Resources for social media managers at cultural institutions
A few details
I developed the following toolkit as part of my dissertation research.
This toolkit is intended to support social media work during an unprecedented time.
How I solved it
The contents of this toolkit reflect two years of qualitative longitudinal research.
Tools to ensure your content meets accessibility standards.
Alt text – or alt tags – convey the information in an image through an equivalent text description (tag). Alternatively, it can identify an image as decoration. (Kimmons, 2017).
Having trouble figuring out what to write? University of Michigan’s Describing Visual Resources Toolkit provides detailed information and guidance for alt text development.
People with color blindness and/or other visual impairments may not be able to differentiate designs that use different colors. Review whether your color combinations pass WCAG levels by using a tool like WebAIM’s Color Contrast checker.
A hyperlink should describe where it’s pointed. Constantly linking the words “click here” is not a good practice – it’s much harder to figure out where you’re going to go. Some users aren’t clicking anything; they’re tapping their phones or hitting enter on their keyboards. Long URLs are unappealing to look at and take a long time for screenreaders to read out loud. Check out the Descriptive Link Text page from Michigan Tech for examples (and code) of more accessible hyperlinks.
Many people make use of captions while watching videos, not just those who are Deaf or hard of hearing. If you are producing a video for later viewing, you will probably need an SRT file, which provides a timeline for captions to align correctly with the corresponding video.
Building and Maintaining Inclusive Library Spaces Online
A virtual presentation by Laura March and Dr. Amelia Gibson for The Exchange: An ALCTS/LITA/LLAMA Collaboration conference
Online library services often exclude people with disabilities. Purposeful design and use of digital resources (including websites, databases, and social media) can improve inclusion. This session includes some basic technical considerations as well as institutional actions that can be taken to create more inclusive online spaces.
View transcript (PDF)
Prior research shows inclusive social media practices is one way cultural institutions can diversify their audiences, and the novel adaptations described by my dissertation’s participants can be mapped to Kletchka’s (2018) continuum of institutional practices.
Social media communication draws on highly-developed marketing, editorial, creative, technical, and information skills – yet pay is poor and respect remains limited (Hempel, 2018). Moreover, “the emotional toll social media jobs can take isn’t balanced by the security of an established career trajectory” (Levinson, 2015). Social media workers take on increasingly important responsibilities – their work is credited as “influencing elections, harnessed to transform fledgling startups into billion-dollar companies, and used as a form of warfare” (Hempel, 2018). Unfortunately, the idealized practitioner remains unrecognized and marginalized (Duffy & Schwartz, 2018).
The Arts + Museum Salary Transparency Google Spreadsheet, created in 2019, lists respondents’ salary information, institutional name, and benefits.
Social media workers help one another by connecting and supporting others in the same role outside of their organization and helping each other advance that way, instead of through professional development within their organizations (Carpenter & Lertpratchya, 2016).
Consider becoming part of a Facebook group to ask questions, brainstorm, and assist others. There are many specialized groups, like Libraries & Social Media (14K members) and Museum Social Media Managers (7K members). Alternatively, groups like Social Media Managers (51K members) and Diverse Social Media Editors & Digital Journalists (4K members) provide support across disciplines.
Using CrowdTangle, I intend to uncover the most requested technology-related queries to the related Facebook group pages. Check back for future updates and/or contact me if you’re interested in collaborating on this project.
A framework for the content creation process
Social media managers need a way to translate and distill the influences on their work into content that satisfies both their organizations and their users. As a whole, the participants in my dissertation identified a way to accomplish this – design thinking (Doorley et al., 2018; Clarke, 2020)– although none specifically named this approach, nor did any describe following all its phases in their entirety. The figure above illustrates how design thinking can be contextualized within the social media management role and how practitioners can apply it to their cultural intermediation. Social media communicators can use this framework to develop more relevant and creative content as well as identify factors that may impede their work.
A table of in vivo descriptions from my interviews with social media practitioners and their alignment to steps in the design thinking process is provided below. This process begins with communicators “plugging in” to online culture and conversations. Next, practitioners translate their organizational – and community – priorities by identifying and defining what they wish to tackle through their work. Participants then reported brainstorming potential solutions, often with other team members. After brainstorming, they select one idea and produce it. Production aligns with design thinking’s creation phase, but differs slightly as practitioners both create original content as well as coordinate assets managed by other colleagues (e.g., request photographs, edit text, select images from a database). Finally, interviewees described assessing their own work – albeit in a limited way – through quantitative engagement metrics (e.g., likes, shares, views), before beginning the process again.
|Content Creation Step||Design Thinking Phase||In Vivo Description|
|Plug In||Empathetic Discovery||I’m definitely plugged into all the conversation [on social media] so I can react to stuff really quickly.” (Eleanor, 20)|
|Translate||Problem Definition||“Seeing how I can translate, how can I show by example that we are living our framework and make that attractive to each of our audiences.” (Kay, 20)|
|Brainstorm||Idea Generation||“We brainstorm…I don’t have to own every idea. It’s really nice to have ideas coming from other places, and especially from people who are in the profession.” (Gwen, 21)|
|Produce||Creation||“I’m still working…five or 10 hours more a week just because of how much content we’ve been producing.” (Elle, 20)|
|Assess||Evaluation||“I feel like [analytics] is something that is not as great on my part, just because I’m so focused and trying to do the content creation and the content scheduling…I am doing some assessment in terms of what are our most successful posts and what are our impression numbers and engagement numbers within a quarterly basis.” (Kay, 21)|
Discourse analysis of visual culture provides “ways of seeing brought to particular images by specific audiences, or to the social institutions and practices through which images are made, circulated and displayed” (Rose, 2016, p. 188). I created this checklist by adapting Rose’s strategies for interpreting images. View the checklist as a printable PDF.
My dissertation will use IPA (Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis). Like Grounded Theory, IPA is “Bottom-up,” or moves from exploratory and emergent themes to broader patterns (VanScoy & Evenstad, 2015, p. 345; Smith et al., 2009, p. 80). But unlike Grounded Theory, IPA usually connects findings to existing theory (VanScoy & Evenstad, 2015, p. 341).
I anticipate my future interview responses may allude to concepts from role theory, vocational awe and feminization, memory and impacts of stress, crisis communication and rapid response programming, cultural intermediation, and potentially other critical theories. However, I have written a review of related topics: Social Media Communication at Cultural Institutions: A Comprehensive Review
Cultural Institutions, Social Media, and Perpetuating Cultural Hegemony Online
Presented by Laura March at the DCDC21 Conference
Social media became one of the few ways cultural institutions were able to engage with their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, some online content reproduces – and amplifies – inequalities already present in libraries, museums, and archives. This presentation analyzes examples of viral posts by prominent institutions to reveal how power and privilege can manifest digitally. Attendees will learn how to assess virtual content through Gramsci’s theory of cultural hegemony to determine whether their organization perpetuates or adequately addresses social inequality through their online presence.
The social media manager role, the design thinking process, and the continuum of institutional practices can be combined and synthesized with the dramaturgical themes outlined in my dissertation
|Design Thinking Phase||Feminist Design Thinking Heuristic||Social Responsiveness||Content Creation Process & Themes||Practitioner Considerations|
|Empathize||Who is (silently) affected by a problem and how can social norms of exclusion or injustice be mitigated by amplifying marginalized voices?||What issues are important to your community?||Plug In
Method Acting: Living Inside Social Media; Audience & Their Influence
|Define||Whose experience should be highlighted and how can problematic issues be corrected through inclusive design?||How can your institution foster inclusive public participation and dialogue online?||Translate
Method Acting: Practitioner/Institutional Values & Influences
|Ideate||Who is invited and able to voice their opinions and decide creative directions? Are minority representations empowered to challenge unjust designs?||In what ways can content position users as partners in the ongoing processes of curatorial, interpretive, and knowledge exchange?||Brainstorm
Method Acting: Meaningful Engagement
|Prototype||How does form/function work against exclusion and promote critical reflection?||How does content challenge hegemony and promote community-based knowledge and reflection?||Produce
Method Acting: Creation Process
|Test||Does the design perpetuate social justice and counter marginalization?||Did content reach, respond to, and resonate with community members?||Assess
Everyone’s a Critic
My study’s emergent themes identified how eight practitioners carried out cultural intermediation by defining their professional success, describing the process of creating social media, evaluating their work, and reflecting upon the influences of COVID-19. Aligning these findings to established frameworks allows the experiences and problems of social media work at cultural institutions to be expressed and understood using a common vocabulary already being taught and used in organizational, management, LIS, and creative fields (Clarke, 2020). This translation and synthesis between (feminist) design thinking (Clarke, 2020; Doorley et al., 2018; Tham, 2019), social responsiveness (Kletchka, 2018), and my study’s findings can help practitioners, their supervisors, and their organizations reckon with current issues, develop strategies to improve social media work, and ultimately improve the outreach capabilities of cultural institutions.
Years of Research