University Archives Establishes a Growing Presence on Facebook

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The NU Archives initiated our Facebook page in July, 2010. We thought Facebook might be an effective channel for promoting our resources and for communicating information about Northwestern history and traditions. Given that college-age students are heavy consumers of social media, Facebook seemed a good way of reaching the demographic most likely to use our holdings. [Note: The Melville J. Herskovits Library of Africana at Northwestern is also using Facebook. They have nearly 160 “friends” and reach an average of 50-80 people with information about their collections every week. See for more information]

Our initial efforts were quite modest and, when people didn't automatically discover and flock to our Facebook site, we undertook a marketing campaign to encourage friending. In particular we promoted our Facebook presence heavily during the new student week periods of 2010 and 2011. We also advertise Facebook on our Web page and on distributed promotional items such as coasters and T-shirts. After engaging in these marketing efforts our popularity increased.  We then made new attempts to secure Facebook friends by targeting individuals or institutional entities able to cross-promote our own page: reporters and editors of student publications, students active in campus organizations, University Relations staff, NU athletic teams, etc. Those efforts paid off in a growing number of Facebook friends and in surprising usage of our site as summarized in weekly reports from Facebook. As another way of growing our base, when we release posts which we believe to be especially popular with University constituencies, we send supplementary communications to University staff, with requests that they re-post our entries. For example, whenever Archives posts footage of a past athletic event, we ask University Relations and Athletic Media Services to link to or otherwise make use of that footage. That typically drives additional people to our Facebook page and increases our base of departmental friends.

This fall we proposed a challenge to our colleagues at the Penn State University Archives. Penn State was NU's Homecoming opponent in 2011 and, given the student and alumni interest in Homecoming, we thought that the period leading up to the event would be a good time to promote NU history and possibly gain additional Facebook friends. The archives of Northwestern and of Penn State attempted to gain new friends during the two-week period leading up to the Homecoming football game. The school with the largest net gain would be the contest winner. To increase outside interest, we agreed to a friendly and public wager: if NU won, Penn State would supply us with ice cream; if Penn State won, NU would ship them Chicago-style pizza. Both institutions heavily promoted the contest within their respective communities. Penn State ran a series of historical trivia entries while Northwestern posted some departmentally-produced videos. The results, at both Penn State and Northwestern were surprisingly and remarkably successful. Penn State grew is base of friends from about 100 to over 500. Northwestern expanded from about 900 to over 1600. Both schools felt the effort to be so worthwhile that we may do something similar next year.
In recent weeks the NU Archives Facebook base grew incrementally to about 1700. A football film posting, timed to take advantage of the NU - Minnesota game in November, attained modest virality within the NU student and alumni communities and boosted our number of Facebook friends by another 50 people.
NU Archives expects to post entries at the rate of about one per week for the duration of the academic year. We will continue to look for opportunities to link those entries to campus events and anniversaries. Exploiting those opportunities helps us to gain maximum exposure to people with similar interests.