Putting yourself ‘out there’ online can be an exceptionally daunting process: connotations are quickly drawn up of influencers, selfies, unrealistic standards – a virtual wasteland of trolling and abuse. There is a falseness we are all acutely aware of when it comes to social media platforms, giving everyone who engages with it good reason to proceed with caution, and pick apart what is really presented to us on screen. None of this really promotes a conducive atmosphere in which to grow your career – something which is very much real, unfiltered, and full of passion. Many of us dedicate everything we have into nurturing our professional life, why would we want to throw it to the wolves and trolls online?
I’m here to testify that curating engaging social media content, focused on your chosen area of heritage expertise can prove invaluable in helping you get your name out into the sector and boost your career prospects.
Think of your Social Media Platforms as an Online Portfolio
For the most part, social media is often used to show the world our best selves, and the same rules apply when using these various online platforms for professional progression. I see my social media as a personal online portfolio; one that isn’t as rigid as what I would use for an interview, but professional enough that it gives me credibility. There is a good sense of my standards, my skills, and my ethics – all of this backed up in the content I choose to share and represent myself as a heritage professional.
Sharing a simple photograph of my conservation degree or working life to my social media alerts fellow professionals and potential employers to my knowledge, skill set, strengths and how I conduct myself on projects. For example, it is easy to write on a C.V. or job application that I have experience in disaster response, or I’m proficient in cleaning anatomical collections, but it is another level altogether having images proving these practices. Not only that, if you are able to edit photos to a high standard and provide well thought out copy to go alongside them, it also proves you have a bank of transferable skills and know how to market yourself effectively.
Now, I appreciate all that can sound a bit overwhelming – photo editing, content creating, copywriting, marketing; it is easy to feel this is all steering too far away from the job you really want to do, and not linked to heritage at all. However, it is important to remember these small steps provide building blocks in helping you gain some traction within the sector. Similarly, don’t expect to become an expert in social media straight off the bat – high quality content does not manifest overnight and rushing things will only lead to poor results and silly errors, which is not the impression you are looking to make when introducing yourself professionally online. This process is a marathon, not a sprint and it can take time to find your voice and exactly how you want to pitch your work on social media. There is no finish line when it comes to establishing professional online accounts, so allowing them to grow organically is the best way to progress.
One key piece of advice I stand by, is to take time to educate yourself a little on the workings of social media – this doesn’t need to be anything extensive or highly academic; perhaps listen to a podcast on building relationships on Twitter, watch a YouTube tutorial on the best ways to edit your photos in Adobe Lightroom, or explore free creative tools like Canva, which allow you to easily master the world of graphics and brand building. Even pin point some museum and heritage social media accounts you like and ask to create content or a write a blog post for them. These are all steps I’ve taken in the past 12 months to gain an insight into the workings of social media and how these practices can aid establishing myself as a heritage professional. Once you have a bank of quality content linked to your social media, it can aid with prospective job opportunities – I have gained a number of heritage based work and collaborations through carefully curating engaging and eye catching content for my online platforms.
Heritage Social Media was Always Important – but Now it is VITAL
We all know technology is important, and while I certainly do not champion taking tips from a certain AD campaign urging those with the slightest spec of creativity to retrain in ‘cyber’ (*enter tumbleweeds and rage*), I do firmly believe tech, specifically social media, is going to play a dominant role in how we all engage with heritage in the future. Online traffic is at an all time high, and the wave of virtual heritage content that has arrived as a by-product of most institutions currently being closed, has been met with resounding praise. Collections and exhibitions from all over the globe have suddenly become accessible to anyone with internet access, with this likely to continue even when institiutions reopen. This makes a basic understanding of how to get heritage content to a wide audience all the more important for those carving a career in the sector.
I recently conducted an online survey (via social media, of course), asking my followers what they expect to see from museum and heritage online platforms. The results were pretty conclusive: not only did 100% of participants want high quality social media content to continue, there is a huge demand for ‘behind the scenes’ offerings – viewers like to feel they’re getting access to things they wouldn’t get on a conventional visit to a museum. Similarly, audiences love to hear about individual roles, so playing on your personal experiences and skills is a huge draw and will get you noticed for it. Perhaps surprisingly, there is a rising demand for museums and heritage sites not to take themselves too seriously online. Of course, these institutions are here to educate, raise important issues within society and gain the public’s respect as an organisation they can trust. But social media is also a place to be creative, and many of the institutions the public love to engage with are the ones who utilise current online trends, be it memes, reels or Tiktoks (I highly recommend checking out The Black Country Living Museum for heritage TikTok inspiration – they’ve become somewhat of a sensation and boosted interest in heritage social media ten fold).
It is important to keep in mind that not every heritage institution is social media savvy, and many don’t have the resources to employ staff dedicated to these practices. If you can showcase a basic knowledge of social media management and engagement in your own platforms, you are adding a set of invaluable skills to your arsenal. Proving you can quickly pick up and utilise new technologies that the sector will come to rely on is only going to impact you positively when it comes to career development.
The Most Powerful Networking Tool You’ll Find
By engaging in heritage social media, you not only invite others to take stock of your work, skills, and strengths, you open yourself up to making invaluable connections with fellow professionals in the sector. I have always maintained that the museum world is a small one, and never has that become more apparent than when I began engaging more with the sector online. Everyone knows everyone. Everyone has connections. And guess what? It’s not exclusive. Everyone wants to invite you in!
Networking within the community you wish to grow your career in is unbelievably important. It is also something I have struggled with in the past – a naturally introverted personality, placed in a room filled with unfamiliar faces, and that toxic voice of Imposter Syndrome taking hold, makes conventional networking a rather difficult process for me. Putting myself online as a museum professional has allowed me to continually engage with the sector in an environment that allows professional connections to be made, without the awkward interactions that face to face networking can bring. In less than a year, I have established myself strongly both with individuals and institutions, carved out working relationships, job opportunities, and friendships. For me, this makes it the most valuable property of professional social media engagement.
What I value most about networking with heritage professionals through social media is the support system I now have. I’ve been introduced to a whole host of people with a range of experiences, who are always on hand to provide sage advice and much needed encouragement. I’ve had the joy of connecting with people I greatly admire, all collectively passionate about building careers in museums and heritage, and ultimately making the sector more accessible for all. I do believe knowledge is a vital part of being your best self in your career, but we need to recognise that who you know also comes into play. The museum and heritage community on social media have shown nothing but support towards my work, engaging actively and doing everything they can to ensure what I am putting out to the world reaches the right people. This is of course a two-way street; social media allows you to play cheerleader to your fellow professionals, colleagues, and institutions – small acts such as sharing a student’s dissertation project, a museum learning department’s online resources, or a professor’s new research paper all send out a statement of who you are – a supportive and valued member of the heritage community. That is what gets you noticed.
Teaming your social media portfolio of work, with engaging content and a supportive audience of fellow heritage professionals, is a perfect recipe for positive career progression. With a little bit time, effort, and patience, a social media presence will bring invaluable tools to add to your museums and heritage skill set.