The “So What?” of Social Media

When it comes to social media, there are basically two camps: the adopters and the resisters. The adopters jump into some or all of the social media outlets with both feet, tweeting, poking, tagging, posting, and doing all those other social media things that 10 years ago would have had entirely different meanings (I still giggle when someone tells me they’re “Googling”).

Meanwhile, the social media resisters spend their time sending the social media adopters snarky images like this:

This particular image, a Venn diagram available as a T-shirt from Despair, Inc., was sent to us by social media resister Phil Broder. And of course, we immediately posted it on our Facebook page.

I am firmly in the social media adopter camp, not just personally but for organizations as well. It has the ability to benefit your site (physical or virtual) in two distinct ways: cultivation of a core community and exposure to a vast, anonymous audience.

We use the IBD Facebook page partly to help build community and partly as a repository for JibJab videos. We don’t have as many followers as, say, Starbucks (we’re about 18.7 million fans shy), but Facebook has become a place where IBD readers share photos, links, and jokes about Shea’s wardrobe. It’s another venue to carry on the conversation, and that’s why we do this in the first place. (Note: As I was writing this, I became aware that IBD should be on Twitter, if for no other reason than to know what it is and how it works. So we started a Twitter account last week.)

We’ve both mentioned in the past that we’re obsessed with numbers, specifically the number of daily hits that we get on this blog. We’re aware that we probably have about 25 actual readers and that the rest of our hits come from Russian teenagers who accidentally stumble on our site looking for tips on stylish suspenders. While that core community of 25 readers (okay, 23 readers, plus our wives) is essential, there’s a certain thrill to seeing a post go even moderately viral.

We’ve enjoyed several occasions when social media unexpectedly drove lots of traffic to IBD.

August 2, 2010: At the time, “Ill Monday” was our heaviest day of traffic ever. On that day, an IBD post about a T-shirt that says “Ill” in the Phillies font got posted to the Facebook page of the company that makes the shirt, Philavania, driving a small fraction of their more than 17,000 fans to our page.

October 30, 2010: We set a new high on “Blue Saturday,” when a post about the color blue got Tweeted by a site called COLOURlovers to its 430,000 followers. The post got retweeted a handful of times and social media landed a bunch of people who had likely never before heard of us on our site.

December 5, 2010: This is the most random one of all. If you’re on Facebook, you surely noticed earlier this month that people changed their profile photos to cartoon characters to raise awareness about child abuse. I don’t know whether the campaign met its goals, but on “Tassie Sunday,” it did succeed in driving a record number of hits to our site, nearly all of them people doing Google image searches for the Looney Tunes Tasmanian Devil character and landing on an IBD post about the actual animal from back in May.

December 11, 2010: Just two days ago, COLOURlovers tweeted another of our posts, Yellow Makes Babies Cry, and we had just installed that green Twitter button that you see at the top of each post, allowing readers to easily share the post with their Twitter followers. The post got retweeted 44 times (as of this writing) and we had a new record.

This begs the Freeman Tilden question: So what? What’s the advantage of having a bunch of random people looking for cartoons stumble across our website, surely only for a few moments? It’s not as though Phillies fans who want to read about a trendy T-shirt are suddenly going to buy up the remaining stock of the book.

The nature of social media is that 99.9 percent of the people who accidentally stumble across this or any other site leave without a second thought. We tend to incorporate a lot of nonsense about baseball and our personal lives into posts about interpretation and design, so a lot of our traffic is from people who are not in either field, but that remaining fraction of a percent may stay to become part of the conversation, or at least lurk in the background like teenage Shea at a high school dance.

It costs nothing except time to maintain a social media presence, and the benefits can be exponential. Suppose your interpretive site deals with a specific historical event. A regularly updated blog, Facebook page, or Twitter feed about that event may cultivate a core readership—which to me is where the real value is—but the occasional post that unexpectedly goes viral will expose your interpretive site to a vast audience of new readers and potential visitors.

And for those readers (or fans or followers or whatever) who become part of your core audience, social media creates a distinct and important sense of community. For instance, I’ve been told that the conversations that take place on the National Association for Interpretation’s Facebook page help bridge the gap from one NAI Workshop to the next.

I’ve also been told that I am an awesome dancer, which I am not. I’m pretty sure that has something to do with JibJab videos. And I’ve been told that I have a lumpy head. I thought this had something to do with photos of me getting my head shaved at the NAI National Workshop last month, but it turns out it was just people being mean.

If your site does not have a social media presence, I’d encourage you to get one. The benefits are hard to quantify, but they are real.

10 thoughts on “The “So What?” of Social Media

  1. My favorite search term that lands folks on IBD is “minivan with dubs.” Each time I see it come up in the list it makes me laugh. “Seersucker Thursday” is hot this morning for some strange reason. Perhaps the thought of the most comfortable fabric ever created is comforting on these winter mornings as a promise of spring to come.

  2. 1. Wow – congrats on colourlovers. I’ve been following that blog for a while – pretty cool site!

    2. I am amazed at how few firms in the industry take advantage of social media. We made it a goal sometime ago to conquer that realm – and now we’re sporting a blog, a facebook page, twitter, linked-in, and who knows what else. I think we even still have a myspace. All of the platforms have not only been great to reach out, but they also help all of our staff stay up to date on company happenings. We have a lot of in-house back-and-forth on the sites.

  3. ‘Twas dear sainted Edward Abbey who said, “Resist much, obey little.” In that spirit, I’m crafting (in a way that Twitter certainly doesn’t support) my rebuttal.

    Meanwhile, I refer you to what the good folk at have to say on the subject.

  4. Greetings! I have been following the IBD blog since I attended a preworkshop in Portland; I’m finally got around to registering!

    I do have a question for you, I recently started a blog for my Outdoor Ethics Program at Nevada Outdoor School:

    Any tips on getting the word out? We put each post on the NOS facebook page and there’s a link from our website. I did finally get it to come up when I googled *snikers* it though!

  5. What is this social media stuff of which you write? I did hear about something called “facebook” from a colleague at the NAI 2010 Workshop in Las Vegas. I thought it meant meeting face to face with your bookie. I tried to find a bookie who would take the only sure bet while the NAI tribe was in Las Vegas, and that was that I would not be singing karaoke at the final evening banquet. I only wish Shea and a few others had committed to the same plan for the evening.

    I did like the reference to JibJab videos and Paul and Shea’s passion to dance in them. And Paul, as far as you being told you have a lumpy head, are you sure it was not that you are a lump head and had nothing to do with shaving your head for charity? I must say, I was glad to see Paul and Shea join the “No Hair Club for Men.” I have been a member for years.

    Thanks to Phil for sharing the Venn diagram along with his comment and poster from I do think we need to start a campaign for IBD blog policies. If you are not on facebook, you cannot comment about those of us who are.

  6. It seems the hip thing to do these days (at least here in Seattle) is cynicism about social media. It has me wondering if this a defense against the tech-challenged or fear that no one will actually be their friend….

    Seriously though, I can’t believe how valuable it can be! In my design business, it’s a great way to connect with others who share my field.

    In my job as a Naturalist at the Cedar River Watershed Education Center, it’s become a powerful way to connect with visitors. Since most of our web presence is buried within a much more complex site, this makes it really simple.

    Thanks for calling out the good side of the social media beast!

  7. Trails, promoting your blog through Facebook is a good start. Also, I’d recommend putting the link everywhere—in your newsletter, on business cards, in the signature of your email, tattooed on your forehead, etc. And when you comment on another blog, fill out the website part of the form field. It makes your name clickable back to your own website (for example, see comments by Samantha, Phil, and Julie on this post).

    In terms of actually maintaining a blog, here are three tips based on our experience with IBD:

    1. It won’t happen right away. You have to stick with it to build readership.
    2. Update content regularly. Blogs that don’t have new content once or twice a week at least will die a slow death.
    3. Have fun with it. There’s nothing worse than reading anything written by someone who takes himself too seriously.

  8. Samantha, I’ve been enjoying watching what you guys are doing with social media. You just can’t beat ankle-attacking cats for online fun.

    Julie, Shea and I have never been hip, so we jumped at social media right away.

    Phil, now that you have a gravatar for blog comments, a Facebook page and Twitter feed (@grumpyturtles) are next.

  9. What makes you think I don’t already have a Facebook page? Just because it’s evil doesn’t mean I don’t use it! (And I refer you to today’s Doonesbury strip at

    Today Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was named Time’s Person of the Year, following in the footsteps of such giants as George W Bush and Vladimir Putin. I’m sure his mother is proud.

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