Don’t fear it, embrace it! The power of social media to promote and engage -Industrial Heritage Network West Midlands (IHNWM) meeting at Coffin Works

The machinery, the stock, even a pot of tea on the stove – when the Newman Brothers factory closed, almost everything in it was left as if at the end of an ordinary working day. Described as a sort of mercantile Marie Celeste, Coffin Works are the only surviving example of a purpose-built Victorian coffin furniture factory in the UK. All the coffin fittings including the handles, breastplates, ornaments, linings, cushions and the funerary gowns are still there, and visitors are free to touch and interact with many of them.

This unique site is where the second meeting of the Industrial Heritage Network West Midlands (IHNWM) took place yesterday. The theme for the day, picked by the meeting host, was ‘Don’t fear it, embrace it! The power of social media to promote and engage’.

Coffin Works have had a great success at using social media for engaging with visitors and promoting their activities. Sarah Hayes, the Coffin Works & Museum Manager, delivered a brilliant talk about how they have achieved that success, and offered suggestions about how to best manage social media channels. The talk has generated some insightful and informative discussions between members who then engaged in a workshop looking at putting together a ‘mini’ social media strategy for promotion of an event, or a volunteering opportunity.

Sarah's talk
Sarah’s talk was insightful and generated interesting discussions

Group discussions
Members discussing their site’s/organisation’s social media approach and thinking about a ‘mini’ social media strategy 

During her talk, Sarah highlighted some misconceptions about social media including thinking about using social media as an overnight solution or a quick fix to a bad product. Instead, social media must be looked at as a process which requires patience and perseverance.

The first step to being successful in using social media for promotion and engagement is to go back to the basics. Be very clear about what your brand is, and the message you want to share about who you are and why people should engage with you. Showing people why you are passionate about your product will make them relate to you and make them more willing to engage with you.

In case of Coffin Works, where a name like that might generate morbid associations, the team there took charge of how they are going to be seen before visitors have had a chance to define them. From the beginning, they focused on vibrant, happy images full of colour and cheery faces. The message was that this is a unique, welcoming place open to everyone. The team also created videos where volunteers shared why they love Coffin Works describing it as an amazing place where everyone is part of a big family. A place where there is no stress, no hassle and where they get to try different bits and pieces from helping with collections to guiding, and front of house duties. The videos were shared on social media and are available to view on the Coffin Works website showing others the engaging and welcoming culture in place there.

To help understand why people engage with your site, or organisation ask your current visitors and volunteers for feedback including where have they heard about you. Knowing your audiences is crucial to determining your social media approach. When you understand who visits you already you will be able to continue engaging with them, but it will also help you establish what are the gaps and markets that you are not reaching yet.

Once you know your product, your message and your audiences you can start choosing social media platforms which will work best for your site, or your organisation and improve the use of the ones you are already on.

Social media platforms are used differently by different markets. Instagram tends to appeal more to younger audiences and its focus is on visual – posting high quality photos with no text but using relevant hashtags to reach larger numbers of users. Twitter is also visual, however there is always an expectation of text which is informative, unique or initiates discussions. As there is a character limit for each tweet this platform is also good for sharing links to longer articles, websites, event pages etc. Facebook tends to work best for paid, targeted promotion for example an event promo (costs are reasonable and affordable), but also informative, ‘longer’ posts which can initiate discussions. LinkedIn is a platform for professionals, a kind of ‘Facebook’ for professionals where there tends to be a lot of information about available roles, ongoing sector projects etc.

There is plenty of information online about each social media platform and it can be accessed for free. This is a link to an insightful article about choosing best platforms for your business found after a quick Google search:

This article is one of many that are easily accessible and offer more information about each platform.

Furthermore, remember that social media platforms come with free analytics. Those tools are great at outlining what demographics engage with your website and your social media pages. Analytics help determine what activities work, who they work for and who you have not reached yet.

When choosing your social media do not go big and set up on every single platform as it is impossible to keep track of activities there and deliver high quality, consistent content across all the platforms. Start with one, or two and ensure they work for you before setting up on more.

Tour first floor
Members enjoying the excellent tour of the site delivered by Steve, the volunteer guide

After you have picked your platforms, it is time to ensure you deliver consistent, high quality content. Being visual is crucial – posts with visuals receive 94% more pages visits and engagements then those without. Always use high resolution photos taken with a decent camera. Nowadays, majority of phone cameras will work just fine. There are also many free apps available to download which will help you edit your photos such as Splice or Lightroom. If you are a charity, take a look at the Technology Trust Exchange website where there are many systems available to purchase at a highly reduced cost:

Remember that joining a platform and posting from time to time is not enough. Post at least once a day on each platform, two-three times if there is a lot going on that day (but do not overload your followers with several posts a day). Plan for your content, think about what you want to say, when you are going to post, who you would like to tag or what hashtags you would like to use. Although joining the platforms is free, there will always be a requirement for time, people and some money if you choose promoted posts. If you do not have resources to deal with social media for your site, or organisation think about advertising for a volunteer who will be dedicated to it or look at developing a university placement.

Social media is called ‘social’ for a reason – it is about building relationships, listening to others, engagement and conversations. Being active on social media means liking, sharing and commenting on other people’s posts too, it is not just about posting your own content.

Coffin Works embedded social media in their everyday activities. They encourage staff, volunteers and visitors to use it regularly and take ownership of it. Social media is here to stay and although it can be challenging, if used right it will help grow awareness of your site, or your organisation, promote your activities and allow you to engage with wider, more varied audiences.

In summary, you can try to embed social media in your everyday activities by following the following five steps:

  1. Know your product and why people should engage with you.
  2. Know your audiences and markets you are not reaching yet.
  3. Choose platforms which work for you based on your product and your target audiences.
  4. Generate high quality, consistent content.
  5. Engage with others: like, share, comment and start discussions – be social!

Tour shroud room
The Shroud room

The IHNWM is one of the 11 regional networks currently in development across England:

The IHSO, Joanna Turska, brings industrial heritage sites and organisations together, organises inaugural meetings, facilitates each network’s development and provides tools and resources for networks’ growth including the dedicated IHNs website for promotion, awareness and knowledge sharing:

Do subscribe to the IHNs website to stay in touch and receive the most up to date news and stories from across the industrial heritage sector!

For more information about a network in your region, contact the IHSO on:

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