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Friday, July 24, 2015

Why Every State Historic Preservation Office Needs a Twitter Account

All across the country in every state there are dedicated professionals serving as an intermediary between folks with the National Park Service in Washington that administers the Federal historic preservation program and people doing work in preservation at the state and local level. Most people have never even heard of the State Historic Preservation Office for their state and the important work that they do. Needless to say they are a key ingredient in the Federal-State-Local partnership to help facilitate historic preservation activity. They are involved in administering tax credit programs, helping to get properties put on the National Register of Historic Places, and an important point of contact for any projects involving Federal agencies that might have an impact on historic resources.

In 2015 you'd think that SHPO's would use every tool available to get their word out about the important work that they're doing. Instead what we find is only a few are star communicators. The Ohio History Connection, Minnesota Historical Society, and Kansas Historical Society come to mind for the sheer quantity of Tweets they've put out (see the chart below). All have Twitter accounts and make regular posts. This serves a powerful function in helping to connect a grassroots constituency with their work. For more than half of the states, however, there is no SHPO presence on Twitter.

The reasons for this are probably many. Perhaps social media use is restricted by the state agency or department in which they are located. Staffing is a perennial concern. This social media stuff takes time, and time is very much the enemy when you have a huge workload and too few people to do it. There's the potential too for social media to go terribly wrong if not properly managed. Even major brands have struggled to get their social media messaging and strategy right.

While the reasons for not having an account are many, what non-participating SHPO's are missing out on is even greater.

  1. Twitter provides a low cost way to communicate with a large number of people. 
  2. There are few better ways to get crisp images and your message in front of a large number of people for less cost than paper publications that can run thousands of dollars to print and only have a limited distribution.
  3. When news breaks you want to be the first to hear it, first to comment, and first to share the news with your network. When you're breaking the news as an agency Twitter is also a handy tool to get your message out.
  4. There are tools such as "Lists" that helped to organize followers under different categories. This is an excellent way to network with other preservationists and preservation organizations out there, and to also identify where your supporters are at the grassroots level. We've made a list for SHPO's to demonstrate the networking opportunities. The Maryland Historical Trust has also done a great job segmenting their Twitter followers in to lists - by Planning, Preservation, and a few other categories.
  5. Following other Twitter feeds gives you a good real-time update of what other states, public officials, and local leaders are working on.
  6. Twitter can be an excellent way to keep in touch with elected officials and let them know the excellent work you're doing. By you following them and them following you, it's a great way to build and strengthen those very important relationships. This applies to officials at every level of government from the local level to the State level and your members of Congress too.

One last benefit relates to agglomeraters. These are automated tools that gather together media such as links, photos, and videos, and the then agglomerate these and publish something. Paper.li is perhaps one of the best examples. The free version takes up to 25 Twitter feeds then from these publishes a daily or weekly "paper" with the "articles" or "headlines" taken from links and media posted in those feeds. We publish 51 papers for every state and the District of Columbia. We just started another paper just for SHPO's highlighting active Twitter feeds for each state. Not only do these provide news to people in a timely manner - Paper.li also helps to gauge the level and quality of content being put out by over 1,000 of the top Twitter users in every area of the country.

Given that SHPO's have such an important role directing historic preservation activities in each state, it seems long overdue for every SHPO to have a Twitter account. If you represent a SHPO and have an opportunity to get a Twitter account started, here are some helpful tips and tools for you to consider.

1. Determine where the SHPO fits in with state government and what agency needs to approve setting up the account. Some states will be more restrictive than others. It might make more sense, as is the case in Arizona, Missouri, and Tennessee to have the parent agency that houses the SHPO be the one to make posts. While it is nice to have an official voice for the agency, such as the Arizona State Parks, what is lost are opportunities to have more direct and consistent content as it relates to operations of the SHPO. Also, no one will care more about the work of your Historic Preservation Office than you, so it's important to have your own dedicated Twitter account if possible. You'll need to make that case before doing anything else.

2. Pick your Twitter handle. In picking your Twitter handle some states have used their postal code abbreviation followed by "SHPO." See: @calshpo, @KYSHPO, @MISHPO, @OKSHPO, @WYOSHPO. Georgia is a variation on the rule. Since their state name is shorter, they could write their full name out and not be limited by the number of letters: @GeorgiaSHPO. Even if you're not sure about getting started with Twitter right away it might be advisable to claim your Twitter handle before someone else does. By the way, sorry North Carolina - the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers has yours.

3. Pick your Twitter name. There are character restrictions here too. Ideally you want your state name somewhere in your Twitter name to grab folks attention. You may be able to write your full state name followed by the letters SHPO. If this doesn't work some like California just repeat their Twitter handle as their name "Calshpo." For folks who know what a SHPO is that's great. For those who don't know what a SHPO is, however, a name with abbreviations is easy to overlook. One way other states have dealt with this challenge is by putting "Preserve" or "History" before their state name. "Preserve Georgia" and "History Colorado" are two examples. These are related to official brand development activities that we won't get in to depth on. Needless to say, the picking of a name is very important because this is what will pop up in Twitter feeds later on.

SavingARPlaces4. Select a catchy profile picture. Check if you are required to use a state seal. There may be a photo of an iconic landmark that everyone knows. One of our favorites in the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program that does a spoof of the "I Love New York" campaign with the letters I and a heart on the top row and the letters "AR" on the bottom row.

5. Write a description for your account. This is the place to fully spell out that you're the State Historic Preservation Office. Then quickly summarize and distill your mission. Georgia probably does this best.

Preserve Georgia@GeorgiaSHPOWe are Georgia's State Historic Preservation Office. Our mission is to promote the preservation and use of historic places for a better Georgia.
Georgia · georgiashpo.org

Now that you have an account set up, you can start using Twitter. Here are a few tips to get you started quickly.
1. Start "Following" some people. Your statewide preservation non-profit might be a good first Twitter account to follow. Other prospects are local preservationists, National Park units in your state, any State parks that have an historic component, and of course your elected officials as we already mentioned. Try not to get carried away with this. Twitter allows you to follow a maximum of 2,000 people until those who follow you back grows beyond that number. This allows for "Followers" to grow organically and to limit a situation where everyone follows everyone else on Twitter. The more selective you are at "curating" those you are "Following" allows for a higher quality content in your feed. Also, be careful to only follow those who are relevant to your mission. Just as you are judged as a person by whom you choose to associate with, people will look at your followers on Twitter and form opinions about your SHPO.
2. Make your first Tweet. Find something relevant to share. Maybe it's a building rehab project recently completed with photos of the ribbon cutting published in a local paper. Or perhaps your agency held a workshop and you'd like to share a picture that one of your staff members took of all the happy participants. Always remember that you're in "The Good New Business." Only put forward Tweets that cast your agency and your state in the most positive and favorable light. Leave your personal views and political views to the side.
3. Find folks to collaborate with. Once you've gotten an account set up, there may be community groups that will provide you links, photos, and videos to post. Great! Work to gather and collect those. They will love the extra recognition at the state level and the boost it gives to views and likes of their organization. There may also be opportunities to work with other members of the SHPO staff to highlight their work. Too often archaeology gets overlooked or left out. Perhaps you could feature a story on archaeology every couple of weeks.
4. Favorite items other people post that you like. As you see things you like click the star to make it a "Favorite." People will be able to see all of your favorite posts from your page. This is an excellent way to create a chronological list of all the great work happening in preservation for your state. 
5. Schedule your social media posts in advance. There are tools that allow you to prepare posts and schedule them to post at a future date and time.  TweetDeck is one example. Hootsuite is another. The benefit of this, of course, is by not being in real time you he have an opportunity to edit and think about posts before they are made public. This might be a good fallback if folks in your agency want a chance to review messages before they go out.
6. Share your success with us. We'd love for you to send a Tweet @PlacePromo or a message on our website at PlacePromo.com. We'll follow you and add your name to our List of SHPOs.

To close, with the 50th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act fast upon us in October 2016, how great would it be if every SHPO in the country had a Twitter feed by then to celebrate? This was the act that created the SHPO's, after all. That way we could celebrate the accomplishments made over the past 50 years, while also embracing modern-day tools to tell our story and advance our important preservation cause for the next 50 years.

SHPO Usage by State (by date accounts are created)
Here are the Twitter feeds we could find for the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Is your SHPO not on this list or do we have the wrong Twitter handle? Send us a note at PlacePromo.com.

State Twitter Account Since Tweets as of 7/24/2015 Following 7/24/2015 Followers 7/24/2015 Favorites
Ohio Ohio History Connection @OhioHistory Mar-08 6049 1325 11700 742
Minnesota Minnesota Historical Society @mnhs Aug-08 5672 1015 13700
Arizona Arizona State Parks @AZStateParks Sep-08 964 650 14,400 118
Indiana Indiana Department of Natural Resources @INdnrnews Feb-09 2905 287 11100
Kansas Kansas Historical Society @kansashistory Feb-09 4073 227 5558
Michigan Michigan State Historic Preservation Office @MISHPO Feb-09 1559 235 2018
Wyoming Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office @WYOSHPO Sep-09 238 523 663 11
Oklahoma Oklahoma State Historic Preservation Office @OKSHPO Oct-09 205 9 205
Colorado History Colorado  @HistoryColorado May-10 2613 739 2966 763
California California Office of Historic Preservation @calshpo Sep-10 566 406 907
Maryland Maryland Historical Trust @MdHistTrust Nov-10 247 214 1205 5
Georgia Georgia's State Historic Preservation Office @GeorgiaSHPO Dec-10 244 89 812
Missouri Missouri Department of Natural Resources @MoDNR Feb-11 2053 56 3370
Tennessee Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation @TNEnvironment May-11 1380 230 1067 47
DC  DC Office of Planning @OPinDC Jun-11 4092 283 5600 3
Montana Montana Historical Society @MTHist Feb-12 2176 179 1404
Kentucky Kentucky Heritage Council @KYSHPO May-12 839 1699 1149 358
Texas Texas Historical Commission @TxHistComm Aug-12 3911 187 2755
Illinois Illinois Historic Preservation Agency @ILhistory Oct-12 2613 205 761 18
Arkansas Arkansas Historic Preservation Program @SavingARPlaces  Nov-12 1674 445 482 77
Alabama Alabama Historical Commission @PreserveALA Dec-13 341 981 932 40