By John Marks, Curator of Collections
Last fall we claimed a Facebook page for ourselves and I began posting old photos of
. It started off slowly – the key to
building a following is posting something every day – but at this writing we
have 724 “likes” and have an average of 4,000 unique visits a week. Geneva
It’s a lot of work to gather information about people who visit our museum, but with social media, the work is done for us. Facebook tracks statistics on all the people who visit our page (and this is why many people are uncomfortable with the Internet).
We have more women than men, about 65% to 35%. Agewise, it’s a classic bell curve with 45 to 54 year olds in the center. The next two largest groups are 35 to 44 year olds, and 55 to 64 year olds. Our biggest audiences are in
and surrounding towns and cities, but we also have followers in Canada, the United
Italy, Turkey, and . India
I don’t have a system for selecting photographs. I began with images that were already scanned and on my computer. While many were from the 1870s, I included scenes from the 1940s and 50s. I also recognized that not everyone has the same interests and tried to appeal to a wide audience. And I’ve resorted to letting my nine year old son pick photos (more on that in a moment).
Facebook is like high school: if you become a little popular, you want to become more popular. At first I was thrilled with 200 people clicking on a photo, then I wanted more numbers. People liked photos of bars (Cosie’s) and bands (Wilmer and the Dukes, the Echomen). They also like food; the lunch counter at McCurdy’s, and Pronti’s restaurant each had well over 2,000 views.
|Cosie’s, officially Sam’s Bar & Grill, early 2000s|
My son came to work with me recently and wanted a project. I handed him a three-ring binder full of slides and told him to pick some that I should post. He chose Kmart and Pudgie’s Pizza. I didn’t think they were special but, humoring the lad, I put them on. Kmart generated over 2,500 views, 150 likes, and about 50 comments; Pudgies Pizza did almost as well.
Kmart in the Pyramid Mall, Routes 5 & 20
After a few months, people began writing me with requests, which I fill if I can. A “white whale” is a bar owned by the Venuti family on the corner of
Railroad Place and Wadsworth Street known as “the Old
Man’s.” I’ve had many requests but can’t find an image. One woman pointed out
the lack of people of color in my photos, and I’ve addressed that, although
they are underrepresented in our collection. Another said she was born in 1970
and, while she enjoyed all the photos, she’d like to see more when she was
growing up. Apparently she wasn’t alone, as shown by the thousands of people
who remember Kmart and Pudgies’ in the 1970s.
|Baseball club from the High Street neighborhood|
Posting these photos achieve several things at once. It gets our collection out into the world. It creates interest in the historical society. It also starts conversations and connects people. The best photos are the ones that make people share memories, then they go off-topic (which is a good thing), then they see that a high school friend left a comment and begin reminiscing with each other.
We all have aspects of our jobs that aren’t what we signed up for, such as paperwork or committee meetings. Selecting a Facebook photo is the best ten minutes of my day because it’s exactly why I wanted to work in a museum – to make history accessible and personal and to spark conversation.