February 2, 2024

9 Questions to Ask When Using Social Media to Save Places

#DownToTheWire Hashtags on Shirt

The #DownToTheWire t-shirts featured the campaign hashtag.

Harnessing the power of social media can be a transformative way to connect with advocates, build community, and drive support for an organization. In the world of preservation, social media can help build and strengthen local connections; and garner interest and support for preservation projects. While the tools and channels may evolve, the speed and connectedness of communication are here to stay.

To continue educating people about our work and inspire them to action, preservationists need to focus on communications—and social media—more than ever. As both organizations and consumers become more sophisticated, it’s important to start thinking more strategically about how we are using social media to save places.

Here are nine questions (and a few follow-up questions) to ask yourself and your colleagues as you approach building out a social media strategy.

1. What kind of strategy are you creating?

Are you crafting your organization’s overall strategy? Or a shorter-term campaign strategy? The same elements are worthy of consideration for both, but the answers—especially regarding goals, timeline, and content—may be very different. Ideally, though, your short-term campaigns should be elements of your ongoing strategy, rather than being separate.

2. What preservation goal are you trying to accomplish?

Are you advocating to save a single building? Are you trying to raise awareness of a historic neighborhood? Are you trying to influence local (or national) policy? Knowing what you want to do will help you decide which social sites to use.

3. What does success look like?

Having a clear, measurable goal from the outset will guide the choices you make and let you know when your social outreach is working—and when it isn’t. Many of the most popular social media sites, including Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (X), offer metrics for business accounts, making tracking progress simple.

Yes On 8 Signs at Union Terminal

The "Yes on 8" campaign for Cincinnati's Union Terminal had a strong social media element.

4. Where is your audience?

The old saying “different strokes for different folks” applies to social media, just as it does in other areas of life. Knowing the demographics of different platforms can steer you toward the right social channels to meet your goals. A great resource is the Pew Research Center's Internet & Technology project. They do an annual survey of who is using social media, and which sites they use.

5. What’s your budget?

There’s a common misconception that social media is free; it’s not. While Facebook, Instagram, Twitter (X), LinkedIn, and other sites can be used without charge, advertising—which is increasingly important for being seen—does have a cost. In addition, it’s important to consider staffing expenses, because effective social media outreach requires staff time.

6. What will you be sharing?

Social media requires content, so know what you have at your disposal before you start. This will also help you decide which platforms are the best fit for your content and help you plan a posting schedule. Some questions to think about: Do you have a blog or website with stories you can share? Are you comfortable finding and sharing stories from local or national news outlets?

7. How much staff time do you have?

It’s possible to have an effective social media program or campaign with just an hour or two a day, but it needs to be a consistent effort. It’s also important to factor in time not just for posting content, but also for answering questions, participating in conversations, and moderating comments. Social media should be a two-way conversation.

8. Is there someone on your team with social media-friendly skills?

Concise writing, an analytical mindset, and familiarity with the subject matter, along with understanding how various sites work, are key—photography, video production, and graphic design are also helpful. It can be hard to find all these things in one preservation-minded individual, so for some organizations or projects a team approach may be best.

The time has long passed when the cliché of "just have an intern handle social media" was acceptable. Social media is often the initial (and potentially only) touch-point for the public to encounter your organization. These channels should be managed by someone familiar with your organization's culture, voice, and mission, and should be considered a key position in your marketing or communications team.

9. Do you need a social media policy?

If you’re working on your own to save a place, probably not, but if you’re part of an organization—even a casual or ad hoc one—agreeing to some ground rules can be helpful. A basic social media policy can help set expectations and ensure that everyone involved is operating within a common framework.

An earlier version of this story was published on June 27, 2017.

Sarah Heffern headshot

Sarah Heffern, the National Trust's former director of social media, embraces all things online and pixel-centric, but she’s also a hard-core building hugger, having first fallen for historic places in a fifth grade “Built Environment” class.

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