Icon’s impact: spreading the word through social media

Using social media to increase awareness of conservation

11 Jan 2021

In Autumn 2020, Icon took part in two major global social media campaigns to increase understanding of conservation and its relevance to the daily lives of people.

What was the goal we set out to achieve?

Icon’s Strategy 2017-2022 sets out our strategic aim to increase public awareness and participation in conservation. 

In 2020, as the conservation sector adapted to challenges brought on by the Coronavirus pandemic, the engagement strand of our Strategy increased in importance. It became clear that reaching out to the public had never been more important and that we needed to increase our efforts to celebrate the work of conservators, and to demonstrate the need for conservation and its relevance to society.

We set ourselves the goal to reach out to new audiences by responding to the insatiable appetite for online heritage-related content witnessed during lockdown knowing that people are spending more time at home and online. While this included traditional projects such as launching a digital newsletter, we recognised that our efforts very clearly needed to have a social media dimension in order to connect with untapped audiences. 

What did we do?

We filled our Communications Calendar with content, marking a variety of anniversaries and themed days with topics ranging from time travelling to climate heritage. However, two high profile social media campaigns in November emerged as priority opportunities for us to engage with new and wider audiences: National Maintenance Week and Ask A Conservator. 

  • National Maintenance Week is an annual campaign organised by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings. It encourages the public to take simple steps that can make a huge difference to the condition, lifespan and energy efficiency of a building they care for. 
  • Ask a Conservator is a one-day event held every year and coordinated by the AIC in remembrance of the flooding of Florence on 4 November 1966. The day celebrates the growth of the conservation field inspired by the response to the flood by creating an opportunity for people to engage with conservators on social media by asking questions about their work.

National Maintenance Week was a natural match for us as Icon fully supports the messages it promotes. We strongly believe that time and effort spent on caring for items and fixing issues as they arise is inevitably cheaper than having to put right much more extensive damage to objects and collections later. Conservation extends the lives of objects and encourages us to care for our possessions, inspiring sustainable lifestyles. That's why we felt strongly about the need to support the campaign and to advocate the case for routine care and good housekeeping as one of the most cost-effective and responsible ways that we can care for our cultural heritage and treasured possessions.

We programmed a range of content to share during the campaign. Throughout the week, we shared our ‘Caring for Collections’ series on Twitter and Facebook, which include accessible conservation tips for materials from glass to furniture. The Icon Care of Collections Group created a Youtube video providing simple advice and tips for looking after a variety of everyday household objects and materials. It encourages the public to take simple steps that can make a huge difference to the condition and lifespan of their most valued possessions. Meanwhile, Icon Chief Executive Sara Crofts prepared a presentation reflecting on some of the underlying principles of the campaign, including good custodianship and sustainability. 

Ask A Conservator was another no-brainer for us, the clue being in the title! However, for this campaign, we recognised that we needed a conservator on hand to answer the public’s specific questions about working in conservation and caring for items. We recruited the help of Icon member Siobhan Barrat ACR. An accredited Preventive Conservator who has worked for the National Trust for the last 20 years and as a freelance Book and Paper conservator, Siobhan was just the specialist we needed.  

Naturally, we also set out to mobilise our 2,400 members to ensure maximum representation from the conservation sector in both campaigns. We encouraged Icon members to share photos, stories and videos on social media about caring for objects and to make themselves available to answer questions about conservation. We urged conservators to remind their audiences that there are a number of ways that they can look after their family heirlooms, collectables and household items.

November 2020 was the most successful month on social media for Icon for the year

What was the outcome?

Both campaigns were a big hit! November 2020 was the most successful month on social media for Icon for the year, and this is likely because of the two campaigns.

Ask A Conservator Day was the most successful day on our social media in 2020. We managed to engage an audience four times bigger than usual. Drawing from her expertise, Siobhan answered a broad range of queries from members of the public from  what to use when repairing a paper book cover to “what would be your dream object to work on?” and questions about ethical issues raised when treating objects.

Compared to last year, a greater number of non-conservators took part in the conversations, indicating that we were successful in reaching new audiences. You can find the interesting discussions that took place on the day on our Twitter Moment or by checking out the #AskAConservator hashtag.

Our National Maintenance Week campaign posts received 2 to 3 times more than our regular engagement level, and drove traffic to our 'Care for Collections' webpages. It was our third most successful campaign overall this winter (with Ask A Conservator coming first, and Giving Tuesday coming second). The videos prepared for the campaign have been watched hundreds of times on Youtube. 

Icon’s participation in the social media event extended our collaboration with SPAB. Teaming up with an organisation that shares our vision and values was a powerful way of building appreciation of the importance of protecting heritage. 

Our initiatives were part of larger campaigns, which enabled us to collaborate positively with other organisations, get inspiration for new content, connect with new audiences and extend our reach

What did we learn?

Participation in the campaigns confirmed the advocacy value of social media. Social media offers fantastic opportunities to showcase the achievements of conservators and to reach out to new and bigger audiences than through traditional media. 

Mapping out key dates in the annual calendar and linking them to our stories is a cost effective, simple and fun way of getting our messages about conservation out there. The support and participation of members reinforces Icon’s voice by giving our messages and arguments more weight. 

Keeping in touch with other organisations in the sector (for example via newsletters and Twitter) is a good way to find out, support and engage with their social media campaigns. Our initiatives were part of larger campaigns, which enabled us to collaborate positively with other organisations, get inspiration for new content, connect with new audiences and extend our reach.

Throughout the campaigns, we were reminded of the benefit of understanding the unique benefits of different social media channels. What works on Twitter, doesn’t necessarily succeed in engaging audiences on LinkedIn. This is why in 2021, Icon will be enhancing its Communications Strategy with a new Social Media Strategy. The Strategy will analyse Icon’s social media accounts and provide guidelines and recommendations for getting the most out of each channel. 

What will we do next?

Icon’s Communications Team meets regularly to review the weeks and months ahead to ensure that communications opportunities are seized and coordinated well in advance. 

We will be setting our priorities for 2021 in January and begin planning new and exciting campaigns - we’ve already got our eye on something fun for the Conservation Register

Rest assured, we won’t miss out on our regular favourites as we look forward to making an even bigger splash during National Maintenance Week and Ask A Conservator in 2021. 

It really matters – and we need your help. Icon makes the case to decision makers on issues that affect cultural heritage, and members are the foundation of our efforts. Why not join Icon today?

Image: Creative Commons

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