A New Social Media Presence at the Royal Ontario Museum

W. Ryan Dodge
Oct 31, 2017 · 8 min read

Starting today, we are making some changes that will enhance and deepen the ROM’s social presence with our communities.

In today’s rapidly changing digital landscape, our strategy is to align our priorities so that we stay in step with our communities’ needs and meet our audiences wherever they are.

We know the ROM is an important resource that people turn to for facts and information, ground-breaking research, and expertise on art, culture, and nature. We also take pride in providing a forum for people to talk about issues, exchange ideas, and engage in discussions that contribute to a better understanding of the world around us.

The changes we are making will help us build stronger connections and deeper engagement through conversations and the stories we share about our collections, our research, and our expertise that bring the world to life for our communities.

So, what’s changing?

· We have streamlined our ROM accounts, shifting/narrowing our focus to our main ROM handles to provide easier and more direct access to our content as well as our front-line staff and educators, our peerless experts and their ground-breaking research and fieldwork.

· We will be be closing all of our sub-branded accounts across social media platforms.

· We have prioritized the sharing of our content on channels that resonate with our communities so that we can be where our audiences are.

This new direction enables us to engage with more people, allow them to reach our experts more directly, and share our stories more broadly. As the world evolves, we are evolving our social media presence with it.

Making tough decisions

In May 2014, we launched a social media strategy to support the Museum’s objectives and the Centres of Discovery. Deploying this strategy was only possible after we had spent time and effort laying the foundation for a social media enabled museum. You don’t just get an army of social media advocates over night. You have to build relationships and trust for this model to work. Educating our staff on the benefits of social media to deliver on the museum’s goals was key. We went over things like the language and mechanics of social media, writing for the web, and how to take good photography and video. Like other museums, chances are your social media staff are not palaeontologists or art historians. If we were going to survive and thrive in the social media age, we needed everyone on board, everyone trained up, working as a team.

Make shift podium, leading a staff social media workshop

We spent a good deal of time teaching our staff how to be effective and efficient communicators online. We also had to trust them. Why spend all this time training if you’re not going to trust people to act on that training? It is this foundation that I am particularly proud of and the relationship we’ve built over the years with our content experts.

Content experts are key to an engaging social media presence as well as a team effort between them and the social media team.

Soon, everyone started to understand that it wasn’t just the social media team’s responsibility to be active on social, they could participate, and have a big impact. The success of this strategy hinged on their participation. They contributed ideas and content, which helped our presence grow and spread the word about what was going on at the ROM, not only in our galleries but behind the scenes. Some of our staff have even evolved into social media influencers in their respective areas using the training we provided.

A look at the data

In the early days of this strategy things seemed promising and we were seeing decent engagement, enough to continue with this strategy into 2015. Then 2016 happened, algorithms changed and people’s sharing habits began to evolve. Dark Social became more and more prevalent. We let things play out through 2016 but as the year progressed our data began to make it clear that it was time for a change in direction. We needed to evolve with our community.

We didn’t just make this decision on a gut feeling, these changing habits were reflected in our data. We could tell from the day-to-day management of our accounts that a shift was taking place but the data analysis confirmed our assumptions that our world had totally flipped on its head. While our Year-Over-Year engagement saw healthy growth on Facebook, our Instagram numbers were unreal and our Twitter numbers, while a shock, weren’t out of the norm with what others were noticing on social across industries.

Year over Year engagement on the ROM’s social media accounts

The impressions we used to see on Facebook, we were now seeing on Twitter and the impressions we were seeing on Twitter, we were now seeing on Facebook. It is like we crossed over into a bizzaro-world of social media engagement, but we wanted to know more.

In the below graph you can see the mountains of Facebook impressions (in dark blue) and the sprinkling of Twitter impressions (light blue) on top of those mountains like snow capped peaks. It wasn’t even close, the reality is that our presence on Facebook is far more valuable than our presence on Twitter.

We decided to look a little deeper at the most popular of our sub-branded twitter accounts and what we found further confirmed our need to refocus our efforts. Usually, social media accounts with smaller followings have higher engagement rates and this was true for some of the sub-branded twitter accounts, but the impact of those accounts wasn’t where it should be. In reality, our main account was punching well above its weight, its growth and activity levels were healthy and consistent while the others were sporadic.

With limited staff resources we want to make the most of the time our experts spend on social media. The Web and Social team are constantly looking at the data and analyzing our activity, it is part of what we do. Noticing all the changes, we wanted to give staff experts greater access to the most successful channels, we didn’t want them to be wasting their already precious time on a platform that wasn’t delivering the best possible engagement. We also wanted to diversify our offering from a mostly single channel offering to a more balanced and wider presence.

These staff also maintain very engaging personal/professional accounts as well, it is an amazing resource to have. Especially when we can connect our staff with our community directly. In the past we’ve even added their accounts to our printed floor plan to further entice this direct one-to-one conversation.

Level 2 of our printed floor plan

A Quickly and Constantly Changing Landscape

If you follow social media or work in the industry you’ll know that social media culture has evolved in the last three years. People are sharing less with brands on what I like to call “broadcast social” and more with IRL friends on “dark social” like Instagram Stories and Snapchat. Many are aware that Snapchat and Instagram Stories have made things more difficult to track, although that is changing as well. We have noted how people engage with our branded accounts and how they engage with our staff.

The purpose of our social media presence is to connect people to people to better understand the past, and the present, for a better future.

We found that when we can connect people to our staff, our experts, and our educators, they are delighted and a little shocked that they have that access. We have also found that having conversation between our curatorial experts and our community through Facebook and Instagram Live has been extremely fruitful and much authentic than Twitter Live/Periscope.

Taking advantage of new tools

We also need to understand that Social Media changes quickly and we need to be nimble in our approach. Under this new strategy we are simply removing the middle man and will work to raise the profile of our staff even more on social media with a particular emphasis on tools like Facebook Live. For example, we’ve move Fossil Friday, started by our palaeontologists on Twitter years ago over to Facebook Live. Our palaeontologists will still tweet fossils on Fridays, but our main accounts will focus our efforts on this new tactic. The reach and engagement is three times greater in this format and I would argue much more valuable when you can see and hear and engage in a live conversation with our experts.

With social media changing so quickly, and new tools popping up all the time, it is important to keep an eye on your data but also the performance of your content and find ways to leverage that content in other formats. Facebook and Instagram Live make perfect sense for us, it is low cost and high impact, and like I said, it enables a real-time conversation with our community. Like a twitter chat on steroids. This is just one example of how our social media presence is changing and how we’re updating our practices to meet our community where they are.

Looking forward to 2018

Over the next few weeks we’ll be implementing the changes I’ve outlined here that will connect more people to more ROM staff. Through social media, the ROM continues to be committed to providing an open forum to discuss and debate issues related to art, culture, and nature.

Our social media presence aims to build connections with our communities through conversations and to connect people to people to better understand the past and the present for a better future. We hope this new direction will allow the ROM to engage with more people and to put our community in direct contact with our experts, educators, and front-line staff. I hope you’ll continue to follow our progress as we move fully into this new strategy and new ways of working through 2018.

Thanks to Cheryl Fraser

W. Ryan Dodge

Written by

Giant, history geek, Dad, @JHMuseumStudies grad, @museumCN Digital Content Manager & Digital Engagement Coordinator @ROMToronto

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