How can social media benefit a small museum?
The moment I stepped foot onto the tranquil 12-acre campus of the Strawbery Banke Museum (SBM), located in Portsmouth, NH, thoughts of ROI, social media algorithms and hashtags floated away into a far away, advanced century. This living museum is not a reproduction. It’s an actual neighborhood of homes from a time span covering the late 1600s to the mid 1900s. Reenactors stroll through the grassy quad, with no evidence of current times seen in any direction, aside from the tall tour buses off in the distance. It’s a unique museum, or brand, and as my interview uncovered, it attracts a distinctive patron. My recent conversation with Stephanie Seacord, Director of Marketing, revealed her genuine commitment to helping the museum thrive by using her 35 years of consumer and tourism marketing experience. During our conversation, we focused on her use of social media and what she feels works, doesn’t work, and what needs attention.
Stephanie graciously outlined her perspective and the challenges she faces while utilizing social media. She was very honest, explaining that she recognizes she could expand her understanding of the dynamics of social media, such as best times to post and the use of buzz words. In fact, she doesn’t use a smart phone! Note to self: remove the question about ‘dark times.’
Stephanie posts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter platforms, and has no plans to add Snapchat. I asked Stephanie if she admires the way other museums use social media for promotion, and she replied that she follows the Instagram account of Colonial Williamsburg, and enjoys the way they photograph their campus. She’s right, CW has some snazzy photography…take a look! With just 90,000 visitors annually, SBM has a limited budget. Stephanie is basically a one-woman-show, and wears many hats. She even personally created the framework for the museum’s current website!
The museum runs successful online banner advertisements using selected demographic filter criteria, such as age and zip code ranges. Stephanie has a complete understanding of WHO her audience is. Next, social media could help to find out WHAT they want by building a social media campaign that engages and encourages participatory experiences. They could use call-to-action methods, such as “Click here to win free admission,” which would also help to grow the museum’s email database. Or ask a tempting question that prompts conversation, such as, “Why do you think Portsmouth was voted the #1 best small city? Post a picture to show why and tag a friend!” (or retweet). Or perhaps ask followers to help name a new baby goat via an online poll. Such participation would help to grow followers by increasing interest in the museum, which would hopefully convert to increased admissions: attract-engage-invite. In addition, social media conversations could identify new program or event ideas that represent the interests of their current patrons or identify methods to attract an entirely new demographic.
SBM doesn’t swop Instagram accounts, or participate in wide-spread Twitter events. Although Stephanie likes the idea and plans to explore the possibility of a temporary Instagram account trade with an area submarine museum. She strongly believes her marketing success is credited to collaborations with other city non-profits. She promotes special programs through paid media, such as the popular wine event, Vintage & Vine, and holiday, Candlelight Stroll, and uses earned media for general admission. The museum’s social media posts, mostly of beautiful photos of the campus, also promote special events to highlight ticket sales and general interest. Stephanie’s most successful post to date, yielding the most likes, was of baby goats, from a Spring Barnyard Baby Animals exhibit. Who can resist liking a photo of an adorable baby animal? This illustrates that the museum’s social media platforms have patron attention, which is an important fact. Add participatory posts, and Stephanie might need to purchase a smart phone (or two!) to keep up with demand.
Do you have any ideas that could help a small museum expand their social media efforts? Leave a comment or use the contact form below to share your thoughts…
Stephanie Seacord, Director of Marketing, joined Strawbery Banke in 2011 with more than 35 years of consumer, business and trade experience, specializing in travel, tourism and hospitality. From 2004 to 2009, Stephanie provided PR Counsel to the New Hampshire Division of Travel and Tourism, earning over $25 million in publicity and reaching 622 million readers for state tourism. She won the 2009 New Hampshire Travel Council Advertising/PR Agency of the Year Award.
It seems like Stephanie has a lot on her plate being a one-woman show. What I found interesting was her mentioning that Strawberry Banke Museum is rated #1 of things to do in Portsmouth on Trip Advisor. This goes to show how much the visitor experience and review can influence others! I am constantly looking up the top things to do on Trip Advisor when I’m in a new city.
Nicole, good observation! The museum is good for the city, and the city is good for the museum. My interview uncovered the importance of collaborations. We need to work well with everyone, EVEN those who we may consider competition.
90,000 annual visitors is decent for a small site or museum. I’ve worked at National Park Service sites that received only 60,000 visitors, so social media postings do not reach the largest audiences. I’m surprised Stephanie Seacord does not want to use Snapchat, other than just not having the time to invest in this outlet.
Caroline: I agree, 90,000 is strong. Year-by-year comparisons would be telling, comparing it to overall city tourism figures while factoring in economy highs and lows, weather, new museum programs (or lack thereof). I am not a fan of Snapchat either, but understand if it may draw-in patrons, and it’s not taking me away from more worthy tasks, it’s worth the time.
It was refreshing to hear that SBM has a collaborative presence amongst staff, from archaeologists to interpreters, which help contribute photos and text to their overall strategy. It is not only practical (as Stephanie has no iPhone) but I’m sure provides a diverse perspective across the organization. It was also interesting to hear of another place (similar to Spy) that uses social media heavily to promote ticket sales and “get butts in seats”, all the while recognizing it is a delicate balance between targeted marketing vs. participatory engagement and the effect that can have on followers (and keeping them!)
Donny: As a fan/follower of multiple museums, I enjoy posts that announce events — sprinkled between engaging posts, as you mention. This is often how I find out about events, allowing me to buy tickets quickly before they’re sold-out. If an institution was using SM to promote something that was not in alignment with their mission, I’d feel differently. As you accurately state, it IS a delicate balance, but by following ones mission (and not over-posting) it’s certainly worthy.
In your post you mention that Stephanie has 35 years of experience in “consumer and tourism marketing” experience. I know you focus mostly on the details of her social media usage but I am wondering if you got any sense when talking with her about how that marketing background might have influenced her social media agenda.
Lauren: Stephanie didn’t specifically draw a connection between the two. However, she has mastered the art of successful collaborations, gained through her earlier tourism work. Some such collaborative efforts can be seen in her various SM posts. So I can conclude that she realizes there’s nothing to lose and a lot to gain when a museum embraces those around them.
I loved her point about using social media to attract visitors that haven’t been there since they were kids. I see a similar thing happen at NCMOH from time to time. People haven’t been since the state-mandated field trip when they were in 4th grade. They are shocked to find what is basically an entirely different museum! People don’t realize how much a museum can change over 5, 10, 15+ years.
Megan: “State-mandated field trip,” oh how times have changed! I instantly envision a campaign around this thought. A campy 1970’s, Kodachrome-colored dusty video with bad audio morphing into a vivacious, new frame…and so on.
Kristen, your interview with Stephanie was very informative and I love the conversation you had going on with her because I could tell you made a great connection with her. She is a very busy lady it sounds like! I admire how she’s able to have worn so many hats throughout her lifetime, it’s very enlightening to hear. I liked her information on the collaboration that you two went into in terms of the Vintage Christmas. To hear about the success of increasing revenue for hotels, it really shows how important it is for museums to partner or collaborate with different organizations. I Googled the Vintage Christmas events and the website is stunningly beautiful, it really made me want to go and visit and I can just imagine the draw that the museum has had since this event started.
Melanie: The museum’s Vintage Christmas is great. Commercially, it’s positive for the city: holiday shopping and full hotels. Everyone wins. As we all know, tourists visit for more than one experience, unless you’re Disney World. Partnering-up is wise.
I found the interview with Stephanie interesting because though she is new to social media she has great ideas to engage people… i.e. “naming a baby goat” who wouldn’t want to do that! With that being said I think it would really benefit Stephanie and the museum to explore all of the wonders of the diverse array of platforms that are out there. It would be great Kristen if you could help the museum… is it in proximity to you?
Jasmin: Thank you! Name the baby goat was actually my idea or recommendation for further engagement.
Listening to your conversation with Stephanie gave me some new insight into the world of people who have a marketing background and now with with social media as part of their toolkit. There is so much going on at the site; I can’t image trying to tell over 300 years of London Town at the same time, so it must be a challenge for the site. Hearing that she was a contractor rather than a typical employee of the museum was interesting. Although this doesn’t seem to make Stephanie’s job any harder, I wonder if other museums would have trouble with someone who works for other companies as well as the museum.
Rachel: It seems those who manage SM accounts come from such varied backgrounds. The platforms are expanding faster than colleges and universities can develop programs for training. Backgrounds such as marketing, art history, curator…and now tourism expert. They all have validity. Is there currently one perfect background?
Kristen, I thought it was really interesting in talking about building a collaboration both with other non-profits and travel agencies in order to get the word out. In one of my other classes (Museums and Community Engagement) we talked about the importance of collaboration with a variety of organizations, including travel agencies. Word of mouth plays such a vital role in getting the word out about any museum and the wonderful things that they have to offer. It goes back to the “earned media” that Colleen Dilenschneider talked about her blog post “Social Media: The EveryDepartment Job in Nonprofit Organizations”.
Also, Stephanie’s experience in marketing and PR also seems to serve her well in her current role.
Katie: Word of mouth, and marketing “games” that make something contagious, have enormous influence. Social media is a powerful vehicle to ignite both.
The different mindset between for-profit and nonprofit organizations is an interesting subject to me, because I recently made this change (to a nonprofit). I think, as you mention, marketing and finance are professions that don’t need to have a background in museums to transition their skills. Stephanie’s marketing background seems to bring a good foundation to her toolkit for bringing visitors to the museum. It is also interesting that Stephanie depends on other departments to create content, I have heard many professionals in these interviews speak to this tactic.
Sabrina, your final point is very true, especially in medium to small institutions, I believe.
Kristen – I liked that you were able to do this interview in person! I personally really liked the museum “ambiance” sounds in the background. It felt like I was there! Stephanie talks about cross-promotion and partnerships to market and reach new audiences, which I found very interesting. I like hearing about the apple orchards and brewing! It also shows different ways to use social media and take advantage of other organization’s audiences.
Jeana: I believe living museums have a unique opportunity to use social media in way traditional museums can’t. Orchards, baby animals, reinactors — all fun opportunities to use SM, especially Instagram, to post great, diverse photos. I love posts of framed art because I appreciate all things Art. But to the casual follower, I imagine this can become tiresome. being able to post a waive-array of subject matters, as living museums can, can attract patrons in different ways.
It’s refreshing to see such a veteran in the field to be becoming involved in social media. Although I know there is mention made of her just getting started with social media, she seems to have some good ideas of how to engage people through social media sites. It will be interesting to see where she is able to go with some of those ideas and how she becomes more engaged herself with the Strawbery Banke Museum’s social media feeds. Being as she has an immense amount of experience over her career, I think she will be just fine with the new social media she now partakes in.
Jason: You’re right, and I believe the basic principles of marketing hold true for past and future message vehicles. Experience makes a difference. Combine this with social media savvy, and a willingness to embrace new methods, and you’ll have a powerful tool.
I found this interview really fascinating. It is a great example of an older museum marketing person wadding into the waters of social media. While she has had to learn to utilize these platforms, you can tell that she is not comfortable with using it. She limits herself to certain platforms and I got the impression she struggles with the nuances associated with it (I could be wrong Kristen). But the interview provided a stark contrast between somone with her background and years of experience and those younger museum operators working in social media now.
Great observation, Craig! I’ll add that I think Stephanie’s years of traditional marketing experience allotted her the ability to value the benefits of collaborations, as opposed to just focusing on her own museum and campaign.
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