UK Parliament’s Twitter account has one of the biggest social media audiences across politics in the UK, with over 1.4 million followers. You’ll find us tweeting about daily business from both Houses, committee work, the work of our engagement teams, and visit content as well as historical and culturally relevant pieces.
I'm the social media editor and I've written about joining forces with Parliament’s curators, collection managers, and archivists to get involved in the global hashtag campaign #AskACurator. It also led me to ask the question: why did we wait so long?
What’s in a hashtag?
It’s almost impossible to scroll through your social media feed today without seeing a hashtag. This prominent symbol is seen as integral to identifying and tracking topics across conversations on social media. It’s a great tool to find things and create awareness of an organisation’s message or brand. 125 million hashtags are shared daily on Twitter alone.
They’ve had their ups and downs, with some epic fails gaining notoriety overnight (who could forget #susanalbumparty?). Hashtags have also been the vehicle of some of the most defining moments in online social activism such as #MeToo and the infamous #ASLIceBucketChallenge.
The UK Parliament Twitter account isn't widely known for its use of hashtags or participation in global campaigns. In fact, we’re kind of late to the party (thankfully not Susan’s). However, with a new Twitter strategy coming soon, we thought it was time to test the waters and dive in. Hopefully there would still be people at the party ready to chat.
Our social media channels are an online gateway for the public to access Parliament and a great tool for us to reach new and younger audiences. They offer a space for Parliament to build a community in a challenging and, sometimes negative, political environment.
Ask a Curator Day is a way for the public to talk to curators and professionals in museums, art venues, and other cultural spaces across the world, for one day a year. Ever wondered how curators unwind? Maybe if they’ve ever tried to impress a date with an object? Ask a Curator Day can help with that.
With so much history and an impressive collection of books, artefacts, and artwork here in Parliament, we saw an opportunity to take that to our audience via #AskACurator.
If you build it, they will come
On 12 September 2018, James Ford, assistant curator with the Parliamentary Art Collection, Mari Takayanagi, senior archivist in the Parliamentary Archives and Emma Traherne, collections manager for Historic Furniture and Decorative Art, took over our Twitter feed. They answered direction questions from users all over the world about the amazing collections and their work at Parliament.
As I mentioned above, we were a little late to the party (five years to be exact) and previously teams had felt there would be little support for this type of activity, but here at #teamPDS we’re a curious bunch. And how could I say no to these faces?
Good morning, today we'll be getting to know some of our fantastic curators here at the Houses of Parliament to celebrate #AskACurator Day. Have a question for them? Just tweet us. 💬❔
© Parliament pic.twitter.com/x3cYSASZie
— UK Parliament (@UKParliament) September 12, 2018
We met beforehand and decided our plan of action, preparing some questions and answers ahead of time, and collecting images and copy detailing the highlights of Parliament’s collections.
We decided that each curator would take a time slot throughout the day to answer questions and share their collections. It was important that they had the space and freedom to talk to the public in their own voices and for us to offer an authentic experience. Authenticity is critical to the success of any social media strategy and activity. If we’re not being open and human with our audience how can we expect them to talk to us?
Did they show up?
I’m relieved to tell you that the public did talk to us. A lot.
#AskACurator What's the most unexpected item in your collection? How did it get there and why do you still have it? Also, what's the oldest Act you have in your collection? Thanks! 🙂
— Alice Kirby (@ACLKirby) September 12, 2018
What's the most valuable item you have in the collection?
— Will Hampshire (@hampshiremoment) September 12, 2018
On average, our Twitter sees 1,500 engagements a week in the form of likes, retweets, and replies. On Ask a Curator Day we hit 3,690 Twitter engagements, that’s a 146% increase in just one day.
Our content was also viewed over half a million times during the day, with over 100 people asking questions and getting in touch to discuss our collections. You can see the highlights here.
Building on success – you can help
We know we need to be where the people are so social media engagement is important for UK Parliament. It’s even more important to make sure we’re doing it well. It’s not just about us sharing content. We’re providing a platform for discussion, opening Parliament to the public, and strengthening our relationship with them.
This activity also helps us strengthen internal relationships with our colleagues and gives us the opportunity to test new approaches. The challenge is maintaining this approach, with limited time and resources, and managing a busy social media calendar means we can’t always plan activity like this. But the stats don’t lie: #AskACurator was a success and we need to continue to experiment if we’re to keep attracting new and younger audiences to Parliament.
The social media team here in PDS wants to continue working in this way and identify future opportunities, and we love having the support of our colleagues to make the UK Parliament channels engaging and vibrant.
If you’re not following UK Parliament on Twitter, why not? We’d love to see you there.
If you work for a team in Parliament and have an idea or would like to try something new, please get in touch.