National Archives reveals its social media hits and misses

Editor's note: This story has been modified to clarify information.

Whether the National Archives and Records Administration is doing better with social media depends on which social media you consider. The agency's latest statistics indicate that its traffic on Facebook and its blogs is dropping, while numbers for its Flickr and YouTube offerings have risen sharply.

NARA has just released its May 2011 dashboard of social media channel views for the eight months from Oct. 1, 2010, to May 30, 2011, along with figures for the previous fiscal year.

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The data shows that Flickr is by far is the most popular social media tool for NARA fans, averaging more than 219,000 views per month in the first eight months of fiscal 2011. The Flickr content involves photographs and images of historic documents from the archives’ extensive collection, including the popular Today’s Document feature.

The data on Flickr views suggests those accounts are experiencing strong growth, with the average number of views per month more than doubling from 101,000 in fiscal 2010.

NARA’s YouTube account is making a strong showing in second place, averaging 54,000 views per month in fiscal 2011. That is more than triple the 17,000 average monthly views in fiscal 2010.

Jill James, the archives' social media manager, said the trends on Flickr and YouTube are exciting to watch and she believes the growing numbers indicate that the agency is effectively reaching target audiences on those social media sites. The trends also reflect, to some degree, the larger amount of content being published by the agency on those sites as well, she added.

"With Flickr and YouTube, we have been successful in tapping in those communities," James said in an interview on July 7.

At the same time, the average monthly traffic on NARA’s blogs and Facebook pages appears to be faltering. Its main Facebook page is only one of several it maintains.

The Facebook pages' average monthly views fell to 6,800 in fiscal 2011, compared to 16,000 in fiscal 2010, which is a nearly 60 percent reduction.

James said the agency's Facebook activity includes includes 10 Facebook pages operated by regional offices in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago and other cities. The Facebook pages primarily publicize archives events in those cities, she said.

"If traffic continues to go down, we may rethink that strategy," James added. 

The blogs’ average monthly views also dropped, to 16,000 per month in fiscal 2011, in comparison to 24,000 per month in fiscal 2010, which is a drop of nearly a third of its viewers.

The blogs are published on the national archives' website, and James said that bringing traffic to the agency website is more difficult than publishing content on social media sites, such as YouTube, where people are already congregating. "It is more challenging to bring people to your site than to go where the people are," she said. However, she also added that the blog viewing statistic might be undercounting traffic because it does not include people who read the blogs through an e-mail or syndication feed.

The Our Archives wiki, which was created in July 2010 as a crowdsourcing tool for historians, researchers, archivists and interested citizens to share and curate information, also was counted in the statistical report. Wiki average monthly views fell from roughly 14,000 per month during the three months it operated in fiscal 2010, down to 12,000 per month in fiscal 2011.

The dashboard provided data for eight months in fiscal 2011 and 12 months in fiscal 2010. To provide for year-to-year comparisons, monthly averages were calculated. Although such averages offer a good approximation of overall traffic and popularity, they might not fully reflect the impact of temporary spikes in traffic that might have occurred.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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