Case study: testing engagement on social media and website

This case study, from our Let’s Get Real action research program, looks at creating a ‘longform’, journalistic-style multi-media story and promoting it via social media. It involved curators and external partners in content creation and includes an analysis of performance against set goals and useful tips for undertaking a similar project.

About the participant:

Name: Elaine Macintyre

Organisation: National Museums Scotland

Jump to:

What was the research question behind your experiment? | Why was this important to your organisation? | What did you do to implement this? | What happened? | What were the personal challenges you faced when carrying out this experiment? | What did YOU learn? | What did YOUR ORGANISATION learn? | What next?

What was the research question behind your experiment?

Can we encourage our audience to read a longform story on a topic we know they’re interested in?

Can we persuade curators to work with us and is it worth our while investing energy in creating content that isn’t driven by our exhibition, event, and capital project programme?

Why was this important to your organisation?

We’re constantly experimenting with content forms across our social media channels but are more cautious in our approach on the NMS website. I wanted to shake this up a bit, creating a more journalistic, multi-media story, to see if this would appeal to online audiences. This is important as we’re investing a lot of time and energy in creating content around ten new galleries due to open at the National Museum of Scotland in summer 2016, and this experiment gave me the time and space to try different approaches in a less pressured, high profile environment.

What did you do to implement this?

I created a longform story which included three films, made in-house and featuring the Keeper of Scottish History and Archaeology and an external expert, the Creative Director at Cadies and Witchery Tours in Edinburgh. Besides highlighting the coffins, it drew on other areas of the collection from the period, including Scottish charms and objects associated with Deacon Brodie.

The story was accompanied by two blog posts and launched with an (unpaid) social media campaign across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. The story was released at Hallowe’en, to maximise its spooky credentials.

What happened?

Engagement on NMS website

  1. The first goal was for an increase in the number of views of the previous Arthur’s Seat coffin page (which received around 1.4K page views per month). The aim was to double this figure during October and November 2015.

This was achieved. From 26 October to 18 November 2015 the Mystery of the Miniature Coffins page was viewed 13,665 times, making it the 11th most popular page on the site. During the Hallowe’en week (26/10/15–2/11/2015) it was the fifth most viewed page (the first time an object story has made the top 5).

  1. The second goal was for evidence that some readers have engaged more deeply with the website content: longer dwell time on the page (currently 24 seconds)

This was also achieved as dwell time rose to 40 seconds – still not long enough to read the whole page, but an increase of 66%.

  1. The third goal was for evidence that some readers have engaged more deeply with the website content by clicking on links to other areas of the website.

This was unclear as the bounce rate of the page was just 4%, which compares very favourably with the average bounce rate for that period (12%) and suggests that people directed to the page through social media links moved on to view further content. However, the exit rate was 47%, suggesting that people who were already on the site and had navigated to the page then left the site.

Engagement on Social Media

The main goal here was evidence of engagement on Twitter and Facebook. For Twitter we were aiming for a 5% engagement rate (engagement is the total number of times a user clicks anywhere on a tweet and includes retweets, replies, follows, likes, links, cards, hashtags, embedded media, username, profile photo, or tweet expansion). For Facebook we wanted a 10K reach with 1K engaged users for the main post.

We broadly achieved this goal. Whilst we narrowly missed a 5% engagement rate on Twitter, the overall response was very good (4.5%). The three Facebook posts about the coffins were the most popular posts that period (26/10/2015–18/11/2015). All smashed the target.

What were the personal challenges you faced when carrying out this experiment?

The biggest challenge was definitely finding time to edit the films. I’d anticipated problems involving curators and external experts but in fact it was my time that posed the biggest problem. I hadn’t realised how long it would take to edit the films in-house.

What did YOU learn?

The project was experimental in three areas, and provided useful results in each:

In-house film-making:

  • No matter what time of day, the museum is noisy. Invest in a proper microphone or find a quieter location.
  • When filming, shoot more ‘ambient’ footage for cutaways, e.g. the curator looking at the objects, walking down the corridor, etc.
  • Think carefully about how to open and close the film and make sure the speaker pauses between sections.
  • It takes a long time to edit films.
  • A film doesn’t need to be perfectly polished for people to watch and share it. It’s the content that counts.


  • The curators were happy to collaborate on a project that wasn’t specifically tied to an exhibition or other current work, but it’s important to make the most of the time they have to give you.
  • External partners were also keen to work on the project, and very co-operative. I made several new, useful contacts through the project.


  • The right content can do well on social media without paid promotion.
  • Timing is everything. Releasing the story at Hallowe’en, when people are hungry for ‘spooky’ content, was key to its success.


  • Longform stories are time-consuming to create but, backed with a strong social media campaign and released at the right time, can be a success for the organisation.
  • Planning and research are vital: is there an interest in the subject? How can we build on that interest to challenge the audience’s perceptions or perhaps give them more than they expect?
  • New projects like this must be carefully evaluated against robust targets, to ensure the effort continues to be worthwhile.

What next? 

I’ll be using this experiment as a basis for future content planning and also to fuel future discussions about in-house film-making (in that I’ve proved it’s worth the effort if the content is right, but we need more resources and skills for it to be successful on an ongoing basis, and not a drain on people’s time).