Archives on Facebook: A social media posting guide

This post expands on one of the guides I created for archivists and special collections librarians using social media.

Why Facebook?

Facebook, without question, is one of the most popular social media platforms today. People all over the world use Facebook to connect to friends, family, and people with similar interests. Because of this huge potential audience, many archivists and librarians consider it essential to have a Facebook page for their repository. Many worry not having a Facebook page marks them as outdated or out of touch with current technology. While I agree that Facebook is a good place to have an online presence, I strongly believe that repositories should make the decision to create a Facebook page based on their individual circumstances. Each repository should choose the platform(s) most compatible with their community of users and with the types of material they plan to post. So – as I say for every other social media platform – don’t feel like you have to have a Facebook page.

If you determine that Facebook is a good fit for your repository, it offers a number of options for sharing information and building an online community. You can post text, photos, links, and videos; share, comment on, and like other people’s posts; and host conversations on your own page. Currently you can’t customize your page much beyond your profile photo, cover photo, and “About” section, but this also puts everyone on an even footing regardless of time and technical know-how.

Using this Guide

The following posting guide is a quick, ready-reference guide for archivists and special collections librarians using Facebook at their repository. It is by no means a comprehensive list of all the things you can and should do as a repository, but it is a good basic guide for what to post and how to improve your Facebook presence. I created this guide with a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License, so with that in mind feel free to share, post, and print it! If you do use this guide, please provide a link back to

For a detailed breakdown of the guide and additional resources, continue after the break.


What to Post

Facebook is a great space to post text blurbs, images, links, and videos. Facebook users are more willing to look at (and hopefully interact with) posts that deliver immediate gratification, so I find that images and short, text-based posts are often the most successful. As I mention in the guide, I highly recommend providing contextual information about any photo, video, or link you post, with a relevant link (to the original item, the finding aid, the website, etc.) when possible.

For example, when I post a photo like the one below, I make sure to post information about the photo and where users can find the original, more photos, and additional information. I also like to give users a brief idea of why I’m posting this particular photo at this particular moment (in this case, the oncoming football season). The example on the left has all of this contextual information and the chance for users to dig deeper into our resources, while the example on the right gives almost no context, no reason as to why it’s there, and no way for users to find out more about the photo.

fbgood     gcbad

Because Facebook is a social network, you should try to engage your community through your posts. Advertise exhibits, classes, and speakers (or ask what events people would like to see in the future); post photos of events (with people’s permission); or ask trivia questions about your holdings or parent institution (hint: adding a prize as an incentive usually increases participation). Share behind-the-scenes photos or conduct an informal survey on what services users want. Above all, the reason your repository should be on any social media platform is to create/join a community and engage with them.

Tips for Good Content

Facebook users have short attention spans, so keep text-based posts short and sweet. If you want to share text-heavy posts, think about starting a blog instead.

Tell stories from and about your collections. Write up a short post about a unique collection or share a funny quote from a letter (with a photo of or link to the original letter if possible). Post photos of your staff preserving a map, and tell users a little about your preservation program. You want your users to connect with your materials and hopefully visit or donate to your repository. Posting information about your collections and how you take care of said collections is a great way to do this.

When to Post

Based on research by Dan Zarrella, the best frequency to post on Facebook is every other day. If you post more frequently, users who visit your page might miss content that’s already pushed further down the timeline. Also, remember that most users join Facebook primarily to stay in touch with friends and family – not to see each and every photograph or cool piece of memorabilia in your collection. Posting less frequently (like once every other week or less) might mean you have a smaller audience, or that your users won’t visit your page as often because they don’t see your posts in their news feed.

A Few Projects to Try

The seven projects on the guide are suggestions for any archivist or special collections librarian, regardless of social media experience. These projects are fairly basic, and, when done well, they can be very popular. Look at the National Archives’ Today’s Document tumblr for a great “on this date” project, or check out SAA’s “I Found It In The Archives!” contest (join the competition next year or make it an ongoing series at your repository).

Want more ideas? Look around at what other repositories are doing, and find projects you think would work well with your users and materials.

A Few Archives on Facebook

These repositories are just a few of the archives and special collections that I think are using Facebook well. I tried to provide a variety of examples – government, corporate, academic, and a professional organization. If you are new to using Facebook for a repository, want some new posting ideas, or just want to see what some of your colleagues are doing, I’d highly recommend checking out other repository Facebook pages. Don’t restrict yourself to your specific type of repository either. If your a small university archives, make sure to look at religious archives, large museum archives, or historical society archives on Facebook as well as other academic repositories. You may find new projects to adapt to your own program, and it’s good to see how professionals across the field are utilizing this platform to reach their users.

Metric for Success

What a lot of archivists and librarians (and often upper management) are interested in – and rightly so – is how to determine whether a social media program is successful. How can you justify the time and effort you put into this outreach initiative to yourself, your fellow employees, and your boss? Right now there is no magic formula that will tell you whether or not your social media program works for your repository. As my MLS professors often said, “it all depends.” It depends on the type of repository you represent, your community of users, and, in particular, the goals you set for the program. Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  • Are you looking to increase the visibility of your repository?
  • Do you want to engage an international audience with your resources?
  • Are you trying to increase attendance at classes and events?
  • Do you want more people asking you reference questions?
  • Are you trying to get researchers to use more of your online resources?
  • All of the above? What else?

Your definition of success should be based on your goals and the kind of return you expect from your social media program.

On the guide, I’ve listed a few potential ways to measure effectiveness. These range from collecting basic quantitative data to observing more complex interactions. I would highly recommend writing down concrete goals for your program, and defining what success means to your specific repository. Then, based on that information, figure out what you need to measure or track to gauge your program’s progress and effectiveness.


Short on Time?

A note to those archivists and special collections librarians who are running their social media program in their spare time, and those who have very few resources to allocate to social media: you can still have a great social media presence with a small program! Do what you can manage and make your program the best it can be – your community will appreciate your efforts to reach out to them. Set realistic goals and work to achieve them. The most popular users on social media are not necessarily those who have the most resources to spend on their content, but those who are creative and thoughtful about their content, and who actively interact with their communities.

Make Sure Facebook Works for You

Whether you’re just starting your Facebook page or you’ve had one for several years, I recommend taking a step back and asking yourself a few questions.

  • Why did you join/are you joining Facebook?
  • What do you expect to get in return for your efforts?
  • Do your posts fit your goals?
  • Is your community engaging with your content the way you hoped?

I said it before and I’ll say it again: make sure this social media platform is working for your repository and your community. If you do not feel your Facebook page is effective, seriously consider if it is worth the time and effort you are putting into it. Don’t be afraid to make changes or stop using the platform. Your goal for outreach programs should be to find and connect with your community of users, not to do something just because everyone else seems to be doing it.

If Facebook is working for you and your users – keep going. Try new posting ideas, and ask your community which posts they like best or what they would like to see. Make sure you are actively working on your Facebook page and overall social media presence. Don’t become complacent in success and let your page become stagnant. There is always room for improvement!


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