Fantastic Influencers and Where to Find Them

Stuart Buchanan and Nick Hotham from Edinburgh World Heritage clue us in on how to work with social media influencers in the latest SHSMG blog post.

Bloggers, vloggers, YouTubers, Instagrammers. They all come under the collective umbrella term of social media influencer (SMI), defined by one website as ‘a user on social media who has established credibility in a specific industry…has access to a large audience and can persuade others by virtue of their authenticity and reach.’

Collaboration is key to the success of most organisations and, in a climate of great political change with the future of funding uncertain, I would argue this is especially the case for the arts, culture and heritage sectors. Sharing skills and pooling resources, often not involving a monetary fee (unless you are partnering with a niffler – 10 house points if you got that reference!) can be a highly productive way of diversifying content and reaching new audiences. And whatever your personal opinions of the usefulness of social media in heritage, the fact is, it works, AND it’s here to stay. It is a powerful tool to promote messages, tell stories and get bums in seats!


So how do you go about working with SMIs? Nick tells us to be sure to carve out your approach to using social media before collaborating with SMIs.

Social media is interpretation, and Nick invited us to consider the principles of Freeman Tilden, author of Interpreting Our Heritage, when choosing and creating content for social media. Here are the main points:

  1. Content must relate to human insight; the personality or experience of the visitor/reader.
  2. Information is NOT interpretation. Interpretation is revelation based on information.
  3. Interpretation is an art which is teachable.
  4. The chief aim of interpretation is not instruction, but provocation; to change lives through encounters with our heritage.
  5. Interpretation should aim to present a whole rather than a part.
  6. Interpretation to children requires a different approach and should not be a dilution of the presentation to adults.

Interpretation is defined as a two-way dialogue. It is important to be truthful about the past and provocation, when used carefully, can be successful in inspiring debate. For example, in October this year, EWH invited professor and human-rights activist Sir Geoff Palmer to speak on Edinburgh’s historical relationship with slavery. The live video of the lecture, available on their Facebook page, has over 5,000 views and more than 250 interactions. Remember what I said earlier about social media being used to promote messages and tell stories?

Sir Geoff Palmer O.B.E., the respected human rights activist and Professor Emeritus in the School of Life Sciences at Heriot-Watt University, delivers a groundbreaking new lecture exposing Edinburgh’s long and profitable relationship with slavery.

Nick then outlined what makes a good social media plan. The drivers of success are:

  1. Segmentation of content into social/educational/religious experiences. Understand the segmentation of your organization.
  2. Visuality and the iconic are key.
  3. Choose a narrative format over a thematic one.
  4. Decision sciences – making sure your content is ‘intuitively understandable’. Leave no room for ambiguity!
  5. Context – is the topic unusual on a particular platform and does that mean it will do well?
  6. Visibility of what else is happening in your organization. All content should flow from the same theme per quarter. For example, Year of Young People, Our World Heritage, Black History Month or Edinburgh World Heritage’s 20th

Stuart then went all Newt Scamander and taught us how to work with social media influencers. EWH work with:

    1. Marketing organisations such as Marketing Edinburgh and VisitScotland.
    2. Arts/Culture organisations like National Library of Scotland and Historic Environment Scotland.
    3. Community groups like Essential Edinburgh and Young Scot.
    4. Publications like Edinburgh Life and History Scotland.
    5. Bloggers like Louise Brown and Shawna Law.
    6. Social influencers like tweediehistorygeek and Lost Edinburgh.
    7. Others e.g. Edinburgh Sketcher and Wee Photos.

Stuart recommends identifying individuals or groups with a crossover of interest when choosing who to partner with. Find ways to collaborate (it won’t always be an obvious fit) then get in touch suggesting a partnership to promote a particular post or project.

How to find them:

      1. Working with larger organisations with established links.
      2. Going through a digital agency.
      3. Sites that rank users by following.
      4. General Googling.
      5. Research on each social platform.
      6. Research hashtags on social media and scour the results.
      7. Look out for campaigns and who they work with e.g. #UncoverEdinburgh.
      8. Word of mouth.

Stuart says that a monetary exchange is not expected when working with SMIs. Of course, the bigger their following, the more likely it is that they will request payment, but there is no breach of etiquette in asking them to partner for free; followers tend to drop when they sense commercial profiteering anyway. What you can offer instead is: expertise and insight; interesting trivia; access to normally inaccessible locations; opportunity to take unique photos; networking; free events.

And what you receive in return will likely be: tags and mentions on social media; broader coverage; professional photography; opportunity for trending; new audiences; growth of our channel; reputation for events.

Some final top tips:

      • Invite celebrities connected to a particular piece of heritage.
      • Use Twitter moments.
      • Contact influencers who aren’t in heritage. Budget can be an issue but can also reach new audiences.
      • Exploit professional vanity when it comes to staff contributions; email round your organisation and challenge your colleagues for more content by asking, ‘how do we top this’?
      • Find weekly themes.

And that’s working with social media influencers! Go forth, find them, and let us know how you get on in the comments below.

Featured image adapted from ©Edinburgh World Heritage

Sally Pentecost is Communications Officer for Dig It!, holds an MLitt in Mediaeval History from the University of St Andrews and is in Gryffindor house.

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