The National Archives brought together a diverse panel of practitioners and critics of social media to discuss some of the challenges and opportunities for communication with the public in, “What’s Next in the Social Media Revolution?” at its Seventh Annual William G. McGowan Forum on Communications on Friday, November 4. A really informative (and free!) evening and for historic sites there were these particularly useful insights and recommendations:
- Social media is not just for socializing, but can inform and motivate. Alex Howard, the Government 2.0 Correspondent for O’Reilly Media, provided a quick history of social media noting that many of them are very new (Flickr, Facebook, LinkedIn, Digg launched in 2004; YouTube and Twitter in 2006) but the turning point was the Iran elections in 2009, which showed that the use of social media could have tremendous impacts on society. My advice: your organization may not have the capacity to use social media actively right now, but at least reserve your name in Facebook, WordPress, Gmail, Blogger, Twitter, and LinkedIn so someone else doesn’t take it. When you’re ready to use social media, you’ve got your spot in line. If you are using it, think how it can incorporate advocacy not just information.
- Rethink your promotional and publicity strategies. David Weinberger, senior researcher at the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society, explained that social media is a new type of media. Previously, messages passed through media (mail, tv, radio) but with social media, the messages pass through the users as recommendations, comments, and postings–we are now the media. Sarah Bernard, Deputy Director for the Office of Digital Strategy at the White House, is an “agnostic about social media” and pursues anything that engages with the public. Her goals are to amplify communications, increase openness, and encourage participation. My advice: in addition to understanding how to write press releases, maintaining contacts with newspaper reporters, and mastering bulk mail, we will need to learn how to tweet, maintain a Facebook page, and manage a blog. Newspapers, magazines, and mail is being transformed and replaced by social media and we need to make the transition as well (and Bernard’s goals are worth following).
- Internet access is moving from desktop computers to smartphones. Alex Howard noted that participation rates by traditionally underserved audiences is low for websites accessed on computers but high for social media on cell phones. Indeed, worldwide more people are connected to the internet via phone, not computers. My advice: if you want to connect with new audiences, consider if using social media will be an essential tool. If you’re building a new website, check to see how it looks and works on a smartphone. To learn more, visit the Pew Internet and American Life Project.
- Consider records management issues before launching a social media strategy. Pamela S. Wright, Chief Digital Access Strategist at the National Archives, noted the need to save the content of websites, blogs, tweets, Facebook posts, not the technology. My advice: Just as we save our organization’s newsletters and event flyers, we need to have a process for saving our digital materials. Every technology is different, so see what techniques are readily available. It may include preserving a copy of the website annually (copy all the digital files and folders, making screenshots of your home page) or saving blog posts on a regular basis (WordPress has an export feature under Tools).
- Keep an eye on Google+. Facebook is a currently the world’s most popular social destination, but Google+ is becoming a social layer that ties everything together on the Internet. Right now, Google+ provides many of the same features as Facebook (sharing news, photos, links, events, games) as well as video chat with several people simultaneously and texting to multiple addresses, and is integrated with Gmail and Google Apps. My advice: get a Gmail account, read the Google blog, and watch a couple tutorials on Google+.
If you want to catch all of the discussion, the National Archives will be sharing a broadcast of the discussion on their YouTube channel soon.