A toolkit that looks beyond Facebook and Twitter to other social networks, exploring how to get the most out of them...

April 30, 2014

Despite periodic questions about Facebook’s long-term viability, amidst reports of teenagers deserting the platform in droves, it remains the largest social network in the world. And Twitter, while less widely used by the general population as a whole, continues to see impressive growth and maintains a high profile thanks to its use by celebrities and the mainstream media. For these reasons, both these platforms remain the primary social media channels of choice for arts organisation looking to communicate with their audiences and other influencers.

However, over the last few years, social networks like Pinterest, Tumblr, Google+ and Instagram (now owned by Facebook) have been attracting attention and that puts many organisations in the position of wondering if they should have a presence on these platforms too. So when is it right to set up on a new platform, what are the potential pitfalls and if you are going to do it, how to you make it work effectively?

Committing to digital

The first aspect to consider and arguably the most important, is what resource you have available to manage a new account on another social network. Setting up an account is easy but it takes real time and commitment to build an effective presence on any platform. Don’t make the mistake of assuming it’ll simply be a case of cross posting the same content you do to Facebook or Twitter, every platform has its own conventions and etiquettes and certain types of content will work better on one platform than another.

Choosing a platform

If you’re confident though that you can devote some time to a new account, the next consideration in terms of choosing the most appropriate one is whether you have a specific target audience in mind. Tumblr is still much bigger in the US than the UK but it is popular with those in the arts and culture sector, so well worth considering if you want to target an international and younger age group. Tumblr can also be incredibly easy to update using its mobile app, which means it can be good for someone on tour and away from a computer.

The type of content that you have will also be a factor in deciding whether or not to launch on a platform, Pinterest obviously lends itself to visual content so consider how you can make this work for your organisation. Obviously if you have incredible photos to upload to your boards that will help but make sure they are genuinely interesting and not merely marketing shots, try to tell a story with your images, about the organisation and the people within it. Experiment with ways of using it, for example by showing a day in the life of different staff members with a series of photos that show the organisation ‘through my eyes’. In late 2013 Pinterest launched Pinterest Places, which lets you pin images to a physical map, and could be a lovely way for a touring company to build up a story about all the different towns, cities and countries it visits.

The jury remains out on Google+ since while it has many millions of registered users (540million according to Google), not all of those are actively using it in the same way as they do other social networks. It can certainly result in exposure to a different audience but will likely take a considerable about of management for it to become useful.

Spread the workload

At the beginning I mentioned being careful not to spread yourself too thinly, rushing to set up profiles on every platform and not doing any of them justice. One way around the resource challenge is by co-opting others to help, so rather than trying to manage multiple accounts yourself, see if there are other people within the organisation who could take over responsibility for a particular platform. The Horniman Museum & Gardens take this approach to help them maintain a very active presence on many different platforms. Their popular Tumblr blog, for example, is updated by a group of their curators.

Another advantage of getting other members of the team applies particularly to touring companies, where the marketing or comms manager may not physically be with the production on tour and therefore is likely to miss some of the best opportunities for content. It may take an investment of time in training others how to best use individuals platforms, but longer term that approach will pay dividends and enable you to maintain active accounts on multiple networks.

Success won't happen overnight

Finally, whenever you do make the decision to set up your stall on a new network, accept that you won’t attract a huge community overnight. If you are established on other platforms that can help, but it takes time and perseverance to build an online community.