Tweets are Cheap: A Content Analysis of Twitter Use by US Government Archival Institutions

Jamie Schleser, USA

Tasked with collecting and preserving the texts and artifacts that serve as the raw material of history, archives and libraries are essential cultural heritage institutions. As continued government support of these efforts at sustainable levels becomes less certain as a result of the prevailing economic climate, social media offer a relatively inexpensive opportunity to engage with a broad audience. Raising awareness among the general public by communicating the importance and inherent value of the work that archival institutions do is essential for ensuring their continued support. This study examines emergent use of microblogging platform Twitter by US government archival institutions in order to identify what types of messages this tool is currently being used to convey, to ascertain how it can be used to drive engagement with the public, and to make recommendations to improve the effectiveness of future social media use by these important civic organizations. Statistical descriptive analysis and quantitative content analysis of tweets by national and state government archives will be used to answer the following questions: 1) What kinds of information are being communicated?; 2) Are users being driven to physical or digital collections, exhibits, and events?; 3) How are Twitter conventions like categorizing, hyperlinking, and echoing being used?; 4) Is the communication one-way or are users being engaged in a meaningful way?; and 5) Are archivists and librarians using Twitter as a platform to advocate for their work? Comparative analysis will also identify any important differences in how Twitter is being used by premier national archival institutions like the Library of Congress and the National Archives and Records Administration and smaller state archival institutions, which have typically been slower to embrace social media. This research will provide a model for examining Twitter use in other categories of cultural heritage institutions and serve as a baseline for future studies exploring other dimensions of government archival institutions’ use of social media to expand engagement with the public.