As a native of the east coast, I had never heard of Glensheen Historic Estate in Duluth, Minnesota until I stumbled on this profile from The Current: “Glensheen reinvents itself with live music, new perspectives, and kayaks.” I was intrigued by the steps this 39-room historic mansion is taking to buck the trend of declining historic house museum attendance and change the idea that HHMs are just old and boring collections of old and boring things (an assumption that sadly is sometimes quite true, and this from a history lover).
I wanted to see more of this place! So I followed Glensheen on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Within a few days, they had become one of my favorite profiles on Instagram to follow. In large part, this was thanks to their delightful Instagram stories. Whenever I’d check my Instagram (way too often), I’d see the Glensheen logo at the top, click to start their story, and get anything from a soothing video of the waves on their beach to video of the “Nooks and Crannies Tour” to images of staff members’ favorite “lesser-noticed” details.
And Glensheen isn’t just a master of Instagram; they have developed a compelling presence across all the major social media platforms.If you are not already following them, start now (links at the beginning of the last paragraph)! Museum professionals can learn a lot from their light-hearted, authentic social presence.
Glensheen’s social media is one part of a strategic effort over the last few years to take the mansion from struggling to attract visitors to Minnesota’s 2016 Visitor Attraction of the Year.
What they are doing is clearly working:
The mansion saw 106,792 visitors in fiscal 2016, up from a low of 62,000 visitors in fiscal 2013. It is on track to increase that number again this year, marketing manager Jane Pederson said. Tour revenue has been rising, too, from $693,680 in fiscal 2013 to $1,419,868 in year 2016, Pederson said. (Star Tribune)
I was eager to learn more about how they make their social media magic happen, so I reached out to Jane Pederson, Glensheen’s Marketing Manager. Jane has been in this role for three years, and was gracious enough to let me ask her a few questions via email about their approach to #musesocial.
Key takeaways for other museum marketing and social media folks:
- They have dedicated marketing staff. If you plan/build/schedule/develop it, you have to have a marketing strategy and marketing professionals or the visitors won’t come. As I’m always saying, marketing should be considered an integral part of your operations just like education and programming and fundraising.
- They spend a significant amount of time creating content. Social media is important. If you don’t give it enough time, you won’t see the returns you want/need. Glensheen staff and interns make content a priority and take the time to film, photograph, and share throughout the day.
- Their social media strategy lines up with their institutional goals and branding. Social media at museums should be mission-focused and goals-oriented. It’s not enough to just share whatever, whenever.
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Now for the big kahuna of the 15 new spaces… The Boathouse. This is a the mansion's reflection in the Boathouse door. After 100 years of Lake Superior's waves hitting the pier and boathouse, it's in need of some work. We hope to restore the boathouse for generations to come to enjoy. Stay tuned for more information on what you can do to help preserve Glensheen. You can see the inside of the Boathouse on the Nooks & Crannies Tour. #glensheen #housemuseum #authenticduluth #onlyinmn #savingplaces #destinationduluth #thisplacematters #historichome #historicsite #mansion
HH: What social media platforms does Glensheen use, and which are top priority?
JP: Glensheen is active on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, which are top priority. We say; Facebook is king, Twitter is to connect with industry professional and the media, Instagram is connecting that younger and edgier audience. We have dabbled in Snapchat as well. We also use YouTube and Pinterest. YouTube is a platform we are looking to grow in 2017.
HH: What is your personal social media philosophy?
JP: Social media is an extension of yourself. I believe it is a platform to perpetuate what makes you unique. But I also believe that being strategically authentic and genuine is an important factor to a social media account that people can relate to.
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What a shot by @duluthtough from last week's Concert on the Pier!! 👏🙌👍 We can't wait for Feeding Leroy to finish out the series this Wednesday, August 2nd. Gates open at 6 pm, music from 7-8 pm. Be sure to Boat, bike, kayak or walk to Glensheen. Parking fills very quickly. These folks chose to watch from the best seats! #glensheen #authenticduluth #onlyinmn #housemuseum #destinationduluth #sunsets #kayaking #paddleboarding #boatparty
HH: What are the biggest changes that have taken place at the organization since you started working there?
JP: We starting thinking about how to bring people back and trying new things. We weren’t afraid to fail and started throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what stuck.
HH: How does social media fit into the larger marketing strategy at Glensheen?
JP: Social media is a large part of Glensheen’s overall marketing strategy. We have found it to be one of the best tools to relay our messages to the public. We spend a good deal of time crafting our messages and creating engaging content.
HH: I recently read a great local news profile of Glensheen that focused on your new effort to offer the kind of experiences that staff would personally want to have at the mansion. How, if at all, does that mindset guide how Glensheen uses social media?
JP: At a conference about a year ago, Dan and I attended a keynote by Nick Gray of Museum Hack. One of the main take aways from his message essentially was, “If you don’t have a tour that you would be pumped to give to your best friends, then you’re doing it wrong.” This sparked a night of brainstorming about how we could create the insider’s tour or how we could give the public the experience we only would show off to our friends. If we thought it was cool and our friends thought it was cool, then why not offer it to the public too?
This attitude crosses over into the mindset we have when developing content for our social accounts. We want to create content that we honestly think is intriguing and not just a way to check the box of making a post. The times when we successfully achieve this are when our reach and engagement blossom.
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Sit on the Pier and get this close 🙌 @superiorsiren rocked it tonight! Can't wait for @the4onthefloor next week 🤘 Remember, use #glensheen or tag us on all your Glensheen social media posts. We give away weekly prizes! Your chance to win some specialty tour tickets 😉 #livemusic #housemuseum #lakesuperior #authenticduluth #onlyinmn
HH: What do you hope to accomplish with Glensheen’s social media presence? What’s the end goal?
JP: Our hope is to share with our audiences what makes Glensheen unique and why they should come visit. The end goal is to perpetuate this idea of a ‘New Glensheen’ and inspire folks to think about Glensheen in a new way. Ultimately leading to a conversion their inspiration into ticket sales or event attendance.
HH: You mentioned that social media is a shared responsibility among multiple staff members. Tell me about who is in charge of keeping the accounts active and engaging, and how that multiple staff approach plays out on a weekly basis.
JP: As the marketing manager, I ensure that the day-to-day maintenance and engagement is happening. Dan Hartman & I work collaboratively to plan the content that is being shared. We also have a summer Marketing Intern, Ellie Gerst and a Student Marketing Assistant who contribute to both the maintenance and content generation.
HH: What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned or experienced while promoting Glensheen on social media?
JP: That’s a tough one. There seems to always be some small surprise around every corner regarding why a post worked or didn’t work. One that we need to constantly remind ourselves is just because we have seen one image a dozen times or feel like we’ve said the same message over and over again–doesn’t mean that our followers have too. For example, there is one picture of the Breakfast Room that we throw out every few months that always does amazingly well. It never fails because people simply love the Breakfast Room.
HH: What is something you are hoping to try in the future with Glensheen’s social media account?
JP: There are various new features that are constantly being introduced that we enjoy testing and honing. As I alluded to earlier, harnessing the power of YouTube is the next big thing on our social media list. YouTube is a whole other world compared to Facebook or Instagram. If there are any master museum YouTube users out there, we want to learn from you!
Hannah’s Note: For those of you that are also looking to break into the museum YouTube world, I highly recommend checking out The Brain Scoop channel hosted by Emily Graslie and run by The Field Museum.
HH: Advice for other museums and historic sites trying to make their mark online?
JP: People love pretty pictures and they are gold on social media. If you don’t have stunningly beautiful pictures of your museum, get some. There are various ways to do this. Host an Instameet, allow photographers a free pass to your site, connect with local photography groups, etc.
And of course, if you are not currently following Glensheen on the interwebs of the social media world, we are @Glensheenestate on Facebook and Snapchat and @glensheen on Instagram and Twitter.