Macro to Micro: Developing a Cohesive Social Media Strategy

This article is part of the “Communications 2022” issue of Hand to Hand. Click here to read other articles in the issue.
Q&A with Jenny Holland, Director of Digital Strategy, The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis

Mary Maher | Interviewer

Former reporter turned content marketer Jenny Holland has served as the director of digital strategy for The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis for nearly ten years. In this role she leads strategy for integrated digital marketing campaigns for museum initiatives and exhibits, including the recently expanded and reopened Dinosphere®. Her work involves the development of social media campaigns with onsite and online components to boost social reach and engagement and increase attendance; developing lead email acquisition, engagement, and retention strategies for all museum departments; and spearheading lead generation and online sales strategies for to maximize online revenue.

Prior to her work at the museum, she served as marketing communications specialist at Conner Prairie in Fishers, Indiana, and was a reporter/producer for WTHI-TV in Terre Haute. Jenny holds a degree in journalism/Spanish/telecommunications from Indiana University Bloomington. She is also a board member of Hoodox, Indiana’s first and only streaming service featuring nonfiction, Indiana-focused content that entertains while helping people connect to their community and create positive change.

How does the museum develop a social media strategy?

In the fourth quarter of each year, we work with our leadership team to understand the museum’s overarching priorities for the next year. Our marketing team then conducts a SWOT analysis to discuss the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats that we foresee. These can include anything from how COVID uncertainty affects our dynamic pricing strategy to how we conquer the challenge of marketing an exhibit like Dinosphere®, which has more depth and complexity than a single ad or series of ads can include. We also look at applicable visitor survey data, content analytics from the previous year, and current socil media trends. Drawing on all this information, the digital team creates its strategic plan, which includes both organic and paid social media strategies, for the year as well as individual marketing plans for each new exhibit that will open. Social media is big part of our advertising spend for the year. Of our total advertising buy, which includes TV, radio, display ads, social, and search, 12 percent is spent on social media advertising.

Among several popular social media platforms, how do you decide what messages go where?

In 2020, we worked with an outside company to help us create a guiding document for our organic social media strategy. Organic social media involves posting content (text, photos, video, graphics, stories, etc.) for free on social media platforms hoping to engage audiences.

The bones of our plan stay the same each year, but we revisit the goals, strategies, and tactics annually. We adjust as needed based on the changing platform landscape, analytics from previous years, information we’ve gleaned from our constituents, and priorities of the museum.

One section of that strategy document includes channel differentiation. What is the mission, role, and audience of each of our social media channels, and what kind of content works best for each? To determine this, we use what we know about the overall demographics of each social platform coupled with analytics data around content performance from previous years. This tool not only helps us do a gut check when we are creating our campaigns, but also helps us educate other departments on what channel might work best for their particular event or content idea.

To determine our optimal social platforms, we surveyed our audience asking them which platforms they use. We combined these results with historical engagement data from our channels. For example, our data shows that 75 percent of adults surveyed use Facebook and less than 5 percent use TikTok. If we just went off the survey data, we would have overlooked TikTok entirely. However, after investing some time into testing that channel, we saw incredible engagement results and the potential to reach a new audience. TikTok has become a priority channel for the museum over the past year. We take our time when deciding to invest in or add a new channel. We have a small team, so we want to make sure we are not spreading ourselves too thin.

Walk us through your social media strategy for the recent opening of the newly expanded Dinosphere® exhibit?

Since 2004, Dinosphere® has taken visitors back in time to the Cretaceous Period, when the last dinosaurs walked the Earth. The new Dinosphere® digs even deeper into the prehistoric past, presenting two massive new sauropod fossils from the Jurassic Period, amazing aquatic creatures of the Mesozoic Seas, and a Dino Art Lab that pairs science and creativity.

Reopening Dinosphere® included lots of layers of marketing, public relations, digital, and overall communication strategy. The campaign, which lasted more than a year, had several phases. During this time, we closed the original exhibit while the new one was being completed, and continued digging for new fossils at our site in Wyoming. Here are a few of the tactics from each of those phases.

  • • Phase 1: Keep dinosaurs top of mind for our visitors during year-long closure of Dinosphere®.

— Updated all of our communications (web, email, and social media) to make it clear Dinosphere® was closed.
— Created an online Dino Hub, embedded with a 360-degree tour of the old exhibit with hot spots to some evergreen dino content.
— Sent a monthly dino e-newsletter to all of our members.
— Created a Dinos A to Z video series that we shared bi-weekly on our social channels.

  • • Phase 2: Maintain excitement and anticipation of building the new exhibit.

— Posted a weekly Fossil Friday behind-the-scenes moment to show exhibit progress.
— Went to the dig site and covered the dig with live and in-the-moment content across social channels.
— Created a mini-documentary to show the full backstory of the exhibit from dig to preparation to display.

  • • Phase 3: Create buzz to drive ticket and membership sales.

— Began our social advertising campaign, including a two-month membership campaign on Facebook and Instagram followed by a campaign to drive spring break ticket sales on Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok.
— Hosted an influencer preview party to generate social chatter.
— Conducted a city-wide dino egg hunt.
—Worked with our mayor to declare it Dinosaur Day in Indianapolis.
— Mounted a huge sound and light show downtown in our city center that made it feel like dinosaurs were taking over the city.
— Created a thunderclap moment by having all of our staff, influencers, sponsors, and partners post the same graphic and copy at the same date and time.

Each of these tactics played out differently across each of our digital communication platforms, but layered together to create a cohesive campaign that reached all of our audiences. As the campaign continues, we have moved into sharing visit tips, user-generated content, and deeper information about what you can learn, see, and do in the new experience!

What is the goal of your social media strategy? Is it online engagement, or do you want it to lead to actual involvement with the museum, e.g., in-person visits, memberships, donations, camps/program enrollment?

All of the above, but it depends on the piece of content. We want to build an engaged community on our social channels, provide extraordinary customer service, and ultimately drive people to visit the museum. We do post some content where the goal is pure engagement or amplification; other content is pure promotion (e.g., buy tickets to an event) and some content is both. It’s important to strike a balance.

On the paid social advertising front, the goal of almost all of our content is to drive online ticket, membership, or event sales.

How do you know if your communications are hitting the mark? How do you measure success?

It depends on the post. We measure engagement, amplification, reach, and transactions from our social content. However, we don’t necessarily measure all of those for every single post. While we have had a few posts go truly viral, ultimately this didn’t drive the uptick in ticket sales you would expect based on the online engagement we saw. Other posts have seemed to do poorly engagement-wise, but the click-through and transaction numbers were through the roof. It all depends on what the goal of the post is.

For our paid ads, we also measure total transactions (total number of completed sales), conversion rate (transactions divided by clicks), cost per conversion (campaign spend divided by transactions), revenue (total money earned from sales), and return on ad spend (revenue divided by campaign spend).

Online media is a rapidly changing environment: new apps and platforms emerge and existing ones abruptly change how they work. Audiences can be fickle. They might love your Instagram posts for a while, then that love vanishes.  How do you stay nimble?

This is one of the most frustrating and exciting parts of this job. We review our social media strategy quarterly. It’s a fluid document, so if it needs to change based on content we see performing well or not performing like we thought, then we make that change. We don’t wait a whole year to react to what we are seeing. We also have a pretty flat approval process. If we want to change our content strategy or try a new trend, we don’t have a lot of layers for approving the move. We aren’t afraid to try something and miss.

Bad news and tough topics: How does the museum use its social media platforms to deliver important but not fun news? For example, pandemic-related information over the past two years (and ongoing)—closures/mask/capacity policies?

We try to be honest, transparent, and keep an open line of communication. Our small department is not making decisions in a vacuum. The museum has a large team of people who approach decisions and messaging from a lot of different angles and viewpoints to make sure we are thinking through all of the scenarios. When it came to the pandemic, we saw very quickly that there were some topics that were going to be incredibly polarizing. We did our best to remind people that we are human, and we are looking out for safety of visitors and staff. We also hid or deleted comments that did not follow our community guidelines.

We also tried to couple our information with resources for parents. We created content around tips for helping your child get comfortable wearing a mask, social narratives to prepare families for the changes at the museum, and live Q and A’s with health experts.

How do you handle negative online reviews or social media posts?

We used to reply to every single bad review and comment. In the past year, as we’ve seen commentary get more and more divisive and at times unproductive, we have been much more liberal with shutting down those conversations, banning people, and deleting/hiding comments if they do not follow our community guidelines. We do, however, reply to every legitimate bad review when it is relevant. We find that sometimes you can take what is perceived to be a terrible experience and turn it around just by showing the person that you are listening. We’ve had many examples of turning complainers into promoters by letting them know they were heard.

Does the museum use any printed communication materials anymore?

Yes, we still send very targeted direct mail communications. A few examples include renewal notifications (in combination with email and text reminders), lapsed member postcards, and our member magazine.

Communications 2012 vs. 2022: What has changed? Where do you see it going in the future?

Social media has become more and more dominated by the use of video. I also think content, especially video, has become less polished (not to be misconstrued as sloppy). When we first started our TikTok channel, for example, I had a very hard time with how raw the video was and how the copy we were using wasn’t 100 percent grammatically correct. Same with our first live video! But I think the trend of authentic, unpolished content will continue. I also think social media platforms will start putting emphasis back on more meaningful engagements. I hope this means we will see more genuine conversations and connections with the community.

From the advertising perspective, social media has gone from being fully organic to being a key player in our ad mix receiving 12 percent of our overall ad buy in 2022.

What are some overlooked avenues of communication?

These may not be overlooked by everybody, but these are some areas where we’ve seen success.

  • Influencers: We have a large group of local and regional micro/nano influencers we have built up over the years. When each new exhibit opens, we invite them to tour the exhibit before it opens to the public. We provide dinner and an exhibit-themed gift, and they help us spread the word! For our Dinosphere® event we had more than 400 social posts in one night.
  • Word of mouth/UGC (user-generated content): We use a service to aggregate all of our user photos and streamline the process for asking for permission to use them. We’ve used these photos in e-news, social posts, testimonials, and on the website to show a more authentic museum experience directly through the eyes of our visitors.
  • Employees: For several recent campaigns we put together social media kits for staff to help them feel more comfortable sharing information on their social channels. We have a staff of nearly 400, plus volunteers, board members, and a guild consisting of 100 volunteers who create a Haunted House on our property. Given the right tools, this huge group of promoters, who already love the museum, can help amplify our message. We provide them with approved copy and images custom-sized for each platform.

What are some of the biggest mistakes people make when trying to effectively communicate with their audience(s)?

One of the biggest challenges is trying to step away from the content—what you are trying to communicate—and see it through the eyes of the different people you are trying to reach. We tend to be so close to the topic that we may overlook something obvious that needs to be clarified in the messaging. I also think it’s important to observe or assume various roles throughout your museum so you can better understand the pain points visitors might be having. It’s one thing to hear about a struggle or a miscommunication from the customer service team; it’s another to see it happen with your own eyes.

What is your biggest social media success story? What is your biggest communications hurdle/challenge?


This is from a while ago, but I still consider it one of the best campaigns we have ever done. Back in 2014, when Dinosphere® was turning ten, we decided to throw a birthday party for our Spring Break experience with very limited dollars and resources. We ended up crowdsourcing a ten-day dino birthday party with a new user-generated idea featured each day. Each person who suggested a winning idea got to come to the museum with their family and experience it in person. One little girl suggested we turn our dino dome into a giant dino-sized birthday cake, so we did! Another child suggested we have carnivore and herbivore pizza, so we handed out free pizza in our café. We ultimately drove a ton of engagement and excitement around the birthday party and got to celebrate the creativity of some of our amazing community members. On top of that, we engaged other museums around the globe to wish Dinosphere® a happy birthday on their social media channels. We ended up with some really wide-reaching, creative mentions from our colleagues around the world.

Ongoing challenge:

Too many exciting things to talk about and not enough resources or digital real estate to cover it all!


Digging deeper into our strategy document, the core areas include:
  • • Challenges for the year countered with our strategic response.

Example from 2021:
Challenge: The world has changed because of the COVID pandemic.  There will be varying levels of comfort with returning to cultural institutions.
Strategic response: Ensure open lines of communication on safety across channels.

  • • Goals and objectives for the year

Example from 2021: Recapture general attendance

  • •  Messaging priorities for the year

Example from 2021: The museum provides a safe and FUN experience. Provide resources to prepare for your visit; show the ways we are keeping people safe; share testimonials from visitors.

  • •  Content Pillars (exhibits, events, community, and impact) and the percent share of voice they will be given.
  • •  Cross-channel voice, tone, and lexicon
  • • Channel differentiations (mission, role, audience, and content broken out by channel).
  • • New Initiatives for the year

Examples from 2021: Building our TikTok audience; increasing focus on Pinterest to drive a bigger virtual audience; redefining our influencer strategies.