Thursday, 20 November 2014

Thoughts on Facebook and archives (likely part one of several)

I was asked to give a presentation to Youth Minister Nikki Kaye this weekend, but as I'd already planned to go to a thing in Hamilton I had to pull out. However, I did write this neat thing about The Treasury's Facebook in lieu of talking about it to her, and I thought I'd share it here:

Developing The Treasury – Thames Facebook page

In August this year, The Treasury held a workshop for its members to determine which directions we should take over the next five years. The group had plenty of ideas – the need to expand, improve our public image and define what we stand for were all items up for discussion. One topic which came up repeatedly was the need to get more young people on board, and engaging with the world of social media was seen as a way to do this. I volunteered to set up an official Facebook page for The Treasury to meet this demand.

At twenty-three, I am the youngest member of The Treasury’s executive committee, and I’d like to think I go some way towards challenging the community’s perceptions of who uses and works in an archival repository. I first volunteered with The Treasury when I was eighteen, and I returned several times over summer breaks while I studied for a BA in History. In June, I left my job at Waikato Museum to pursue a career as an archivist, and returning to The Treasury and its new archive building was a natural step to take while I study. Creating a Facebook page presented a unique challenge for me, as I needed to find a balance that was engaging for both current Treasury users and digitally-savvy newcomers.

For The Treasury, Facebook provides an opportunity to spread personalised content to an international and multi-generational audience, all of whom are already receptive on some level to what we have to say. With Facebook, we can showcase research and resources, advertise events and merchandise, and spread the word about what we do and why we are unique. It also allows The Treasury to link up with similar organisations who are interested in our stories (such as the New Zealand History Federation and Timespanner, who have both been extremely supportive of our page). Crucially for an organisation without permanent funding, it also allows us to do all this at no cost, apart from volunteer time.

Before beginning to set up the page, I received advice and mentoring from two ex-colleagues who work professionally in social media for the cultural sector: Kelly Bold, Social Media Coordinator for Auckland Libraries, and Emma Bryant, Online Coordinator at Waikato Museum. Both stressed the importance of authenticity, and telling the stories which The Treasury was created to preserve. I think this quote from Emma really sums up what Facebook can do for the Treasury:

‘Your key point of difference here is that you work in an amazing environment surrounded by fascinating content and stories which are of huge interest to the local and national community. The problem is sharing those stories. By creating a space online you open up to a massive potential audience. You can build awareness of who you are and what you do, build relationships with the local community, crowd-source more information, and finally, get more people through the doors. It's also a great way to add value for your stakeholders once you get a bit of a following behind you.’

The page went live on October 11, with advertising both via email to our members and on existing Facebook genealogy forums for the wider community. We received sixty ‘likes’ in the first week and this number has grown steadily, currently sitting on 98. 

I generally post new content four or five days a week, scheduled for times of high traffic. The posts vary between stories from local history (Treasury Tales or items from the Treasury Journal), upcoming events (book launches, markets stall, steampunk photo exhibition), advertising for The Treasury shop (new books and merchandise), and ‘behind the scenes’ content (oral histories, work by volunteers, information about the archive). It’s been fascinating to plan, research, schedule and post these, and then see how the public engages with us. A personal highlight for me was last weekend, when a post asking for help identifying a photograph reached an audience of over 900 people. 

By running the page, I’ve had the opportunity to expand my skill-set in social media. Previously I had some experience as a Facebook Admin for the 2012 National Contemporary Art Award, but working on The Treasury’s page has allowed me to really get a feel for the medium and how it can be used to benefit both The Treasury and its fanbase. Social media is an ever-expanding frontier where cultural institutions can interact with people on an individual level, breaking down the barriers of threshold anxiety and engaging with people on their own terms. Often volunteer-run institutions miss out on this though a lack of skills or resources, and I feel it’s important for The Treasury to have this capacity to reach people who would otherwise discount archives as exclusive or irrelevant to them. My hope is that the page will continue to grow, and that I will be able to pass on my knowledge to a new wave of volunteers.

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