With many organisations stretched for time and resources, careful consideration should be given to how to make the most of social media channels.
Be clear on where your audience is and focus on the channels that will work best for you, advises Michelle Doyle, the senior content and social media producer at the Wellcome Collection, London. If your focus is 18- to 25-year-olds, then you need to be on Instagram and TikTok, but Facebook probably isn’t for you,” she says.
However, Mike Ellis, founder of agency Thirty8 Digital, which works across the heritage sector, advises registering your institution’s name or handle on all social media channels, as a protective measure and to reserve for future use as your audiences and aims evolve.
Take the time to look at what other organisations and institutions – both in the sector and outside – are doing and what is working for them.
Ellis advises all organisations, including their leadership teams, to consider the following questions:
- How can we use these channels in the best way?
- To whom are we talking?
- What do we want to say?
- What do we want to achieve?
Developing the right tone of voice can take time, but it should be guided by your data and statistics, says Megan Jones, then digital engagement officer at Leeds Museums.
Different platforms have different audiences, which means your tone of voice should be adjusted to suit each one. For consistency, however, the core message must remain the same.
This guide focuses on TikTok, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, but there are many other channels out there that may warrant investigation and may be more suitable for your purposes.
Adam Koszary, the head of digital at the Audience Agency, says: “You may find a micro-community on Tumblr, or run a community forum on Discord, or go all in on a YouTube channel.”
When considering any channel, it is essential to think about whether the audience you want to engage with is using it, whether you have the expertise and capacity to create appropriate content, and whether it is suited to your objectives. Only then can you understand if it can bring value to you organisation.
“With all social media, the key is knowing what you want to get out of it, whether it is appropriate for the audience you want to reach, and to give yourself the time to test different approaches, find your style and keep learning,” says Koszary.
Still the new kid on the social media block, TikTok is a video-sharing app where users can create, post and share short-form video. It has a billion users worldwide and, according to consumer insights company Statista, in January 2023 nearly 40% of its users were aged between 18 and 24. It also has a female bias.
The Black Country Living Museum first scored viral success on TikTok during lockdown, using its cast of actors, who were naturally adept at storytelling. Its videos regularly receive more than 100,000 views, with several attracting millions.
Emily Smith, the museum’s communications and audience coordinator, who leads the account, says it found success on the channel by juxtaposing TikTok trends with things relevant to the museum.
For example, music by South Korean girl group BlackPink that had been used by many people posting catwalk-style videos was utilised to create a video showcasing the vintage fashions worn by the actors around the museum.
Here are Smith’s top tips to making the most of TikTok:
- Stay on top of what is trending and choose to interact with those that can fit with your brand.
- Know what works for you. Do you have an exhibition, gallery or staff member that would translate well on short-form video?
- TikTok loves a personality. Get to know what your team is good at and use it to your advantage.
- The Black Country Living Museum’s content contrasts the past with the present, which helps today’s audiences to relate.
- Can you offer a glimpse behind the curtain? It helps audiences learn something different about the organisation.
- Create fluff pieces to engage with meme and trending sounds. It can help showcase the museum’s personality beyond what is expected.
Even if you don’t have the capacity to start a TikTok account, short-form video is popular on other social media channels.
Since Elon Musk’s hostile takeover of Twitter late last year, the future of the micro-blogging site has looked increasingly unstable.
In December 2022, it had more than 368 million active worldwide users, according to Statista, but this is expected to fall. Marketing research company Insider Intelligence predicts 32 million users will desert the channel over the next two years, as concerns about hateful content and tech issues grow.
Twitter’s loss, however, will be a gain for lesser-known alternative social media sites including Mastodon and Discord.
That aside, Twitter has long been popular with individual museums and galleries, as well as the sector overall. It has been embraced as a discussion space via Twitter chats such as #MuseumHour.
Twitter threads – where you use a thread reel emoji to indicate you’ve created several posts in a row – are also a good way to tell longer stories that have lots of information, says Michelle Doyle, the senior content and social media producer at the Wellcome Collection, London.
Adam Koszary, head of digital at the Audience Agency, says that while Twitter won’t encourage audiences to click on links, it is a great place to raise awareness and get people talking.
“Twitter is where ‘power users’ with a lot of influence live, meaning if your content is seen and retweeted by the right person, it can snowball onto other channels and the press,” he says.
Monitoring trending events and responding quickly is particularly important on Twitter, so Koszary suggests thinking about how to adapt your mission and content in a way that can add to the conversation.
But the site can become a labour of love. “It’s quite difficult to generate a large following without consistent posting,” he says. “Being funny helps, as will posting interesting things and stories. It also requires reactivity, rather than just scheduled posts, having conversations and adapting your writing to the kind of pithy, informal style for which Twitter is famous – or infamous.”
Twitter is prone to “bubbles” – where you follow and are followed by similar people and organisations. Megan Jones, the digital engagement officer at Leeds Museums, says it is important to think about your content in relation to Twitter users as a whole: if you strike up conversations with other museums, try to make sure it is also interesting to other users.
Here are Jones’s top tips for making the most of Twitter:
- Less is more – and Twitter has a 280-character limit for a reason. Embrace the challenge of taking complex information and condensing it into two or three sentences that will stop thumbs scrolling.
- Always think “why should someone stop scrolling for this?”, as you’re crafting your copy.
- If something goes viral, even a little bit, find a way to call back to it so that it appeals to new followers. They’ll remember why they followed you.
With more than 2.9 billion users as of January this year, according to online reference library DataReportal, Facebook is a social media juggernaut. It is the main driver of clicks to websites across all sectors.
But Facebook has a “punishing algorithm” – when publishers post at certain frequencies, whether too often or not often enough, the posts do not display as often in the news feed, causing them to miss out on reach and traffic – says Adam Koszary, head of digital at the Audience Agency.
Here are Koszary’s top tips for making the most of Facebook:
- Reserve your best and most engaging content for this platform and aim to post one to three times a week.
- Don’t just do marketing posts; mix in interesting stories and facts that relate to your museum and its specialism. Humour always works well.
- Invite people to give an opinion and to contribute – anything that gets people commenting and reacting. You’ll need to keep a close eye on comments for customer service enquiries and complaints, as well as monitoring your Facebook reviews.
- Make full use of Facebook Events and, if you have Instagram, cross-post your stories to Facebook.
- Look at how to share stories from your collection and events with relevant Facebook Groups too – just make sure it’s accepted in the group rules and that you truly engage with the community, rather than using it as a place to put links with engaging content.
- Facebook and Instagram are also the most effective places for your social media advertising, which you can coordinate from Meta Business Suite.
With more than two billion active users, Instagram’s photo and video sharing platform remains popular, despite coming under fire for becoming more like TikTok and pushing short-form video reels over static photos.
That said, Michelle Doyle, the senior content and social media producer at London’s Wellcome Collection, believes there is still potential for posts featuring a classic picture and good information.
For the Wellcome Collection, this works best when quirky or striking items are combined with information that brings in a science and human aspect.
“We have also found using gifs meets the site’s requirement without us having to make videos,” says Doyle.
The museum has also been trialling quizzes on the platform, using pictures of objects that “aren’t quite right”, which people can comment on. While the quizzes are live for only 24 hours, Doyle says each picture can draw up to 100 replies if posted at a tactical moment – on a Friday afternoon, for example. A Christmas-themed quiz posted on Boxing Day drew up to 500 replies per picture.
Adam Koszary, head of digital at the Audience Agency, says writing is still important with Instagram, despite it being primarily a visual medium.
“You need to give people a reason to tap through to the full post, to find out something interesting and then ideally like and share the post,” he says. “You are relying on creative, colourful photography or an attention-grabbing first sentence that tells a story.”
Here are Koszary’s top tips for making the most of Instagram:
- Consistency is key. What do you want your account to be known for? It could be showing what a fun experience your museum is, or artist stories, historic figures or scientific research.
- Reading about Instagram’s algorithm may scare you into thinking you need to be using all of its many features to get noticed – you don’t.
- Don’t neglect Instagram Stories or Reels. The latter is a great way of experimenting with a TikTok-style of video without jumping straight into TikTok.
- Instagram Stories is a good place to post about live events, trending topics and anything you want people to visit your website for, such as tickets or shop items.
- It’s also a good idea to use Linktree or similar for the URL in your bio, so you can send users to a variety of webpages, rather than just your homepage.