The Minnesota Historical Society’s Local History Services helps Minnesotans preserve and share their history. This blog is a resource of best practices on the wide variety of museum, preservation, conservation, funding, and non-profit management topics. We’re here to help.
From Ice Cream Socials to Social Networking
There is a deep desire to be social. There is a deep and sometimes urgent desire to raise cash. There is a deep desire to eat ice cream. The ice cream social for over a century has, more or less successfully, has attempted to fulfill all those desires in one amazing event.
Ice cream, if you pardon the pun, was a hot commodity in the beginning of the 19th century as commercial Ice Cream Gardens appeared around America and England and offered a variety of sweet treats in a garden like setting and some even offered music. These gardens gave way to Ice Cream Socials as the cost of ice cream became less expensive and churches duplicated the ice cream gardens to use them as fundraising events.
No one back then called it an “Old Fashioned" Ice Cream Social. Ice Cream Socials in the good-ol'-days were innovative - marketing genius. I am unsure just when the words "Old Fashioned" were regularly added to "Ice Cream Social", probably when it ceased to be innovative.
However, ice cream socials as mentioned at the beginning, if done correctly could satisfy a community's social, monetary and sweet tooth needs. Note that Ice Cream Socials far out numbered Brussels Sprout Socials, Broccoli Socials and Castor Oil Socials combined. Something about a sweet treat just spells out success and a guaranteed ability to attract people (Lutefisk Socials however have always been a mystery to me).
An ice cream social was an easy if not tasty way for the community to show its support.
But an ice cream social was indeed a "social" event too not just a way to raise cash. Otherwise ice cream without the social is simply as fundraising oriented as selling Girl Scout Cookies or Fuller Brushes. "Social" provides a chance for the organizations members to come together and "Ice Cream" provides the key ingredient.
I know organizations where they actually loose money on the Ice Cream Social and still consider it a success. That is what is called a loss leader. You loose money on the event/product but gain it back in sales of another product or increased memberships or simply in the difficult to monetize - strengthen of community bonds. In military terms - you may loose a battle but win the war.
In building an organizations presence on Facebook, folks could learn a thing or two from ice cream socials.
Provide real content: It is not good enough to say you're having an ice cream social only to surprise them by making them sit through a two hour long seminar on the legacy value of leaving your organization in their will when they do their estate planning before they can get their miserable little scoop of ice cream and yet amazingly that is what organizations do when all they do is use Facebook like a press release feed. Content is king with social media and historical societies and museums often lucky enough to have an embarrassing amount of content. You want to lead them back to your web site. Social networking does not work until you start producing things on your web site that people want to go to.
Provide a sweet treat: It is one thing to get someone to "Like" you it is another thing to balance your posts so they don't "Unlike" you or even worse simply "Hide" you from their news feed. So what you provide not only has to be original content but the content you provide has to be relevant to your audience. But what is relevant? Relevant does not necessary mean good for you. Remember, Ice Cream Socials are way more popular than Brussel Sprout Socials. So it is content that is simple, tastes good, easy to eat, fun and appeal to a wide audience.
I am not saying that you should not go ahead and post your organization's fifty events at once or post your research article Effects of the Disappearance of the Rocky Mountain Locust on Biodynamic corn Production in the late 19th Century American Midwest, just that the Facebook "News Feed" that appears when you log in posts does not list the most recent posts. Instead it is a complicated algorithm that aggregates posts Facebook thinks you will find most desirable based on things like the popularity of the post - or of posts similar to it; Do your friends like the post?; Have you "Liked" a post from that organization before?; How many times has your organization posted in the last hour, etc, etc...
That is why it is important to space out your event postings and why things like "Object of the Day", "Guess this Object", "Then & Now", This Day in History and. They are easy to view and easy to "Like"
Be Social: I have never heard of an "Ice Cream Business Networking" event. An Ice Cream Social may not be the best time to pass out business cards and it simply may wind up annoying any potential customers, it is a time to kick back, relax and get to know your community through ice cream.
As with social media, now is not the time to put on your professional face. Carefully crated posts in the Chicago Manual of Style may win the hearts of traditional media for your press releases, but frankly it is dull, formulaic and frankly now is chance to give your brand a little personality. Many of the social media sites are a chance to get to know your followers (admirers).
What are you doing to build community on Facebook and other social media sites? Are you really engaging? What are you doing right that others can learn from? What do you find most difficult in building and engaging with your community?