June 27, 2017

9 Questions to Ask When Using Social Media to Save Places

#DownToTheWire Hashtags on Shirt

The #DownToTheWire t-shirts featured the campaign hashtag.

It’s been more than 10 years since social media burst on the scene, changing forever how most people and organizations connect with one another. In the world of preservation this is, of course, not that long a time—after all, we have been known to spend decades working on a single project. But social media is, at this point, also not a flash in the pan. While the tools and channels may evolve, the fundamental change into the speed and connectedness of communication is here to stay.

In order to continue to educate people about our work and inspire them to action, preservationists need to focus on communications—and social media—more than ever. It’s been easy to coast along, sharing on social in a hit-or-miss kind of way, but 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.

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.

What preservation goal 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. For example, Facebook posts can be great for awareness, while change.org is be better for creating petitions to influence policymakers.

Yes On 8 Signs at Union Terminal

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

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, Twitter, and Instagram, offer metrics for business accounts, making tracking progress simple.

Where is your audience?

The old saying “different strokes for different folks” applies in social networking, just as it does in other areas of life. Knowing the demographics of different websites can steer you towards 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.

What’s your budget?

There’s a common misconception that social media is free; it’s not. While Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, 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.

What will you be sharing?

Social media requires content, so know what you have at your disposal before you start. This will help you select what sites to use as well as 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?

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 and participating in conversations. Social media should be a two-way conversation.

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—and 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.

From the beginning of social media, it’s been a cliché that it’s an ideal role for an intern because as digital natives they just “get” it. What many interns don’t know, however, is your organization and its culture, which can make it hard to find the right voice online—or a consistent one, as internships tend to be finite. Instead, consider approaching social media as an opportunity for two-way mentoring.

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.

Over the course of the summer and fall, we’ll be sharing additional toolkits that dig into other aspects of how different kinds of social media and digital storytelling can advance our work as preservationists—and help us save more places.

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.

Now accepting nominations for the 2024 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places! Letters of Intent are due September 29, 2023.

Learn More