My line of work involves writing a fair amount of Diagnostic Audits for the terrific zoos, aquariums, and museums with which I have the opportunity to work. This involves making assessments about social media and online engagement strategies. Very often, I find myself recommending the creation and execution of an effective “hub” to help organizations achieve their online engagement goals. I’m always amazed how many organizations don’t have an online home to help them drive website visitors to the organization’s desired social media outcome.
A hub is an important part of an online communication strategy. The hub serves as a landing page for engaging content (stories, videos, anecdotes, etc). The hub functions much like a blog– It is critical for community building and, unlike most websites for visitor serving organizations, it must be updated constantly. Some organizations merge website and blog formats successfully by integrating their hub directly into their website. The hub is a place where social media links are directed and content is aggregated. Not to mention, having a hub is resourceful and it makes achieving online goals a whole lot easier.
Here are six ways that your organization will benefit from having a social media hub:
1. The hub provides a consistent home for engaging content. A hub is a site where you aggregate all of your engaging content including embedded YouTube videos, favorite photos, articles about earned media that the organization picked up throughout the week, animal updates (if you are a zoo or aquarium), volunteer anecdotes, and short stories about that crazy-huge load of fish food that just came in on the loading dock yesterday. Putting all of this information in one place allows an organization to tell an ongoing, cohesive story; the story of the behind-the-scenes life of the organization. This backstage pass is more than a useful tool for coordination and potential visitor intrigue, it also increases the perception of an organization’s transparency– and transparency and honesty are cited as essential values for success in online public relations. In short, setting up this hub is putting your organization in a better situation to avoid (and if needed, address) a PR crisis. To reference one of the very best examples of this (again), here is how the Shedd Aquarium utilized their hub to not only avoid a crisis, but to get into the hearts of their online community after the death of a dolphin calf.
2. The hub provides an opportunity for the coordination and curation of stories.The hub is also a place of coordination. The hub is a single site where links are directed for compelling content and, like a typical blog, content is tagged and categorized. Though a compelling hub is constantly updated (about once or twice each weekday), folks need not be overwhelmed by content. Site visitors who are only interested in, say, an art museum’s Modern collection, need only to click on the “Modern Art” tag to see posts related to that topic. The hub is not only a place to tell the organization’s larger day-to-day, behind-the-scenes story, but a place where visitors can turn to find the stories related to their area of interest. Coordinating and cleaning up the hub with tags decreases the energy that someone needs to spend on the site in order to find out information that is important to them. It decreases barriers to potential buy-in.
3. The hub is an easy, go-to place for real and potential visitors and evangelists. The hub, if used consistently, can be established as a reliable place for information that is easy for readers to follow. It becomes a go-to site for real-time information (as opposed to closing times and driving directions). If the hub is in a blog format, people can put it in their preferred blog reader, or sign up for updates, or — much more commonly– folks can bookmark the site as a quick resource for timely and engaging information. This site is helpful for people who want to know what is going on, but don’t want to scroll back through several days of Facebook status updates to find the information that they seek. A hub doesn’t have missing information on unique happenings. It makes it easier for real and potential visitors to remain “in the loop.”
4. The hub allows you to direct messaging so it aligns with your social media goals. One of the most important elements of an online engagement strategy (and of managing your social media expectations) is having a clear goal or a clear reason to be using social media. Popular goals for social media include things like: spreading conservation messaging, educating the public on the value of x, increasing the reputation and credibility of the organization, reaching underserved audiences, accessing a younger demographic and– most commonly– driving attendance. The benefit of a hub is that you are linking people who have self-identified themselves as interested in your organization’s content to a single site, and you can control the messaging on that site. If it’s about getting people in the door, make sure there’s a banner about your newest exhibit. Include messaging about why right now is the best time to visit. You’ve channeled folks to one place… make sure that one place has the messaging to help you achieve your goal.
5. The hub also allows you to direct links so that you can better achieve your social media goals. Much like you can control the messaging on the hub, you can also control the link path on the hub. It’s simple but important: link folks to where you want them to go, and adjust your messaging to make them want to go there. If your goal is to increase attendance, link to the online ticket purchasing page of your website. Make it easy for your goals and the visitor’s goals to correspond by coordinating messaging and links.
6. The hub increases site visitation and the possibility of earned media… and it only gets better from there. Because social media channels are all directed toward content on the hub, the hub becomes an easy go-to place with (hopefully) a good amount of visitation. The more people visit the hub, the more people have the opportunity to share content from the hub with their friends and online community. The more people share this content, the greater the opportunity for people to write about or review your organization, contributing to the development of word of mouth marketing regarding the organization. When more people visit the website and write positive articles, glowing reviews, or even share a Facebook link, the organization may experience an increase in perceived credibility and expertise. This perception elevates the organization’s reputation- and reputation is frequently a key driver of attendance to visitor serving organizations.
In sum, a hub is a critical way to harness interest in your organization. Without a hub, social media channels link out to YouTube, Flickr, Facebook statuses that are hard for interested parties to reference over time, various portions of an evolving website that may only be accessible for a few weeks, and other places. A hub gives an organization the opportunity to coordinate content, better meet social media goals, and tell a more compelling story online.
About the author
MPA. Chief Market Engagement Officer at IMPACTS Research & Development. Nonprofit marketer, Generation Y museum, zoo & aquarium writer/speaker, web engagement geek, data nerd, marathoner, nomad, herbivore