This post was authored by guest contributor Jeannine Roe, Electronic Records Specialist, Indiana Archives and Records Administration and Communications Committee Member, Society of Indiana Archivists.
For Preservation Week 2018, the Society of Indiana Archivists (SIA) Communications Committee members tested the boundaries of archival humor and good taste with the #WeRateArchives initiative. The committee is made up of six professionals from different institutions around the state, has been working to promote the programs and events of Indiana archives, libraries, and museums via social media. Our inspiration for the hashtag was the success of #rateaspecies, where zoos gave their animals amusing Amazon.com-like ratings, and @TheMERL’s brilliant response after a tweet went viral and launched a major educational win for their museum. We sat back and thought, “Archives can do that.” With limited time to devote to social media throughout the week due to our regular job duties, we had one modest goal in mind – to bring some positive attention to archives and highlight preservation challenges by sharing items from our collections in a new and interesting way.
There are two inherent barriers for archives when it comes to promotion via social media. Firstly, we aren’t providing a product that the general public would regularly search for on the internet. As such, we need to “sell” archives in a different way. Secondly, we lack the “cute factor” that made it so easy for #rateaspecies and the absolute unit to gain instant fame. There is, sadly, a distinct lack of adorable otters and fluffy sheep in most archives. To help overcome these limitations, our approach involved something archivists are generally good at – finding humor in the objects and circumstances we find ourselves interacting with every day.
An appealing Twitter post can take on many forms, but we have tried to incorporate the following three elements into our tweets:
- A recognizable or relatable object and/or situation
- An educational component
- A “twist”
These components can be combined any number of ways to make a funny tweet. Sometimes a little set-up is needed ahead of time, but the results are worth it:
This tweet from SIA Communications Committee member Julie Motyka is a great example, because the image provides instantaneous recognition – any person familiar with Hungry Hungry Hippos will see the resemblance right away. It also leaves the door wide open for questions regarding the objects in the image (what are they, what are they made of, etc.), or for commenters to share their own images or experiences relating to the objects.
Another way to go is the ever-popular pun, perhaps paired with some other tags and/or mentions:
There are also many opportunities for those who deal with legacy AV and electronic materials to get in a few shots:
In these examples, the “twist” lies in approaching a format that many of us grew up with from the perspective of someone who has never seen or used such a device. The popularity of these jokes is undeniable – this post from @michianamemory is currently one of the top tweets:
How we have found success thus far:
- Involving a layperson. As the lead on this venture, I cannot emphasize enough the benefits of getting input from my husband, who does not use Twitter, prior to kicking off the hashtag. As someone from outside the archival field, his comments prompted us to reevaluate some of our original ideas and fine-tune the humor for a more polished presentation.
- “Seeding” the tag. Several days before the start of Preservation Week, we emailed a small number of Indiana institutions we knew were regularly on Twitter and Facebook with an invitation to join the initiative, including a few example tweets to get the creativity flowing.
- Losing the jargon. We purposely chose not to use field-specific words such as “accession” in order to make the hashtag as widely accessible as possible.
- Incorporating our personal accounts. This was a simple and obvious way to reach followers who may be less familiar with archives.
- Quadruple-checking spelling before publishing any posts. Autocorrect is not your friend, especially in regards to acronyms!
How we hope to use this hashtag to promote archives:
As a committee we chose to kick off #WeRateArchives during Preservation Week because strange and sometimes distressingly uncared-for materials pop up in archives everywhere, and it seemed logical to celebrate the event by showcasing these objects alongside our mad archival wit. The hashtag itself has a wider appeal, however. Archives receive unusual materials all the time that can potentially be used to create teaching moments online. Twitter also provides a forum that encourages people to share their archival stories – or just vent a bit – via the tag.
#WeRateArchives can also spark interesting reactions, new conversations, and the sharing of tools and ideas. The tweet below from @enmiller94 did just that:
One additional benefit to using a common hashtag is that it brings institutional Twitter accounts to the attention of other archives, libraries, and museums. There is a LOT of competition for visibility on any given day, so it takes something extra to stand out and gain people’s awareness. When institutions follow each other and retweet posts, we can reach a significantly wider audience with minimal effort. One image, one quote, one hashtag, one share – it can be just as easy as that!
SIA would like to encourage anyone interested to participate in this initiative, now and going forward. #WeRateArchives encourages dialogue (and hopefully, a few laughs) around archival issues, while providing an opportunity to show off some of the valuable, information, fun, and funky things in our repositories. We’ve been getting some great feedback so far, and we hope it will continue! As a way to engage with your collections and followers on social media, we give it 5 stars out of 5.