Affiliation: School of Information and Library Science
Social media managers may not be the first people that come to mind during a pandemic – their work is trivialized, undervalued, and denigrated as tasks any young person could perform. However, they are one of few, if not the only, information professionals at cultural institutions able to nurture scholarship, creativity, and imagination digitally during worldwide shutdowns. While library and museum staff believe social media is important (and will become even more so in the future) many organizations have no strategy for its use nor measure their efforts (Oosman et al., 2014; Aerni & Schegg, 2017; OCLC, 2018). In response to this absence of guidance, this study takes a practitioner-centered approach to learn how these communicators define, perform, and evaluate their work. This research uses longitudinal interpretative phenomenological analysis (LIPA) and dramaturgical metaphors to uncover and document social media managers’ lived experiences and the evolution of their role during the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Results are then used to inform a descriptive framework of social media work at cultural institutions and map participant descriptions of virtual content and programming to a continuum of institutional practices. These applications offer guidance for cultural institutions looking to better support their social media communicators and ultimately foster more meaningful engagement with broader audiences.