2021, 98% of Pinterest users said that they had tried something new based on what they found on Pinterest.
YouTube is the world’s largest video-sharing platform. As an organisation, you can create your own Channel for users to follow. This is very straightforward and just requires you to click on ‘Create new channel’ in the ‘account’ section of YouTube. Fill in the details to name your channel and then click ‘create’. The benefit of creating a channel is that any subscribers to the channel will be notified when you add new content. This is a great way of engaging with your audience and perhaps encouraging repeat visitors. It is straightforward to shoot, edit and upload your own videos. This is a really effective way to showcase your work and communicate it to local audiences and those across the world. YouTube also includes an automatic captioning function, which can improve the accessibility of your content. It is important to note that this function isn’t always accurate, and you will want to review and edit your captions.
TikTok is a video-sharing social network. You can make and upload videos lasting from 15 seconds to three minutes. It generally has a younger audience in comparison to other social networks (16-24) but this is rapidly changing. You can set up a free business account on TikTok very easily by going to “Manage Account” and selecting “Switch to Business Account”. TikTok lends itself to the creation of quirky and irreverent content. There is also greater chance of ‘going viral’ through TikTok due to the ease of sharing content on the platform.
Whichever platforms you choose, here are some key things to consider:
- Identify the audience you would like to reach – prioritise creating content for platforms your target audience uses. This will ensure you are using your resources effectively.
- Keep an eye out for trends – perhaps you can link your organisations’ activities to wider issues and conversations.
- Quality not quantity – try to focus on creating quality, media-rich communications.
- Try to start conversations – encouraging people to contribute to a conversation rather than just providing news and information can increase engagement and reach.
- Show appreciation – social media offers the opportunity to engage directly with members of your audience. Thank them for visiting, sharing pictures or for positive feedback.
- Personalise, but don’t make it personal – social media offers great opportunities to engage at a more direct level, but it is also important for whoever is posting to remember that they are representing the organisation’s viewpoints. Try to avoid comments (or even likes and shares) that could divide your audience.
Encouraging participation, preservation and interpretation
You can use social media to drive participation in your work. If you use it effectively, you can attract new followers. You can target new groups who have not engaged with you before, but in most cases, you will need to use social media alongside another method of engagement. Because social media does interaction so well, this method can help you preserve heritage and develop a community of interpretation. The case study on the Museum of Youth Culture in section 3 of this article is an example of this working well.
Marketing and fundraising
Social media can be valuable to you in fundraising campaigns and in increasing your membership or visitors. Social media platforms give you places where you can publicise events, exhibitions and other work or volunteering opportunities for free. Social media platforms also allow you to share your organisation’s story directly with potential individual donors, inviting them behind-the-scenes and connecting them in authentic ways to your work. Social media is a good way to speak directly to your key demographics. You can make tailored content for people you want to attract and encourage them to donate to or engage with your organisation. Finally, you can fundraise directly through most social media platforms, removing the need for donors to click through multiple links in order to support your organisation.
Here is how the online-only Museum of Youth Culture encourages participation in their work via Instagram and Facebook.
The Museum of Youth Culture began as an online-only museum that used social media to mobilise the public to share images and ephemera from their youth. In this way, the public are working with them to preserve images for posterity and create representations of potentially underexplored aspects of British history and heritage.
The Museum of Youth Culture share images of youth culture every day on social media such as Instagram and Facebook. This encourages followers to add their own and reminisce about experiences. They begin to interpret images, creating an engaged community of interpretation.
Often this leads to a vibrant debate over the significance of these images and the cultures that they depict in reference to British history, society and culture. The profile and holdings of the museum has increased significantly because of all this social media activity.
Now you know more about social media and the different audiences, you can plan what you want to get out of using it. As a leader of a heritage organisation, it is useful to develop a coherent strategy to achieve your aims and measure your progress on the way.
To help you do so, consider:
- What are the main things that your organisation is trying to communicate to its audience?
- Who are your existing and potential audiences?
- How do similar organisations use social media?
- What social media accounts do you currently have, and which platforms might you use as well?
When you have audited the use of social media in your organisation and compared it to others you can:
- Schedule regular social media posts at times when your audience are online.
- Create content and share it with audiences
- Track engagement with your posts and new followers. Has this caused higher visitor or volunteer numbers, benefitted fundraising and/or raised the profile of your organisation?
To create your own strategy, download our interactive PDF (334kb) which provides space for you to add your answers to the questions and considerations above.
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Please attribute as: "The leader’s guide to social media (2022) by Dr Patrick Glen supported by The Heritage Fund, licensed under CC BY 4.0