Monday, October 27, 2008

How (and Why) to Develop a Social Media Handbook

What is the ideal role of your marketing or PR team in the creation and distribution of content on the social Web? I'd aruge that it doesn’t make sense for marketing to create and control all of the content produced in Web 2.0-land. After all, they control very little of the content produced in exhibitions, shared via programs, and expressed by public-facing staff and volunteers. If your museum has many voices in the real world, you will most powerfully and honestly convey yourself virtually if you can reflect the diversity of your institution. The trick is figuring out how to organize and track it all.

Let me give you an example. The marketing director for a mid-size science museum, Jeff, recently showed me a YouTube channel he’d discovered which was created by a camp staff member at the museum. The channel consisted of a few videos of kids making stuff at camp. Jeff said, “I don’t have a problem with this. I love that they are doing this. I have a problem with the fact that they aren’t clearly identifying themselves with the museum, aren’t linking back to the museum’s website, and just generally aren’t making it clear that this camp is a product of our museum.”

His concerns are valid. Whenever visitors enjoy a program or exhibit at the museum, it’s clear to them where they are. They are in the museum. They aren’t going to be confused about what institution created and distributed the content. On the Web, this is not so clear. If staff start blogging, posting videos and photos, etc., it’s important for them to clearly convey their association, so that visitors who check out that content know that they are (virtually) in the museum as they do so. And on the marketing and tracking side, "rogue" blogs, YouTube channels, and Flickr pools that aren't clearly identified can become an annoyance as staff try to get a handle on institutional impact on the Web.

Much as HR distributes an employee handbook that explains both regulations (i.e. no sandals) and opportunities (i.e. health benefits), the marketing or PR team should create a social media handbook that contains both rules and useful resources. This is different from having a social media policy, which is typically all stick, no carrot. Marketing directors like Jeff don’t want to be traffic cops. They want to enable social media activity, and that means providing both guidelines and resources. In this way, the marketing or PR director becomes a gateway in the most positive light--helping staff figure out what tools to use, how to use them, and how to get the most out of them.

On the guidelines side, a social media handbook would include:
  • what is considered appropriate for internal and external distribution
  • any rules about things that should not be shared with the public or need approval before being released (financials, pictures of kids without permission... this list should be small and discrete)
  • how to get a new initiative approved by your manager
  • elements that must be included in any initiative. These may include:
    • museum logo
    • analytics code
    • link back to the institution
    • links to other social media initiatives (i.e. staff Flickr users must friend each other)
    • specific text, tags, or keywords

On the resources side, a social media handbook would include:
  • lists of recommended tools and social sites
  • information about how to pick the best Web tool for your program/exhibit/initiative
  • recommendations for screen names and a list of screen names currently in use per tool
  • approved logos in color, black and white, and a square version
  • approved photos that can be used
  • stylesheets and other graphical elements created for various types of Web templates
  • information about where to find legal-to-use images, audio, and video and any licensing rules of the science centre
  • a list of other social media initiatives at the museum

The ideal place for such a handbook would be on a wiki, where staff could easily upload links to new content they’ve created on the Web. That way, the wiki becomes both the handbook and a growing catalog of projects. It may make sense for the marketing team to track all of museum’s efforts cumulatively, and having access to such a list would allow them to ensure that they are seeing the whole picture.

The existence of such a handbook doesn’t mean there won’t also be times when there is controversy about the appropriateness of a given piece of Web content. But it will help that conversation happen in a way that is fair to all parties involved.

What would you include in your social media handbook? What guidelines or resources does your organization offer in this regard?

7 comments, add yours!:

Anonymous said...


You've inspired me to do this for our institution. I'll be sure to share it with you when I've got something.


Anonymous said...

Another of your posts I'm bookmarking!

POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) said...

Hi Nina,

This post seems oddly related (in my fevered mind at least) to your recent post on self-censorship in museums. Especially if the self-censorship is primarily tied to marketing/PR concerns.

I honestly believe that when the Marketing Department starts making up rulebooks, no matter how pithy, that the creative jig is up, and less 2.0 content will be produced by staff or volunteers, or at least the enthusiasm to create such content will be dampened or driven "underground" --- look what happened to the Exploratorium Explainers' blog, when it was hobbled for trivial "PR" reasons.

I have two practical ways that the type of issue you brought up about the camp could be handled without "Rulebook 2.0"

1)Contact the original poster and just ask them to include (or provide them with) basic info about the museum to add to their YouTube (or whatever 2.0) posting.

2) Add the info yourself into the "Comments Section" (I just did this myself with an unattributed picture of one of my exhibits from ASTC's 2008 Conference Flickr Feed.)

Nina Simon said...

I agree that a "post, then filter" mentality is best for this stuff. But I do think that when you are doing basic things like creating a YouTube channel, it would be easiest for that creator to just know which other users to link to, to include a logo, that sort of thing. Especially in a video context, it would be useful for the handbook coordinator to provide a short video clip that could be amended to the beginning or end of a video to associate it with an institution (which becomes important if the video is embedded on other sites).

I don't think this is censorship--I truly think it adds value and can encourage more use of social media tools. And it helps the Web 2.0 creators as well if their activities are going to be judged based on their impact. If, for example, someone starts a blog and doesn't put analytic tracking software on it, that hurts both marketing and the blogger. When a manager asks, "why are we doing this?" everyone has to have an answer. That's true whether you're in the blogosphere or in the shop.

sailor soiree said...


I found this entry useful as our institution has been grappling for a few months over guidelines for staff when posting about the museum online. To make a guidebook which is also a helpful resource instead of solely a rulebook seems to be the right way to go. I think the key is to not hinder productivity or creativity within your community while still maintaining institutional assets. Thanks for the offering an insightful perspective.


Sam Dean said...

Great thoughts! Hmmm, brings out a couple of late night musings:

1 - Role of Marketing/PR: as gatekeepers of image and brand OR resources for and evangelists of viral messaging. Not exclusive, nor entirely dichotomous. But I hear people talk about wanting to connect more to their audience and allow for more direct staff voice to the public through social technologies, but when the rubber hits the road (due to fear of what if, perhaps?) there is a reflex to apply more control, oversight, and friendly guidelines that steal the soul from the enterprise. Make it hard for people to want to officially add this to their day-to-day responsibilities, or do it in their off-time. The only way many of these things seem to happen is through underground origins from passionate people that at some point or time bubble up and hopefully get accepted by the organization.

2 - "Whose clock are you on?" Many of the postings and strands I see are from folks who do 'em outside of work hours, or are times when work and personal interests and time intersect. It gets fuzzy at those borders. Most aren't part of their day job responsibilities, at the very least. So how is this gray area best navigated?

3 - In my mind, the key is for organizations to make it easier, not harder, for staff to do powerful, passionate messaging for your place. What does that look like, though? Openly celebrate the work that is done? Provide resources (money for development, access to professional development, etc.)? Time to work on their ideas? Understanding that mistakes will be made?

4) How are these resources turned inside-out, then, and applied to the community that wants to talk about and share the experiences they have with you?

As an aside:
This reminds me Seth Godin's writings, on not using web 2.0 capabilities to sell the same old product (so as a gimmick & advertising tool, in essence), but to tip the model over by making remarkable products that scream to be shared, and providing simple tools to help people share (and feel good about doing so).

Anonymous said...

I'm really glad I came across this from the Buzzable highered group. We are in the process of developing some social media guidelines/strategy. I have a post that is related to yours.