A few weeks ago a local history buff shared a fun idea. He proposed to live-tweet Spokane’s Great Fire of 1889. It was a brilliant thought, but unfortunately it surfaced just three days before the 128th anniversary of the tragic event. Knowing that time was working against us, I reached out to some potential partners and called for a meeting the next day to brainstorm and to do the work of writing the tweets. Fortunately, quite a few folks were compelled by the idea and a handful of us convened in the archives reading room at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, where I work as the Volunteer Coordinator. Creating the tweets was a blast and it was exciting to see the project come together on such short notice, so exciting that my former professor and fellow historian blogged about it.
Despite our rushed timeline to make the event happen, it was wildly successful. Before any of the tweets were even published, the event was featured on the front page, above-the-fold, in our local newspaper. (It must be expensive to advertise on the front page of the paper, eh?) The event only got more successful, drawing increased engagement and interest over the next 48 hours. (Including an additional newspaper article prompted by a #GreatFire1889 tweet.)
From an observational point of view, the #GreatFire1889 Tweet event was the most engaging social media interaction the museum has ever done. The tweets drew over thirty replies with a variety of different responses.
The hand press in the @SpokesmanReview’s production facility is allegedly the very press the Chronicle used to put out that day’s paper.— 无敌肚子 (@dangayle) August 6, 2017
Some tweeters shared additional historical knowledge that they had on the fire. Some tweeters asked questions hoping to clarify historical details. And my favorite tweeters took on the persona of an individual living in early Spokane, and responded as if they were experiencing the Great Fire live.
These replies show the level and type of engagement that the event encouraged. It is important to recognize that people were experiencing a deeper level of interaction with these tweets.
My wife is going to be angry I left my chips in the saloon, but taking them was silly. It's probably gone for good. #GreatFire1889 https://t.co/SHIylkP6Hm— Trevor Werttemberger (@trevor280) August 5, 2017
They weren’t just tapping like or retweet, or asking what time the galleries open, they were thinking critically about this historic event. Live-tweeting historic events reminds us that, when given the opportunity, the community has input to add to important discussions about the past.
But, most marketing folks and social media managers are interested in the numbers—like how many engagements were made and how many new followers gained? I have done my best to capture that data and I am happy to share it, with the the hope that it will inspire more institutions to live-tweet historic events—not only because it is fun and engaging, but because it drives interest to your institution, current exhibit, or collections. Below is a brief rundown of some of the numbers, and here is a spreadsheet with the data that twitter makes available.
Twitter data for all tweets posted by @NorthwestMuseum in 72 hours from 8/4/2017-8/7/2017:
- Total impressions: 98,449
- Total engagements: 4,026
- Total replies: 38
- Total likes: 686
- Total retweets: 275
- Total museum profile clicks from a Great Fire tweet: 453
- Total new followers: Approximately 150
(Twitter does not allow you to query how many new followers over a certain date range, so this was for August 1-8, 2017.)
For comparison, here are the numbers for all 41 tweets the museum tweeted during the entire month of July, 2017:
- Total impressions: 43,501
- Total engagements: 1,207
- Total replies: 12
- Total likes: 296
- Total retweets: 95
- Total museum profile clicks from all tweets: 58
- Total new followers: 30
The @NorthwestMuseum is planning to live-tweet some other historic events, and I will continue to make observations and collect data that I look forward to sharing with you in the future. Shoutout and a big thank you to Tom McArthur, Anna Harbine, Jaymee Donelson, Katie Enders, Larry Cebula, and John Webster.