Located in a small north Louisiana town, the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training, a research division of the National Park Service, has struggled to maintain its profile among the audience of historic preservation professionals it serves as well as its own parent organization.
In 2006, NCPTT became one of the first heritage preservation organizations to adopt a coordinated social media strategy. The National Center began integrating podcasts, online video, photo sharing and social networks around its organizational blog and sharing its content through Creative Commons.
While the organization was able to distribute its content broadly and cheaply, its audiences were not yet engaged in, and often distrustful of, online technologies. NCPTT partnered in the development of targeted organic online networks to help its audiences take the first steps toward online engagement. One tactic included a Ning network for the robust heritage community where the National Center is located, supported by a weekly column in the local newspaper. It also partnered with the journalism department at the local university to develop a site dedicated to connecting heritage professionals in new media called “Voices of the Past.”
Combined with consistent, quality content related to its own mission of “advancing the use of science and technology in historic preservation,” NCPTT has effectively raised its profile and influence as a federal organization and a historic preservation leader. In December 2009, it was named “website of the week” by Government Video Magazine and the technology blog HoneyTech named it number four on its list of the world’s top ten government websites powered by WordPress.
Hi, my name is Jeff Guin. For the last three years, I’ve been helping people advocate for their cultural heritage by building trusted relationships on the web.
An object does not contain value by virtue of its age. The Rosetta Stone *is* ultimately just a stone. Its *shared story* is what added a whole new dimension to our humanity.
So my dilemma has been how to connect online with an audience that isn’t quite there. But given my organization’s small size and national role, how could we afford not to try?
Help them meet in the middle, step by step.
We started internally, with a continuing training series featuring new media experts. These people keep our staff grounded in the principles of social networking.
These experts also have strong connections to some aspect of their heritage. So we’re gaining powerful advocates on the web, even as they teach us to engage in the spirit of openness.
This means *respecting* the fact that people have different comfort levels in beginning with new media and meeting them where they are.
This was especially true early on with our local audience in the town of Natchitoches, Louisiana.
… which also happens to be my hometown. It’s a place rich in history with almost 30 active heritage preservation organizations that partner effectively.
It gave me my sense of heritage values and I wanted to give back something that would provide a safe and simple way for these people to start communicating online.
So we collaborated to create a community-driven site focused on local projects, like the crisis recovery of museum contents after the Kate Chopin House was destroyed by fire in 2008.
This inspired small towns in other states to build similar sites. That got me thinking …
Connecting a community that shares a geographic identity is one thing. But now we have the ability to create global communities around ideas.
Even as these networks began to grow organically, I knew their audiences needed a “bridge” between new media and old.
For the hometown network, I write a weekly column for the local newspaper on heritage issues, including updates from the website.
For Voices of the Past, we’ve partnered with the local university journalism program to give our media production values similar to what people expect from their local news stations.
The relationships and lessons emerging from these networks have made a big impact on my own organization as it engages online.
Many more people are visiting our site and interacting with our content. For the first time, we can go to preservation conferences and people know who we are.
You don’t have to totally change the game to make a tangible difference in the world. You can get recognition just by being out there and never giving up…
Whatever you’re doing today is making history. So many of our ancestors have faded into the past, never having had an opportunity to make their voices heard.
Yet they still made it possible for all of us to enjoy the capabilities of finding our own voices today.
That’s a legacy worth passing on.