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The Tweeting Cemetery – Oakland Cemetery’s Social Media Success

by James Ball on February 18, 2010

The writing may not bear any resemblance to Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone with the Wind”, but there is some common ground here, quite literally. The writing is in the form of 140 character “tweets” posted to from the Oakland Cemetery account, and Margaret Mitchell is in fact buried there.

Meet what may possibly be the world’s most engaged and active cemetery on the social web: Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta, Georgia. I was very intrigued when I discovered the cemetery on Twitter, and I’ve been along for the ride ever since. What began as a curious interest has become a pretty amazing success story.

Oakland Cemetery is one of my personal all-time favorite historical attractions in Atlanta, and the fact that they are so active on the social web excites me! The cemetery has a vibrant Facebook fan base and an active Flickr presence as well. I couldn’t help but notice that there was a well thought out strategy in place here. I’m excited to be sharing this story with you today.

Social media has given Oakland Cemetery a voice and a personality.

“I have my own philosophies around how businesses should engage (in social media), and I apply these to my own interactions while representing the Oakland Cemetery name. As with all entities, it is about finding your voice and creating a personality for something that doesn’t have one.” – Chad Elkins

The cemetery has Chad Elkins to thank for its social media success; he is the living soul behind the tweets and social media strategy. Mr. Elkins is a volunteer at Oakland Cemetery, and he is leading the social media initiative. It’s evident to me that he has more than just a clue about marketing and social media. It sounds a little strange to say it, but Chad is the community manager for the cemetery.

“Initially, it may seem odd for a cemetery to be involved in social media, but Oakland is just as much a part of the Atlanta attraction market as other venues. It is not only a city park, but also an important landmark rich with history.” – Chad Elkins

Chad fully understands the challenges that many nonprofit organizations face. Oakland Cemetery is dependent on the donations and volunteer efforts of its supporters for the needed upkeep and restoration efforts for history’s sake. Chad recognized social media for its potential to raise awareness and rally support for Oakland Cemetery. I am happy to relay that social media has had a positive impact on the cemetery, it’s working!

The cemetery’s social media strategy is well aligned with the mission it supports.

“The mission of the Historic Oakland Foundation, Inc. is to cultivate resources to assist the City of Atlanta in the preservation, restoration and beautification of historic Oakland Cemetery and to promote it as a local cultural resource and as a historic site of national importance.

As the guardians of Historic Oakland Cemetery, we want to engage as many people as possible in the protection and promotion of Atlanta’s most tangible link to the past.” – Historic Oakland Foundation

I’ve spent a few evenings talking with Chad about Oakland Cemetery and social media. It has been a pleasure to hear Chad talk about higher turnouts for the events that the cemetery hosts. Hearing that the interest in volunteerism is up is encouraging too! I’ve enjoyed my talks with Chad, and watching all of the creative ways that Chad has added value to this space has truly been an inspiration to me.   

“I don’t see the Atlanta attractions and venues as competitors, but more as all a part of one cohesive ecosystem that must help and promote one another. As we each individually grow and succeed, then we all as a community and city reap the benefits.  This concept is why a very large portion of what I share on Twitter has nothing to do with Oakland at all and is geared around sharing other events around Atlanta that I feel our followers would be interested in seeing.” – Chad Elkins

When I congratulated Chad on the increase that I’ve witnessed in the following and fans of Oakland Cemetery, I actually got the response that I expected: “I would rather Oakland have 100 followers who actively engage with me and who learn from one another than a hundred thousand people that I never hear from. This medium is not about just raw numbers.” Chad also believes that “Non-profit organizations should engage and interact in social media outlets just like other businesses and people do.” I couldn’t agree more.

Oakland Cemetery is doing great work folks. I hate to state the obvious, but if a cemetery can be this engaged and have such a positive impact, there simply isn’t much left by way of excuse for anyone not to put forth the effort. Take some time and scroll through Oakland Cemetery’s tweets. Become a Facebook fan and enjoy the experience there. Head over to the Flickr group and enjoy the pictures of this incredible landmark. It won’t take but a minute or two for you to discern that there is much that we can learn about social media from Chad Elkins and Oakland Cemetery.

If this story has surprised, impressed, or amazed you please leave me a comment today. I learn much from you and I enjoy the conversation!

If you are so inspired, I’m sure that the foundation would be very grateful for your support as well.


Taryn Pisaneschi February 18, 2010 at 1:44 pm

James, what a lovely post. I especially like how you said "Oakland Cemetery is doing great work folks. I hate to state the obvious, but if a cemetery can be this engaged and have such a positive impact, there simply isn’t much left by way of excuse for anyone not to put forth the effort." It really puts things into perspective. This is a perfect example of taking lemons and making the best damn lemonade, and lemon cupcakes and lemon pie that someone has ever had. You identify how they stand out, how they engage and how they CONTINUE to keep fans engaged to the point where you have written something about it and will recruit OTHERS to be engaged. Now THAT'S what social media is all about.

– @TarynP

James Ball February 18, 2010 at 1:54 pm

Thank you Taryn, the kind words mean a lot to me coming from you! Oakland is an incredible place, and local to you and I. Perhaps we can all get together with Chad and have a tweetup at Oakland! It truly is an incredible place.

Chad has taken it to a whole new level with his efforts. He gives “In the OC (Oakland Cemetery)” history facts on Twitter and Facebook about the notable people laid to rest there…fascinating stuff. He’s also doing all he can to promote Atlanta attractions and businesses. If you weren’t already aware, I’m glad that you are now! Thank you for leaving a comment Taryn, I do appreciate it!

Sue Rodman February 18, 2010 at 2:53 pm

I'd be up for a tweet up at Oakland – I missed the Bones and Beer event. I've known about Oakland for a while, but only recently have I discovered all the wonderful events and fun things to do there. I always look forward to Oakland's tweets. They're informative and funny. Chad's personality and voice are part of the reason for Oakland's success. It's not just getting out there on social media, it's having the courage to let personality shine through. I don't know about you, but that is difficult for me.

James Ball February 18, 2010 at 3:16 pm

I’m so glad that you are aware of Chad and Oakland Cemetery. I assumed that you were, as you are so on top of all things “Atlanta”! Chad mentioned that he has organized a tweetup there before, and had a pretty good attendance. Chad, if you’re reading this – you have some strong Atl. Support for the next one!!

I really appreciate you stopping by and leaving a comment Sue. Keep up the awesome work you do for Atlanta!

@ratpack February 18, 2010 at 5:53 pm

Thank you for the kind words Sue! Definitely missed you at the first Bones and Beer tweetup ( For those not familiar, in November we put together a tour combined with social/mixer time across the street at a restaurant from the cemetery. We only promoted it on Facebook/Twitter and were pleased with the success (especially given it was on a Saturday during college football season). I will be meeting with the staff at Oakland soon about another event which I would love to do in the spring when we kick off our tour season. I have some other ideas around how to change this one some and alter it in order to appeal more to the blogging community. Will definitely share the details once we get them ironed out and hope you can make the next one.

James Ball February 18, 2010 at 6:58 pm

Chad! Thanks for taking the time to reply to the comments here and adding EVEN MORE insight. I appreciate it!

indepthwraps February 18, 2010 at 3:34 pm

Enjoyed this article so much, I read it out loud to John as we were driving to a meeting this morning. Funny, Taryn's pullout was also my favorite takeaway from this…from your perspective. I have a hard time making vehicle wraps exciting in tweets, but that's not why I tweet. We're on twitter for the interaction with all of the great folks we've met, like you and Taryn and many others…and I have come to depend on (and really enjoy) the information we all share. That said, when it's time to talk vehicle wraps, I think I may need to take a note from Chad. 🙂

James Ball February 18, 2010 at 4:08 pm

Thank you for commenting Torri. I can imagine you two headed down the road reading blog posts aloud! I’m glad you found some good input here today. This post was so fun to write, and I had some amazing conversations with Chad. I learned a lot, and I’m so happy that you found something to take away from the post today as well!

indepthwraps February 18, 2010 at 3:35 pm

the rest of the comment… 🙂

This quote from Chad…."I would rather Oakland have 100 followers who actively engage with me and who learn from one another than a hundred thousand people that I never hear from. This medium is not about just raw numbers.” …sums up our entire social media philosophy, and it's the reason I sing the medium's praises when clients ask about "this whole twitter thing".

James Ball February 18, 2010 at 3:58 pm

You are an incredible spokesperson for social media Torri!

@Brandon101 February 18, 2010 at 3:50 pm

Great post James! Oakland Cemetery is right across the street from my loft, but I had no idea they were on Twitter and Facebook. I just joined them in both places. So exciting to see this kind of engagement from an unlikely organization!

I love the idea of a Tweetup! I would be happy to host an 'after-party' if it comes to pass. 🙂

Thanks for the inspiration today!

James Ball February 18, 2010 at 4:12 pm

I’m actually a little jealous that you live that close to all of the cool stuff in Atlanta! But you know what? I think that you and Chad should absolutely connect. I can envision a pretty impressive dynamic there! As for the tweetup and after party…walk over there and work it out with Chad, I’m there! Thanks for your comment Brandon, it’s always a pleasure!

@ratpack February 18, 2010 at 6:15 pm

I look forward to meeting you soon Brandon. Please give me a heads up when you visit.

indepthwraps February 18, 2010 at 4:16 pm

Ditto the jealousy, James. I wouldn't trade our home in the foothills for anything but I do sometimes wonder "how the other half lives". Sign me up for an OC tweetup…but only if he'll tell us a few good ghost stories! 🙂

@JustinKownacki February 18, 2010 at 5:35 pm

Yes, BUT, keep in mind two things:

* The idea of a cemetery using social media to engage (living) citizens is a novelty, and that novelty is what makes people pay attention.

* Not every business, charity or organization (much less individuals) understand what makes them unique — or, worse, not everyone IS unique — which means their use of social media wouldn't be cause for interest among the public, per se.

If "a" cemetery can succeed in this capacity, that's cool (and news). If EVERY cemetery adopted this approach, it would become a commodity (and, by default, ignored by the masses).

Maybe the real lesson is a universal observation: the smartest communicators are the ones who marry their discussable quirks to innovative communication tools EARLY in the adoption cycle of those tools, while the mere use of a tool qualifies as news.

@ratpack February 18, 2010 at 6:22 pm

I don't agree with your statement of Oakland's use on Twitter being simply a "novelty". Oakland is an Atlanta historical venue that has just as much of a reason to engage with the public in this medium as any tourist destination or non-profit organization. People pay attention and interact with Oakland not under a simple notion of "hey cool I'm talking to a cemetery", but in a much deeper capacity than that. To state otherwise is simply not factual nor a representation of what we are doing here.

On your second point, I will agree that sometimes organizations may need help identifying what it is that makes them unique and to help guide them in finding their "voice" or "presence". Your addition of not everyone is unique is also a generalization that I don't believe at all.

James Ball February 18, 2010 at 6:25 pm

*I would argue that value, relevance, and reputation are also a very large part of what gets and KEEPS people’s attention. It’s true that novelty is a great supplier of many things, but novelty is certainly not a sound long term tactic.

*I totally agree with your second point, and this is what Chad spent the better part of our conversation addressing. This presented as a challenge to him. Recognizing the need to have a voice that was both true and unique are seemingly what has been accomplished in this case. Though this is exactly what so many fail to establish and/or achieve, no?

This: “Maybe the real lesson is a universal observation: the smartest communicators are the ones who marry their discussable quirks to innovative communication tools EARLY in the adoption cycle of those tools, while the mere use of a tool qualifies as news." was perfect.
I appreciate the thought provoking conversation Justin. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment here today.

@billymitchell1 February 18, 2010 at 6:59 pm

Wow. I live in Atlanta, love history and really enjoyed this article. I sure know of Oakland Cemetary but had no idea they were on twitter. First of all, thanks for the great post and second of all, I'm going to retweet this now.

James Ball February 18, 2010 at 7:06 pm

Thank you for your kind words, the comment, and the support! Stop in anytime, your readership and comments are much appreciated!

@DesireeScales February 18, 2010 at 3:30 pm

Taryn, I second that notion. At first I thought this was a pretty weird concept for a cemetery to participate in social media, but now I "get it." What a great way to celebrate Atlanta's rich history. What I'm dying to know, pun intended, is if he's had any ghost tweets come back?

@ratpack February 18, 2010 at 6:05 pm

Seeing a cemetery on Twitter can look a little surprising for those that aren't familiar with Oakland as a historical "museum" of sorts and as a city park/greenspace. I think this is also a challenge when trying to promote Oakland to the Atlanta community as some may see it as simply a cemetery and not the other wonderful things that it provides. What I try to do is push past the mindset of Oakland being "just a cemetery" and help reach out to the community and show them it is really an "attraction" in Atlanta for both tourists and locals alike. When I set out and took on this medium I did it with the mindset that the OC is just as much a member of that community as the Atlanta Symphony, Fernbank, or GA Aquarium (among others) are.

James Ball February 18, 2010 at 3:46 pm

Oakland’s tweets are historical, informative, funny, and there are “Boo-yahs”, which I think are similar to a #follow Friday shout-out. I’ve seen Boo tweets, and I imagine that there are some pretty BIG stories from Oakland Cemetery that Chad could talk about. I’m glad that I got to point out Oakland Cemetery’s fine use of social media today, and that it made sense to you Desiree. I hold your opinion in high regard! Thank you for your comment!

@ratpack February 18, 2010 at 6:14 pm

Ha! I definitely think you can't hide the fact that Oakland is a cemetery. Not only do I think you shouldn't hide from that fact, you should embrace it and try to have fun with it. The "Boo-Yahs" are somewhat similar to follow fridays but I use them more as a way to say thank you for your interaction with me/retweeting posts. The "boo" part there being a prime example of playing on the cemetery notion for sure. You'll also see a lot of really bad puns which I try to sneak in on occasion, again embracing and not hiding the fact we are a cemetery on Twitter. Another term coined on Twitter was calling Oakland Cemetery "The OC" after that popular teen show from a few years ago. I started that for two purposes: 1) OC is shorter on Twitter than writing out the full Oakland or Oakland Cemetery name and 2) it is rather comical in a play on the cemetery being hip and not a stuffy place.

@PRBeckyBiggs February 18, 2010 at 9:41 pm

I discovered the Cemetery's Twitter account several months ago and it has quickly become one of my favorites. Thanks for sharing more about the brains behind the great digital strategy. 🙂

James Ball February 18, 2010 at 9:52 pm

This was a real pleasure to write. Getting to know more about Chad and the cemetery was a bonus! I'm glad that you found your way here and liked the article. Thank you for your comment!

Chris Jordan February 19, 2010 at 2:44 am

James, Outstanding post, my friend! I never knew about Oakland Cemetery and am definitely going to check it out. And it's intriguing to me that a cemetery found such a unique way to get involved in this space. Great work as always James!

James Ball February 19, 2010 at 3:11 am

Thanks Chris, I had a great time and learned a lot in the research and writing. I’m glad that you know of the OC and Chad now…I hope that you enjoy it and are as inspired by the exposure as I’ve been! I appreciate your support Mr. Jordan!

randy barnes February 19, 2010 at 2:48 am


This is an excellent and insightful piece. You have shed light on my second favorite spot in Atlanta, (behind THis place fascinates me and I have been many times, but always alone. We too often forget about the the giant thing right in front of us and I, who should have known, was clueless to the twitter stream but will be following them a soon as I click out of here.

You can likely guess by now that I've done a video there. This is one of my early pieces when I was just beginning to try some things so its quite dull. Still if anyone wants a little look at the place this will fit the bill.

I'm going to be looking out for Chad and will be visiting "Miss Fiddle-dee-dee" again very soon. I'll tweet a little notice in case anyone want to have an instant tweet-up or may be on the grounds.

Keep up the great work.

James Ball February 19, 2010 at 3:19 am

Oh Randy, you'll LOVE the Twitter stream. I'm happy that you too are now aware, especially because you already love the location! I appreciate the video link Randy…I am always impressed that you have such a collection and skills! Thanks for your comment today. I look forward to the next time we meet in town!

Amy February 19, 2010 at 4:15 pm

Yesterday at a meeting in the Bell Tower at Oakland (where the offices of the Historic Oakland Foundation and museum/gift shop are located), a few of us looked out the window to observe two people walking dogs and another one jogging. We all agreed that "that" is what makes Oakland Cemetery terrific! It is not only a repository for people, art, sculpture and things of the past, it's a great resource and park for Atlantans today! You also regularly see office workers enjoying a picnic lunch, people reading, taking photos, and so much more than just touring the graves of, well, dead people.

James Ball February 19, 2010 at 5:45 pm

Thanks for adding such a descriptive comment! It should help paint a picture for those who have never spent some time at Oakland Cemetery. I appreciate your input Amy!

Beth Dolgner February 19, 2010 at 8:01 pm

Great article, James! Oakland has been my favorite spot in Atlanta for years, but it was Twitter that finally got me actively involved with the cemetery. Chad picked up on my tweets about my book of Georgia ghost stories and arranged for me to do a book signing at Oakland during the Halloween tours. It was a win-win for both of us. I had so much fun that I turned in my volunteer application and am currently going through training to work in the visitors' center/gift shop.

James Ball February 19, 2010 at 10:53 pm

Thank you so much Beth, what you've shared validates much of what I've tried to point out in this post in a real and tangible way. The book signing sounds like it was a great day for everyone! Best of luck with your training and work at Oakland. I know you'll love it!

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