Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Using Social Media to Put the Life Back into Your Home Part 2

Note: This is the second 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.

Last week I discussed two social media platforms that I think Historic House Museums can use to help the public connect on a more personal level to the home and how to get started with them. Today I want to get down to the more nitty gritty ideas of content.

Suggested Content
Now that you know the basics and have tips to get started, let’s get to the heart of the matter. What can Historic Houses do with these media to make the house more like a home?
If you have diaries from the people who lived in your historic home, consider blogging their diary. Consider the journal postings on and

I personally would love to read a blog entry where there is a picture of something in the house accompanied by diary excerpts about the object, perhaps about it being delivered or if the item was a gift. If the family purchased the object and you have the receipt, consider scanning the receipt and including a picture of it in the post. Suddenly you have an entry that shows me a beautiful picture of your home, and you've made the family more real by including their words and thoughts about that object. You show me that your house wasn’t just a building, it was a home, and the objects in that home meant something important to the people who live there, just as my possessions in my home are important to me.

Depending on the people who lived in your home, their diary entries may be short enough to post on Twitter. My husband's grandfather wrote short diary entries every day for decades. Just everyday observations, such as: “Brought the cows up from the back pasture, mended the south fence.” (Note 11/4/09: Little did I know as I was drafting this back in the Spring that the Massachusetts Historical Society was getting ready to do this exact thing with John Quincy Adams’ diaries.)

If your museum doesn't have this type of record, perhaps you could write generic tweets about the type of work that would have been going on that day or time of year. If you have living history presentations, talk about the actions that they will be doing that day. As I’m writing this, we are getting ready to harvest the potatoes in our working garden, and I’m planning on tweeting about it. I like this idea because it brings back to life aspects of rural living that the majority of people don’t have to deal with anymore. Consider this: How many people today take the time to hang their rugs up outside to beat the dust off? I’m told that is something my great-great grandmother did religiously, but frankly it never occurs to me while vacuuming that you used to have to do it that way.

Twitter is all about personal, conversational communication. Imagine what it would be like if, among the posts about what jelly people are eating on their toast or where they're stopping for coffee, there were posts about people drawing water from the well in order to even be able to cook their breakfast! Imagine using Twitter to remind the public what life used to be like, and what daily activities and tasks used to be necessary for survival.

Some quick ideas for other things to blog or tweet about:
- Things your visitors say (you know they have some great quotes)
- This day in history or other factoids (the more it relates to your home or area the better)
- Behind the scenes information (big projects, recent finds/donations, disappointments)
- Quirky information about your institution or home

But remember that since Twitter is about conversation you need to interact with your followers -- ask them questions, comment on their tweets, and encourage them to give you feedback through Twitter. Just like in a conversation, you have to be a listener and a talker.

I believe Historic House Museums can turn social media platforms into very helpful tools just by answering the simple question “What are you doing?” Tell the public what you are doing!

Recommended Twitters:
John Quincy Adams -
Lakeport Plantation -
Monticello -
Mount Vernon -
Shiloh Museum of Ozark History -