Over the coming months, future posts in this series about social media in preservation will dig deeper into community management, storytelling, advocacy, and more. Have questions? Reach out on Forum Connect! Also, keep an eye out for our sessions at PastForward 2017—the full schedule is dropping in two weeks!
It’s hard to believe, but it has only been a little more than 10 years since Facebook became available to the public, two years after launching at Harvard and then expanding to other colleges and universities. In that decade, it’s gone from a site centered around text-only updates and intentionally ambiguous pokes to a behemoth with nearly 2 billion monthly users sharing links, photos, and videos—a site so widely used that it’s even believed to have influenced the 2016 presidential election.
I don’t think those of us who joined Facebook in those early years had any real idea of what was to come. In summer 2007, I remember telling my then-boss that we “might as well” start a group for the National Trust because it would be better to have some members in it already if we ever decided to reach out to people that way. If you had told me then that a decade later I’d be responsible for a social media program that reaches more than 2 million people per month, I wouldn’t have believed you.
The social media era is now in its tweens, and like humans of that age, it’s certainly more mature than it once was, but still growing and changing so much that it’s impossible to guess where it will end up.
In the 10 years since that first Facebook group, the National Trust has developed a successful presence not only on that channel but also on Twitter and Instagram. The Trust has also made less-successful attempts to use MySpace, Google+, Gowalla, Foursquare, Pinterest, and other platforms that either didn’t make it or changed their purposes to ones that do not meet our needs—and a few are wildly successful sites that just didn’t work for us.
Like many organizations’, our early forays into social media were guided mostly by curiosity. What is this new channel? How does it work? Will people want to hear from us this way? Is this worth our time or is it just a flash in the pan? The answers continue to vary widely—and, in some cases, change over time—and we return to those questions every time a new channel appears on the scene.
But while we do experiment with new channels, we have also become more strategic and data-driven over the years. We strive to increase the number of people engaging with us on our social channels, hoping to attract them to our website and convert their enthusiasm into a closer relationship with the Trust, signified by joining our email list, taking an advocacy action, or donating.
Our strategy combines storytelling and community building. Saving places is full of stories, whether they tell the history of a place; of the people who lived, worked, and played there; or of the preservationists who have worked to save it. We use our social media channels to share those stories and to allow people doing such work to talk to us and to each other.
As we share stories and participate in the subsequent conversations, we keep track of responses, both through post engagement—likes, comments, shares, retweets, etc.—and website metrics. We monitor these closely and track what people respond to. Over the years we’ve learned, for example, that our social media audiences have an almost insatiable appetite for Frank Lloyd Wright, Jane Jacobs, and arguments about paint.
Periodically, we “gut-check” the work we’re doing through external research and benchmarking to make sure we’re moving in the right direction. One of our go-to sites for social media data is the Pew Research Center, which conducts an annual assessment of the social media landscape. According to their most recent study, 69 percent of Americans use at least one social media site—a number that has grown dramatically from the pre-Facebook era.
Social media becomes even more important as we try to expand our reach to younger and more diverse audiences. As the chart below shows, 80 percent of 30–49-yearolds are using social media. And 85 percent of 18–29 year olds—the coveted millennials as well as the Gen X cohort that preceded them—are social media’s most active users. In addition, 74 percent of Americans of Hispanic background are active on social media, along with 69 percent of whites, and 63 percent of blacks.
We also use studies like the annual M+R Benchmarks Study, which looks at “digital advocacy, fundraising, social, and advertising” both across the nonprofit sector and broken down by segments, including one for cultural groups. This segmenting can be hard to find in many nonprofit studies, making M+R invaluable for our organization.
While Pew tells us who is using social media, M+R helps us understand how we’re doing: Are our numbers growing at a normal rate? Are we spending the right amount on advertising? Are we posting too little—or too much?
This information is especially helpful because, in a social media world that can seem dominated by massive news organizations and corporations, it can be hard for a smaller nonprofit organization to have a sense of what is “normal” growth in an environment that prioritizes the viral.
While you wait for the next post in the series, check out our toolkit about building a preservation-focused social media strategy.
Sarah Heffern is the director of social media at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.#storytelling #Technology #Advocacy #SocialMedia