Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Using Social Media to Put the Life Back into Your Home Part 1

Note: This is the first half of an article that I wrote published in the HHMAG RAG, Historic House Affinity Group Newsletter Volume 9, Issue 2, August 2009, pg. 7 although I have made updates to it.


I love going to historic house museums. My favorite ones are those that make me feel like I’ve been transported back in time. I love it when I feel like I’m a guest being invited into someone's home for a visit. Take a moment to consider that statement. Notice the words I used: guest, invited, home, and visit. Historic House Museums have an opportunity to shine above other institutions like science centers and nature museums by conveying intimacy and being personal.

Unfortunately, Historic House Museums aren’t always the best at conveying these characteristics through their online presence. However, I feel that the new wave of social media and networking sites can really help historic house museums to make those personal connections. There are a number of sites out there, and you need to take time to find out which one might work best for your institution. I’m guessing there will be at least one that can be a great tool for you to connect to your audience.


The Basics
First, everything I’ll cover in this article is free. You have to create accounts with these services, but they are free and you don’t have to install anything on your computer (although there are free tools you may find useful). You will, however, have to have access to the Internet. Second, I would like to suggest that it is fine to start out as just a follower or a reader. See what others are doing first and decide if you want to do the same for your museum or if there’s something different you would do.


I’ve picked two types of social media to discuss:

Blogs – Online web journal; the term comes from web log. You can choose to setup a blog on your institution's website, or you can use a free service such as blogger.com. Blogs are like essays, articles, or presentations, and even though most blogs give readers the ability to comment people seldom do so.

Twitter – Free networking and micro-blogging (posts can't be more than 140 characters) service found at twitter.com. A post is called a Tweet and individuals often post several Tweets a day. People sign-up to follow other Twitter users. Twitter is to blogging what instant messaging is to email: it’s very conversational and interactive. It is also more immediate, with almost real-time responses. It has been described as the global version of the office water cooler.

Blogs and Twitter can complement each other nicely, so there's no need to exclusively use one over the other. They do have their strengths, however: complex ideas are best suited for blogs, while visitor interaction might be a better fit for Twitter.


Tips for beginners:
Even if you don't think you will ever blog or tweet, you might sign up for the services so you can secure the name of your institution. After all, it would be a shame if you later decided you wanted to tweet or blog and someone had already used your name.

If you sign up for Twitter I would also suggest signing up for a free alert service such as TweetBeep.com. You can use this to track mentions of certain words and phrases used in posts, such as your museum's name, staff member names, or the phrase "historic house museum." Whenever any of those words or phrases are mentioned, the service will email you. This can be an important way to keep up with what the public is saying about your museum.

When you are ready to start posting or tweeting, don't over-think it. It will come across in your posts if you are trying too hard, which can be a major turn-off in this environment. Remember: it’s about being personal.

Also, if you just do marketing announcements, people will feel like you're spamming them, which is another turn-off on social networks. Instead, think about ways to be personal.

Initially everyone is concerned about the time required, but it doesn't have to take that much time. Generally, the public neither expects nor wants businesses and museums to post tweets as often as regular people do. Start small and tweet every other day or just once a week. We often write most of our tweets after staff meetings, because that's where we get our ideas. For example: "The tree guys are coming this afternoon to pull up the stumps left over from the ice storm. . . . Should we tweet about that?" Yes! Even include a picture, if you can.

The other fabulous thing about these types of media is that most of these services tie-in to each other, so you can kill two birds with one stone. For instance, I have my personal twitter account configured to send my tweets to my Facebook page, and I have my blog set-up to do the same thing. I only have to write one thing, but it goes to two different places and reaches two different audiences for me. It is a repeat of information for a small percentage of my friends, but most of them admit that a lot of times they overlook the information on one site or the other, so they don't realize that it's a repeat. The important thing to remember is to include some posts that don’t go to each application. You need to login to these applications and post something specifically for that venue.

Next week I’ll share some ideas for content to post through these platforms.