Helen Wahle, Former Social Media Manager, Museum of Tolerance


The person that I interviewed for my guests expert interview was Helen Wahle. After graduating with a journalism degree from Indiana University, Helen served as the social media intern for several non-profits. She eventually was hired by the Museum of Tolerance as their Social Media Manager, helping to build their social media platform. She would then transition to the “profit” world, becoming the Digital Strategist for Westridge Outdoors. (https://www.linkedin.com/in/helen-wahle-a75a0a54?authType=OUT_OF_NETWORK&authToken=VIb6&locale=en_US&srchid=2669267121476663002151&srchindex=1&srchtotal=319543&trk=vsrp_people_res_name&trkInfo=VSRPsearchId%3A2669267121476663002151%2CVSRPtargetId%3A193610105%2CVSRPcmpt%3Aprimary%2CVSRPnm%3Atrue%2CauthType%3AOUT_OF_NETWORK). In this interview we focused on how to best engage the audience and some best practices to use. We started off by talking about the platforms that the Museum of Tolerance currently utilizes. Primarily they focus on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest as these were the platforms that their audiences primarily use.

For Instagram, this was primarily used to “connect objects with people, places, purpose” (Morrissey and Worts, 1998 pg. 159), primarily the different objects in the exhibit. One of the main projects that she worked on while at the Museum of Tolerance was an Instameet for the new Anne Frank exhibit. The Anne Frank is “a visually stunning space just begging to be photographed” (Blasco, 2016, pg. 1). Using the hashtag #emptymot (https://www.instagram.com/explore/tags/emptymot/), well known Instagramers in the Los Angeles area were invited into the exhibit. They were invited to take pictures of the different artifacts in the exhibit and post them to their Instagram. This helped to generate positive interest in both the Museum as a whole and the specific exhibit.

Facebook, in an effort to “connect people with people” (Morrissey and Worts, 1998, pg. 160), to post articles about events occurring at the museum and articles related to the topics addressed by the museum. Since the topics presented at the Museum are challenging and difficult to digest due to the issues in human rights that they present, the articles posted focused on positive, uplifting and inspirational stories about human rights. Pinterest, in an attempt to, as Morrissey and Worts (1998) state, “connecting people to resources” (pg. 161) has different resources that teachers can use. She talked about how she picked which platforms to use. Her advice, like Bohan (2013) stated, was to “Determine where your audience (and future audience) is most likely to interact with you” (pg. 1). She initially tested the different platforms and found these three were the best to focus on.

We then transitioned into coordination with other departments within the museum. As the Museum of Tolerance is a small institution, Helen was often the primary contact for facilitating the social media content. When she initially entered into the museum, she did encounter some challenges in convincing the other departments in the value of posting content, events, etc. on the social media platforms. However, as she continued to build relationships with these other departments, they began to see the value in it. By taking the time to build the relationship with her colleagues, as was stressed in the Visser (2013) reading, she was able to gain more autonomy and trust with her colleagues.

Lastly, we focused on the differences between the “for profit” realm and the “non-profit” realm. The main importance that non-profits, especially museums, can learn from the “for-profit” realm is to be creative with how they use social media. It is important remain educational, but also to be fun and engaging to your audience. While educational posts can be interesting, if they are not visually engaging, many visitors will pass them by.

I found my conversation with Helen to by very insightful and useful as we proceed with developing social media content for the institutions we work for. Hope you enjoy.


Blasco, E. (2016) Best practices for live social media events that engage museum audiences: The Twitter Q&A. https://medium.com/@erinblasco/best­practices­for­live­social­media­events­tha t­engage­museum­audiences­the­twitter­q­a­5dabad3f312c#.2x52zxldo

Bohan, A. (2013). Marketing Your Arts Organization on Social Media: 7 Thought­Starters for Creating an Effective Strategy. http://artsmarketing.org/node/1725 4.

Morrissey, K., and Worts, D. (1998). A place for the muses? Negotiating the role of technology in museums. In S. Thomas and A. Mintz (Eds.), The virtual and the real: Media in the museum (pp. 147­171). Washington, D.C.: American Association of Museums.

Visser, J., & Richardson, J. (2013). Digital Engagement in Culture, Heritage, and the Arts. http://digitalengagementframework.com/digenfra3/wp­content/uploads/2016/0 2/Digital_engagement_in_culture_heritage_and_the_arts.pdf 5.


  1. Kristen Peterson says:

    Katie: I can understand some of the challenges Helen faced. Colleagues who do not understand the principles of marketing may think managing social media platforms is “fun & games.” I imagine it takes time for others to understand its value to the organization.

    1. Megan Burgess says:

      Kristen, you are absolutely right. When I tell people that work in museums that I’m taking a course about social media, they tell me how useful that will be and that they wish they had had a course like this in college/grad school. When I tell people that don’t work in museums that I’m taking a course in social media, they think I’m kidding!

      1. Katie Montecuollo says:

        Megan, when I have told people about some of the projects (like the Snapchat project) that I have done for this class, they don’t believe me at first either.

    2. Katie Montecuollo says:

      Kristen, it does take time for others to understand the value of social media. As we have seen in this class, social media is playing even more of a vital role in the lives of our visitors. The challenge comes when people don’t understand how social media can be used to both help promote the mission of the museum and promote conversations. In order to help others understand, it is important to build relationships with other departments and to show how the social media platforms can make a difference.

  2. Nicole Beddia says:


    Helen’s approach of being creative really stuck out for me! Having an art background, I tend to really be drawn to things that take a creative approach with a stronger emphasis in graphic design like she mentioned. Sometimes visual representation can be just as meaningful if not more than the information posted. Personally, I need an image or graphic to draw me in before reading the accompanying text.

    1. Katie Montecuollo says:

      Nicole, the most engaging social media posts that I have seen posted by museums are the ones that are creative in nature, making the collections fun and engaging.

  3. Megan Burgess says:

    “Water what’s growing.” I loved that! There is no reason to keep plugging away on a platform if it isn’t working out. Turn your attention to what IS working. I also love that she used Pinterest because she realized that a lot of teachers use it. Genocide is a difficult topic to teach and I appreciate that she kept up the museum’s Pinterest account with resources for educators.

    1. Katie Montecuollo says:

      Megan, Pinterest was one of the main boards that I helped to maintain. There are so many great resources out there and Pinterest helps to consolidate those resources. I always made sure that any post that we did on Pinterest had links that worked so it would not hinder the ability of the teachers to get the resources they need.

  4. Jasmin Mitchell says:

    I like how Helen’s journalism and humanities background has aided her with inspiration for thoughtful, inspirational and conversation building content. Helen’s creative approach to content is a great takeaway.

    1. Katie Montecuollo says:

      Jasmin, Helen’s background gave her a unique perspective which really served her well in this role.

  5. Rachel Rabinowitz says:

    It was rally eye opening to listen to Helen’s interview. I think that some of us take advantage of the fact that we see and work with so many museums that are open and understanding to what it means to have a social media presence. From her interview, it seems like people were confusing her department with marketing. They didn’t understand how social media could help get their goals and mission out to more of the world. This is something I personally experienced at another job. I think that her strategy of “not bringing you down, but bring you up” is great. This is something that the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum strives to do as well.

    As a side note: Katie, do you know if the museum hired anyone once she left? I looked at their Instagram and Facebook. Although the Facebook seems to be updated (some what) regularly, they have not posted to Instagram in a month. This is such an amazing museum and it would be sad to see it fall to the wayside in social media.

    1. Katie Montecuollo says:


      I recently checked with the Museum and they are in the process of hiring someone for the role. So hopefully we will be seeing a lot more posts soon!

  6. Caroline Rohe says:

    Departmental issues appear to be an issue in general, and you would think that the public relations department would be more willing to work with marketing for social media postings. Considering social media appears to fall more under public relations, it would be ideal for the PR crew to work to future a social media offshoot and suggest ways to promote the museum.

  7. Donny Caltrider says:

    The blend of marketing, PR, and social media that Helen notes is such an important mechanism in the modern museum and I’m sure we have all in some way experienced the growing pains that come with blending all three of these things. It was interesting that the break point was when she asked for “more”, whether it was collaboration with staff, physical space in the gallery, or the addition of something like an interview to use for future social media postings. It sounds like many of her routine social media responsibilities were made increasingly difficult by a staff not particularly willing to embrace change.

    1. Katie Montecuollo says:

      Donny, she did a lot to change the culture at the museum so that other departments were more willing to collaborate and saw the value in it. As they are currently in the process of hiring a new person for the role, it will be interesting to see how the culture will shift for the next person.

  8. Lauren Szady says:

    I thought it was interesting that both in the larger museum setting, as well as in the for-profit sector she had the issue of colleagues confusing social media content with marketing… I honestly didn’t think that this was as wide spread of an issue as it seems to be! It amazes me how people can completely overlook how perfect certain social media channels can be perfect to share the organization’s goals and mission… you just have to put the work in to find the right ones (as Helen pointed out with her “water what’s growing” comment!)

    1. Katie Montecuollo says:

      Lauren, I would definitely agree that there is value in using social media for more than just marketing, especially after taking this class. As social media becomes more and more of an integral part of our lives, I hope that we will see an emergence of continuing to use social media in new and innovative ways to connect with our visitors.

  9. Sabrina Sanders says:

    Katie– These are some key takeaways I heard from the interview with Helen: Social media being taught at university is unique, and needs to be paid attention to. The strategy she came up with to post more light hearted and inspirational content on the weekends is simple and effective. The strategy of using quotes and the historical content from the museum to present the difficult topics the museum deals with sounds like it was successful. The suggestion for museums to be more creative, fun and spontaneous with their social media are words to remember.

    1. Katie Montecuollo says:

      Sabrina, focusing on positive content and quotes was something that worked for the museum very well. Especially in dealing with difficult topics, it is important to be uplifting and remind people that they have the power to make a difference.

  10. Melanie Claros Rodriguez says:

    I related the most to Helen’s comment that social media is not in the forefront in people’s brains. It’s hard for people to understand that social media has evolved into something more than just goofing around on the internet or selling stuff online. I felt frustrated for her in that she was always being confused as to what her actual goal was, no it was not marketing!
    Helen is obviously very passionate about the importance of social media and how it would have benefited the Museum of Tolerance. I think that a museum that deals with such heavy topics should have a strategy that is similar to Helen’s strategy in using inspirational quotes that can be generalized on a lighthearted day.

  11. Jeana Wunderlich says:

    I still don’t really have a full grasp on Periscope, so I’m glad Helen spoke about it a little bit in this interview. She mentions that Instagram is the “bread and butter”, but it still was really cool to hear about streaming talks and events on Periscope to increase accessibility. I do wonder if the Periscope usage at the museum has changed since she left. I also like that every museum will have a different peak time and that every audience is different.

  12. Jason Rusk says:

    I think it is pretty awesome how she went in to see HR about a ticket counter position but was not ready to settle on taking a position she wasn’t necessarily interested in. Hitting it off with HR as she did really was a positive and helped in her receiving the call for a programs position. Her initiative to take on the social media area turned out to be very fortunate for her as it sounds as if it led directly into a new position being created.

  13. Craig Hadley says:

    This has to be such a difficult topic to discuss and use social media, but opposed to how they initially viewed social media as not something they were interested in, it is actually a very important topic to highlight on social media. This allows for these issues, such as intolerance, to have a strong voice on social media in order to counter-act the hate speech that often finds its way on social media. She was brave to step into this and I am glad she did. Interesting story of how she brought that into focus there.

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