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Is This Facebook Stuff Still Really Worth It?

April 18, 2011

About one year ago I posted on relevancy of Facebook (FB) to Outreach work.  I discussed the utility of FB
and some of the analytic tools for assessing the demographics of page “likes” or hits.  In the past year the number of FB pages by archaeologists and museums jumped dramatically with a diversity of applications.  For example, archaeologist Rebecca Bria uses the FB group function as a primary means for organizing her student field crews heading to Peru this summer.  As well, her regular FB page for Hualcayan has more than doubled the number of “likes” in the past month alone.  Organization such as the Small Museum Association continue to use their FB page as a venue for dialogue among members.  The Society for American Archaeology routinely uses their FB page to provide information principally about government policy and organizational concerns.  Archaeological sites such as Cahokia use their FB page as a promotional tool for scheduled events.  At Chucalissa, we are attempting to use our Facebook page as a means of engagement not just by promoting events but through posting information about current projects at the Museum and the Midouth region that might be of interest to those who “like” our page.  For example, we routinely cross-promote with the Parkin Archaeological site located just 45 minutes away in Arkansas.

In the past year, a plethora of new publications addressed the general issue of how to get the most bang for the buck on Facebook.  Given the rapidly evolving technology, most of these “how to” type books are outdated after they are on the bookshelves for a few months.  However, several free online downloads are worth review to fine tune a Facebook strategy.  For example, the Virtue marketing group offers a downloadable The Anatomy of a Facebook Post that considers time of day, keywords and other technical aspects of posting.  Network for Good links to a large number of free downloads such as Is Your Nonprofit Facebook Page Worth It? that explores various forms of FB analytics

I remain a big fan of Beth Kanter and Alison Fine’s The Networked Nonprofit and Clay Shirky’s Here Come’s Everybody and his recently published Cognitive Surplus, less for their up-to-date technical information but more for their discussion of how to conceptualize and use social media such as FB.  A recent article in the New York Times hits the proverbial nail on the head for this point.  The article discusses how the use of social media in museums is not about the technology but about engaging with visitors, both virtual and in real-time.  As Shirky (2010:98) notes in Cognitive Surplus “Interpretations that focus on technology miss the point: technology enables those behaviors, but it doesn’t cause them . . . no one want e-mail for itself, any more than anyone wants electricity for itself; rather, we want the things electricity enables.”

So, all of this comes back to the question – Is this Facebook stuff still really worth it?

In considering this question, at the C.H. Nash Museum, we were somewhat surprised by our recent visitor survey that showed 2/3 of the respondents wanted more content from our museum available via the internet.  As 75% of the total survey respondents were recent visitors to the museum, we conclude that these are individuals who wish to have a mixed real-time and virtual experience of Chucalissa.  Seemingly in contradiction, we receive only a handful of likes and comments to our FB posts.  At the same time, I am consistently surprised by folks who will drop us an email or comment when they visit the museum how much they enjoy our Facebook page and our monthly e-newsletter.  Clearly, relying exclusively on the number of comments and likes for individual posts is not a valid measure of worth?

For both FB and our e-newsletter we never campaigned to increase our circulation.  However, we are certain that visitors we meet online and in real-time are made aware of these media tools to stay in touch and be in dialogue with us.  As a result, all of our subscribers to FB and the e-newsletter are true buy-ins.  As a result we see a consistent increase in likes/subscribers with very few unlikes/unsubscribes.  This trend seems to indicate that we are building a strong communication base.

This leads me back to another post from last summer on how we measure success.  From this perspective, if we take a long-term sustainable approach to our work, then the relative growth and indirect feedback we receive for our FB page is comparable to our steady increase in other measures such as museum visitors and volunteers – both indicators of value.

At the oral defense for my M.A. Thesis a bunch of years ago, one of my committee members, Barry Isaac asked “Why is reading your M.A. Thesis more important than eating a plate of worms?”  I ask myself the same question today relative to the time and energy spent on FB.  The FB stuff still seems worth it, even compared to eating a plate of worms.

How about your experience?

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