Forum Webinar: Transforming Digital Engagement at Historic Sites

By Forum Online posted 05-22-2020 15:31

As we all know, preservationists and history professionals across the country have been forced to shift overnight the way they share, engage, and tell their stories from in-person programming to the digital realm. We recognize this has not been easy. On April 19, Preservation Leadership Forum hosted a  webinar that focused on this transition. In this webinar five dynamic speakers talked through the process of transformation—how to develop a strategy, what lessons have been learned (so far), and gave advice on sustaining a digital presence with existing capacities and resources. Each speaker brought  replicable examples and best practices for attendees to implement in their ongoing work. Below are some response to questions that weren't touched upon during the event along with some additional resources. 

You can watch the recording for "Transforming Digital Engagement at Historic Sites" in the Forum Library. 

Credit: James Madison's Montpelier

What are some best ways to monetize programs during the pandemic?

For many organizations, having a paywall is a barrier unless you’ve built a customer base that is accustomed to buying your content or can partner with someone who has that type of customer base. If you have a local university with online courses, consider partnering with their faculty members and developing an online adult continuing education course about art/architecture history, humanities, etc. Alternatively, you could take a great idea to your past funders to show them how you can serve your regional communities and fulfill your mission through digital engagement.

Additional Resource: Forum Webinar: Communicating and Fundraising for Preservation in a Time of Uncertainty

What are organizations spending on boosted and paid posts? Or is this all organic social media reach?

Like other nonprofits, the Los Angeles Conservancy has limited resources. We consider boosting and paid advertisements only for posts that advance our mission and work meaningfully. For example, even before the pandemic, we were building awareness about our youth programs. Modest investments in paid advertising on social media was one of our strategies. It is a cost-effective way to reach new targeted audiences, test messaging, track conversion, and manage our outreach expenses. To date, we’ve made minimal investments in paid posts for our Storytime youth program because its organic social media reach was higher than we expected. The program resonated with our audiences naturally.

What tips do you have for sites with smaller followings on social media? Are there tricks to working with the Facebook algorithm to build engagement?

There are many tips and tricks on how to grow social media following and build engagement. Remember it is important to use social media purposefully, authentically, and consistently. It has a specific role and its own goals in a digital communications strategy. We try to follow the 70/20/10 rule (70% value content, 20% shared content, and 10% promotional content), use images that tell our stories, and pay attention to what posts resonate with our audience so we can continue to engage them meaningfully.

What type(s) of digital engagement would you prioritize for a volunteer-only organization with minimal hours available?

Focus on activities that are not time intensive. Consider educational posts on Facebook, Instagram, or your website and don’t be afraid to feature recycled content or links to other content. Short videos or video chats using a platforms like Facebook Live, Zoom, Google Hangouts/Meet are also less labor intensive.

How can you find who your influencers are?

Hootsuite and Followerwonk offer free tools to help organizations discover influencers or what’s trending in your space. However, I would encourage you to think about who your target audience is (as specifically as possible, including demographics, interests, and geography). Put yourself in their position and research who these folks might follow, what blogs they might read, what topics might they care about (in general or in this moment in time), and so on. Interestingly, sometimes seemingly small local voices can be the most influential.

Additional Resources: 
Editor's Note: While these are a few years old, some of the information might be helpful for those just getting started in using social tools. 
Forum Journal: Technology Transforming Preservation
Blog Series: An Evolving Approach to Social Media
Webinar: Social Media Strategy and Tips
Webinar: Historical Storytelling Through Technology