Acton Scott Historic Working Farm, as indicated in the name, is a working farm museum set in the Shropshire Hills. It has recently been featured extensively on BBC TV’s Victorian Farm. It is a significant tourist attraction for the area, a leisure facility for local people and an important educational resource with a vibrant and innovative learning programme.
Shropshire is still, primarily, a rural county and the museum seeks to celebrate the history of local agriculture and to work with partners to preserve some of the key skills which have shaped the local landscape and still contribute to the ‘sense of place’.
The museum has always provided opportunities for volunteers and student work placements and has worked with many groups supporting vulnerable people. It is therefore very much part of the local community.
The museum was fortunate to secure European and Heritage Lottery funding to invest in much- needed improvements on the site, enabling the museum to both meet visitor expectations and to provide new facilities e.g. better car parking, improved cafe, interpretation and learning resources.
These improvements were grounded on a dialogue with visitors, supported by offsite surveys in local towns. This is one part of a long established working practice which has seen the museum engage with audiences to communicate what it offers, to shape proposed developments from their comments and to find new partners to work with. We are also always learning from best practice elsewhere.
Social media is one tool to use. Twitter seemed to provide another means of developing a dialogue with existing and potential users, to function as a research tool, to learn more about local businesses in the area and to learn what is happening elsewhere that is relevant to us and to develop contacts with new people. In this latter case, Twitter seemed to provide an efficient mechanism to target people – a rapier rather than a blunderbuss, after all, it was clear that access to a Twitter account can be as useful as having someone’s email address.
We wanted to convey something of what Acton Scott is about to people encountering our Twitter stream, to give people a feel for the place, as well as detail on what it offers and opportunities to be involved.
Acton Scott is a very welcoming place and to convey this, from time to time, we have used personal welcomes to people who follow us, based on a photograph of the place. The farm is very photogenic and a lot of activities take place; to this end the use of photographs are a regular feature of our posts. Photographs have generated significant feedback.
Out of hours activity, when people are available to consider visits or activities, has proved valuable with a range of people engaging with the museum through Twitter.
We have also used the stream to talk about what is happening day by day, including early mornings and late at night, to give a sense of the day-long, year round nature of the place. However, rather than merely using Twitter as another events promoter, to announce what is coming up, we have used a range of resources to convey historical content.
As with all media channels, Twitter is an opportunity to capture people’s interest and to pass over information and learning snippets, hence Twitter also helps to deliver on the museum’s core objectives.
The 140 characters provides a framework which has worked well for extracts from historic farm diaries or period references, with the selections chosen to link in with a contemporary issue, weather conditions or to an activity to which readers can relate.
When we can, we draw follower’s attention to related Twitter streams of local businesses, events or opportunities. Twitter works well when it is used to comment on or cross-reference with web sites, blogs and other content, our own or those of other organisations.
I learned by doing, by monitoring people’s reactions and becoming gradually more confident in the tone and approach, the best times to post and above all to remember that it is ‘social’ and often it should be a dialogue.
Acton Scott is a special place with a strong sense of purpose and a clear identity. The Twitter stream aims to complement this, to reach out to and respond to people and organisations with a slightly lyrical tone, a stylistic envelope, for the key messages within.
This was written by a museum volunteer who works at Acton Scott Historic Working Farm.