I’m thrilled today to introduce a project that combines my biggest interests–oral storytelling and cultural heritage outreach through crowdsourcing. It’s appropriately called Tell History.
And it was developed by Alex Whitcomb and Sarah Hayes. They’re crowdsourcing video-based memories that they tie to themes, timelines and maps. We all have a friend or relative who has a fascinating story to tell. TellHistory.com can help you help them to share that story in historical context. It’s also an inspiring story about how you can take your passion, and evolve it into a platform for the greater good. The interview starts with Alex and Sarah describing their own bit of history in the development of this project….
Crowdsourcing Historical Memory Topics
What has the response been like?
I know from personal experience that it can be very difficult to build engagement in digital projects. How have you gotten so many folks to contribute videos to the project?
Tell me a little about how Tell History works …
I think it’s interesting that you use a Theme of the Week to focus your contributions. How do you identify those?
What kind of audiences are contributing to Tell History, and what kind of stories are capturing your attention?
You’ve made it very easy for folks contribute to Tell History. Describe that process …
How have you been using social media to support the growth of Tell History?
What kind of stories and themes are you focusing on for the future?
Describe what your “big picture” goal is for Tell History …
A project of this scope only happens because of people who believe in you and what you’re trying to achieve. Are there any folks who have contributed to the site that you’d like to give a shout-out to?
I managed development of a museum interactive for an exhibit called The Alchemical Quest, which featured rare books. The books originated during the golden age of alchemy, from the 16th and 17th centuries and were drawn from the collections of the Othmer Library of Chemical History. The report below documents the project team’s efforts to make these texts accessible and alive to visitors via a touch projection technology museum interactive.
Reinforce the depth and complexity presented in the exhibition content
Implicitly reiterate the exhibition narratives while allowing for visitors to enjoy the imagery of the books through the interactive experience
Provide visitors with alternate means of experiencing the books in the exhibition
Foster curiosity and encourage deeper exploration of images and text
Demonstrate an example of an alchemical process in its entirety
Reflect the fantastical and practical balance found within the books
My career is in digital media now, and I’m grateful for that. But my younger self romanticized the notion of being a newspaper journalist. Almost 20 years later, the university student newspaper I edited is celebrating 100 years of publication and digitization of its archive. Its tradition may not be yet be gone with the wind, but is certainly being buffeted by modern reality. Here are my thoughts looking back on that time.]
As a painfully introverted Northwestern State University pre-forestry major in 1990, I made one of those classic freshman errors that changes the direction of one’s life forever. In my case, it was taking Intro to Mass Comm class as an elective, a move that derailed any dreams of making a career among trees and not people. Following one class, instructor Tom Whitehead declared I should be writing for the paper and that he was sending me to meet the Current Sauce editor in the journalism suite.
I couldn’t immediately think of an excuse not to, which destined me to spend the remainder of my college life working in the “J-Lab.” It was a indeed a laboratory where an experimental tradition of combined curiosity, tenacity and vision manifested in journalism that reflected ourselves as much as the world around us.
My time as editor-elect was when I first discovered my life’s purpose, though the emergence of social media a decade later that would finally give form to it. It was a time of dreaming about what my paper might be like, and exploring the wonder of historical perspective by looking back through the archives dating back to the earliest Current Sauce issues —identifying the best parts of its legacy, and evolving them with a new generation of writers and editors.
Our “experiments” were published on Tuesday morning, usually after a bleary all-nighter. Still we all anticipated noon, when we could savor a printed copy of our creation. The savoring slowly turned to stewing with each typo found leading up to 3 o’clock. For that was the appointed hour we assembled on that stickiest of all wickets—Media Writing Class, which began with the gang …er,.. group critique of the paper led by Dr. Sara Burroughs. If you are familiar with the character of Lady Catherine de Bourgh in Pride and Prejudice, you have a sense of Dr. Burroughs.
Indeed, a weekly beating with a cricket bat would have been the quicker and less painful experience than those critiques. They examined every possible element of journalistic decision making that went into the issue—style, tone, grammar, placement, length and even design. The most thorough contributions came from classmates who had not (nor even cared to) write for the newspaper. The experience introduced me to the nuance of three critical career lessons:
Fight fearlessly for the things that matter.
Recognize a stalemate and change the conversation if you can.
Take it on the chin when it’s due but always keep moving forward.
The beauty of the critiques is that they inspired more determination than defeat. If there was one thing wish I could have done better, it would have been to learn these lessons earlier in my college career and express much more gratitude for my co-editors both as people and as journalists capable of leading the paper in their own right. The talent, work ethic and diversity we had on staff that year was a source of endless conflict, but a profoundly rare gift.
We blew off steam like all proper journalism nerds—with more work. On publishing a tabloid “April Fools” insert along with the regular 12-page broadsheet, Tommy congratulated me on producing the most expensive issue of the Current Sauce ever. I congratulated him on witnessing publication of the Current Sauce’s finest edition ever. Around that time the editorial staff road tripped to Atlanta for the SSPJ conference where the Current Sauce was in competition for the first time. For all our bravado, no one was more shocked that us when we took home several awards, including an honorable mention for best overall newspaper.
We were fortunate to share one more unexpected and gratifying moment that meant more than an award. It was the end of the spring semester and the editorial staff were visibly worse for wear when we assembled for one of our last meetings. Suddenly, Dr. Burroughs appeared in the office—the first time I could recall seeing her in the suite. “This was an exceptional year for the paper,” she said. “Certainly, we’ve torn it to pieces every week, but I just wanted you all to know that.” With a wink she was off, like St. Nick.
Nearly 20 years later, I’ve worked in the digital media space in Center City Philadelphia, and am about to embark on a new adventure in Miami Beach. Two very different cultural environments than where I came from, yet I still find the lessons from that time enduring and influential. The cycles of experimentation and evolution, and the continual refinement finding one’s place in the world can be painful, but they are the ingredients of a legacy that spans generations.
As part of the celebration of the newspaper’s 100th year, Northwestern State University scanned every issue of the Current Sauce and recently put them on archive.org. Here’s the newspaper from my year as editor of “The Sauce.” What wonderful memories!
This podcast features a conversation with Laura Bang. Laura works with Special and Digital Collections at Villanova University’s Falvey Memorial Library. She’s also active in the Philadelphia Digital Humanities community, which is where we often collaborate.
She’ll tell us about two digital humanities projects built by students at Villanova. One takes a look at the heritage of the small town of Ardmore, Pennsylvania. The other examines a historic manuscript from Peru. These projects are good examples of how simple ideas can preserve cultural identity … and help students learn those values while growing their digital skills.
The pervasiveness of online tools makes engagement ever easier, and as a result, a less meaningful measure of influence. Conversely, planning for digital communications is often an uncomfortable and intensive process that results in more effective online initiatives by clarifying audiences and expectations. Based on my presentation at the 2013 Society for Historical Archaeology Conference, the following media will illustrate effective strategic planning approaches for organizations that seek to advocate for heritage resources through the web. Methods examined will include the development of measurable tactics to gain internal buy-in, leverage online partnerships and determine appropriate engagement tools.
Versions of this Post
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Please share a comment regarding digital heritage planning approaches that have worked for you. All of us who use the web to advocate for heritage resources would love to hear your story.
In the decade since the widespread emergence of social media platforms, strategic planning for the web and digital media is still a rarity among heritage organizations. Often, the preferred approach is to nurture innovative ideas ahead of audience needs, or the sustainability of the approach over time. The web, digital libraries social media and mobile tools provide effective platforms for heritage advocacy, but truly leveraging these technologies means continually re-anchoring them with strategic context over the course of time. At the core of strategic concerns for digital heritage on the web are considerations of audience outreach, providing authentic interpretive experiences online, and establishing foundations for future “born digital” data. While these concerns are frequently addressed as separate issues, the effectiveness of each is highly dependent on sustainably the systems interrelate. Ultimately, digital strategy is by, and for, people— from planning to consumption. The key to successfully translating good ideas and intentions for outreach through the web and digital media is to develop them into more defined goals, objectives and tactics that can be measured for mission-based results among audiences. Illustrative elements from the strategic plans of the following heritage organizations and programs will be examined:
Chemical Heritage Foundation, a non-profit organization focused on the history of chemistry. CHF houses a library, archives, oral history program, public museum, gallery of historic art, and visiting scholars program.
The Society for Historical Archaeology, a professional organization that promotes scholarly research and the dissemination of knowledge concerning historical archaeology. The society focuses on the identification, excavation, interpretation, and conservation of sites and materials on land and underwater.
Goals are simple, general statements that are rooted in mission. They are based on changing your organization’s position in reputation, relationships or the work of accomplishing mission-based directives. They are vision statements about an organization’s perfect world. They are also often the most difficult for organizations to articulate because they are impossible to ever quantifiably achieve. Because of their layered meaning, they remain evergreen and rarely need to be refashioned. Stating goals in present tense also serves as a motivational function.
While goals function as an organizational compass, objectives define a time and place for recognizing a successful interim stop on the journey. Objectives are a critical success factor in strategic planning for digital planning for heritage organizations, but are rarely articulated because of the discomfort their specificity implies. They focus on inspiring measurable action, acceptance or awareness that make organizational goals a practical pursuit (Smith, 82-84). Eleven criteria define the ideal objective:
The strategic planning process for heritage organizations generally evolves into three levels of focus: goals, objectives and tactics. This approach can be effectively executed regardless of the size, scope or resources of an organization.
They support mission-based organizational goals for the organization.
They are focused on a specific audience.
They emphasize impact, not products.
They are rooted in research.
Their wording is semantically clear.
They are measurable.
They are time-defined.
They focus on one result from one audience.
They challenge the organization.
They are attainable.
They are accepted throughout the organization.
Objectives accomplish one of three outcomes. The first is awareness, or what audiences understand about an organization through simple transmittal of information. Objectives can also influence acceptance, or the emotional response felt by publics, which can foster advocacy, particularly in controversial situations. Finally, objectives can be used to inspire action for changing an existing behavior or adopting a new one.
It’s easy to report web page hits and time spent visiting a site. Establishing if that is a value and then putting a number to it is critical to establish momentum. These numbers can be determined through evaluation of an organization’s existing audience interactions or results achieved by similar organizations online. As the plan is updated and iterated over the course of time, a truer understanding of audience will develop and more targeted numbers can be assigned.
Tactics are the tools, platforms and approaches identified in a plan that most efficiently interface with targeted audiences to accomplish organizational objectives. In social media, these may include Pinterest, YouTube, Facebook or Twitter.
Michigan State University Campus Archaeology
The MSU Campus Archaeology Social Media Action Plan combined vision-oriented goals with an aggressive schedule of posting procedures for reaching targeted audiences. Among its goals were to be seen as “the go-to authority for MSU’s history” and “innovators and the authority on Campus Archaeology.” Its targeted audiences included alumni, students, faculty, staff, and Lansing/East Lansing community. The plan emphasized integration of social media and including everyone who worked on any aspect of the program so that a consistent and frequent message was delivered to core audiences, while seeking to expand them as well, especially among staff and alumni. As a result, the program was recognized for its field school work with an AT&T Award for innovative teaching for combining digital and traditional media. The University subsequently reclassified the program as critical and recently made its budget a permanent line item. (Goldstein, 2012)
Society for Historical Archaeology (SHA)
The Social Media Subcommittee of the Society for Historical Archaeology created an outreach plan in 2011. The subcommittee sought to provide a resource for membership to interact regularly with the organization, and offer non-members insight into both SHA and the world of historical archaeology. The subcommittee’s central tactic was development of collaborative blog that was supported by an aggressive community-building campaign on Facebook and Twitter. During 2012, 50 people contributed 125 posts. Followers on Twitter more than doubled to more than 2,800. Additionally, most of its 1,365 followers on Facebook liked the SHA page during that same period. (Brock, 2012)
The foundations for SHA’s strategic plan were established by spring, just in time for the premiers of “National Geographic’s Diggers” and Spike TV’s “American Diggers.” The blog and social media channels became the launchpad for SHA’s response. President Paul Mullins proactively issued a public response to the shows, stating:
“These shows are disappointing, but we can continue to approach them as teaching moments and acknowledge that even thoughtful viewers may not immediately grasp the ethical shortcomings of such methods or understand what they risk losing in the hands of a haphazard metal detector survey. We do not need to surrender our preservation ethics or scholarly rigor, and while we may not transform everybody we can reach many thoughtful people who respect precise fieldwork, community scholarship, and responsible preservation.” (Mullins, 2012)
SHA shared follow-up posts from its Ethics committee regarding the organization’s conversations with National Geographic. It furthered the opportunity for “teaching moments” by featuring a Current Topics post from Matt Reeves, director of archaeology at Montpelier Foundation, who runs a workshop with metal detectorists. The post discussed his program and provided materials for working with this community in more proactive ways. By prioritizing the development of its digital platforms, SHA was positioned to take advantage of a media controversy to raise awareness, foster advocacy and inspire action among its identified publics. It provided members with instant, two-way communication about how the organization was responding to an important issue while it supplied resources they could apply to their own work as it relates to a hot topic. At the same time, it presented the organizational position on these issues and promoted its available resources to the public and potential members. Four of SHA’s top five blog posts them covered this issue, accounting for 15 percent of the blog’s traffic for the year.
National Center for Preservation Technology & Training (NCPTT)
NCPTT’s plan was developed in 2007, just as social media began to enter the popular mindset. Among agencies for the U.S. National Park Service, NCPTT is very small and remotely located in the small town of Natchitoches, Louisiana. Moreover, it’s congressional mandate extended well beyond the National Park Service to include historic preservationists in general, giving the research it fostered in the technologies of preservation a global audience. The organization applied the Hoshin Kanri model of strategic planning to its digital efforts. It categorized its goals under the 11 focus areas of the Hoshin method: Content, Tools and Vehicles, Structure, Processes, Leadership, Partnership, Metrics, Internal Communication, Reputation/Impact, Role and Global.
Because so few of its peers were on the social web at that point, NCPTT’s priority was to develop its internal savvy and build a library of digital media content that would engage early adopters in its audience and establish its authority in this area when the rest of its audiences followed. This goal was articulated under the Structure focus area as “A streamlined process empowers NCPTT staff to rapidly deliver media content directly to the web.” The objectives under this goal included regular training by digital media experts, more autonomy for staff members posting content, and implementation of digital tools and platforms to make the posting process as simple as possible.
Throughout 2008, NCPTT shifted its digital infrastructure accordingly. The organization tracked digital media conferences taking place in nearby metropolitan areas to draw blogging and experts to its facility for staff training on the principles of blogging, online media editing and search engine optimization strategies. It repositioned its intranet from a static system of document links to a social media learning and sharing experience. It did this by creating an NCPTT FriendFeed group, which was embedded on the intranet’s homepage. Bookmarklets were installed on staff member’s browsers to allow immediate sharing and conversation about news items without the need to broadcast links through email. This provided a safe place for them to acquire online posting and conversational skills. To reinforce the promise of the Web 2.0 revolution among the organization’s laggards, communications staff continually posted news articles about social media’s burgeoning impact to the FriendFeed room. This tactic cost no money, required little time for implementation and readied staff members for engagement on then-emerging platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
A more celebrated objective under this goal in NCPTT’s strategic plan was its migration from a proprietary CMS for its website to the open source version of WordPress. It was among the first U.S. government agencies to make such a leap. With the proprietary CMS, content had to be submitted to the webmaster to post. WordPress’ intuitive interface and built-in search optimization functions allowed staff to post high-impact multimedia content directly to the site. By the end of 2009, NCPTT was featured as Government Video Magazine’s “Website of the Week,” citing the National Center’s use of “photos, videos, podcasts and every other modern method to demonstrate [its research].” Additionally, tech blog Honeytech named the website number four on its international listing of “Top 10 Government Sites Powered by WordPress.” The WordPress organization also chose NCPTT as one of eight U.S. government sites featured in its Showcase for outstanding implementation of the CMS (NCPTT, 2009). The success of this migration led to other agencies within the National Park Service’s Cultural Resource Program to consult with NCPTT regarding their digital strategies.
Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS)
RCAHMS began its digital media planning by embracing the promise of technological and social openness even while it undertook a frank examination of its limitations toward achieving that promise. The planning process started by a “challenge group” comprised of representatives from each department throughout the organization. The group first crafted a description of social media that would communicate its potential to others in the organization. It then set out to link that potential to Strategic Priorities previously identified by the organization. The group called for relaxed editorial guidelines in keeping with more authentic engagement on social media platforms and drafted a one-page common sense policy for using social media. It also emphasized principles of public interaction with its collection through crowdsourced content opportunities, user-generated tagging and integrated data systems. Notably, it also emphasized a spirit of fun and experimentation in approach not characteristic in the heritage field:
“We should be prepared to experiment before we get it right; this is a new way of working, and it will be new for some of our audiences too, we should be prepared to try a few things to get it right. As this is such a new and fast changing media we should be very responsive to change and constantly redevelop our strategies.” (RCAHMS, 4)
One of its first initiatives was a user-centered photo sharing initiative in which it began accepting user-contributed content. RCAHMS began to allow direct public contributions to its MyCanmore online image collections database via the application programming interface (API) of the social media service Flickr. Within six months, more than 2000 images and 350 text contributions were added by users.
In a project funded by the Royal Society of Edinburgh, RCAHMS partnered with the University of Edinburgh, National Museums Scotland and the National Galleries of Scotland to hold a social media training series for the Scottish cultural heritage sector titled “Digital futures of cultural heritage education.” The collaborators worked to establish a research agenda for museum and gallery education for the digital age with the further goal to inform and align policy and practice in the use of social media. RCAHMS also sponsors the research program “Beyond Text” at the University of Edinburgh to explore the role of users in contributing to the public online presence of cultural institutions, the ways in which users might contribute to the ‘making’ and ‘unmaking’ of public archives, and the ways in which a global public learns and constructs meaning from institutions’ digital collections. Among the program’s current research projects is a study of how new online media environments are changing the way users engage with, and learn from, the collections of cultural institutions.
By articulating an audience-based vision at the outset of its digital and social media planning, RCAHMS established an internal mindset of open engagement, which attracted influential partnerships and led to internal technological evolution.
Chemical Heritage Foundation (CHF)
The Chemical Heritage Foundation is unique among heritage organizations in the diversity of its heritage preservation and outreach programs. It crafted its emerging media plan to help it re-imagine itself as a platform for telling the story of chemistry using its extraordinarily broad collection of heritage content (i.e. art and object collections, oral histories, archives, rare books) that span the entire historical narrative it supports. These assets provide rich material for digital storytelling. The challenge the organization has begun to address in the past year is to find ways to make its high-quality event programming and collections data more accessible to online audiences.
CHF’s strategic planning approach advocates a high level of collaboration that is focused on “the organization” telling stories, rather than individual programs. It focuses on the creation of digital assets that meet measurable, audience-based needs in the near term; retain ongoing relevance through vigilant curation in the longer term; and provide it in consistently updated formats that will allow the next storytellers of chemical heritage to readily continue the narrative. To this end, CHF adopted the following seven goals for its digital media strategy in the summer of 2012:
CHF publishes its digital products in formats optimized for search (SEO), sharing and exploration.
CHF tells the story of chemistry in human context—stories by people, for people.
CHF provides timely, relevant engagement opportunities for its audiences.
CHF’s content is available whenever and wherever our audiences need it.
Digital strategy is a core consideration in CHF’s public-facing processes and initiatives.
CHF facilitates active and enlightening dialog with its audiences.
CHF’s staff members are savvy, empowered digital advocates for chemical heritage.
These vision statements were each supported by approximately three objectives and an appropriate number of tactics. For example, under Goal 3, the following objectives and tactics were among those articulated:
Objective: Increase audiences for CHF events by 35% in FY 2013 through a program of interactive online livestreaming.
TriCaster device for portable in-house production of livestreamed events.
Social discovery with simulcast tie-in using Google Hangouts
Create a Vimeo channel as platform for a high-quality online archive of event footage
Measure views through YouTube Insights, Vimeo analytics and streaming logs
Objective: Establish mobile interactive tour in FY2013 to increase average visitor engagement in CHF’s permanent collections space by 10 minutes.
Toursphere Mobile Application Service for museums
Virtual docent tour video for six cases
iPad Checkout Station for Visitors with pre-loaded tour
Museum promotional signage and postcards incorporating coded links/QR code
Launched in phases of six cases per iteration.
Testing by CHF staff members and random visitors.
Measure with Toursphere analytics and built-in survey feature
By the end of the 2012 calendar year, CHF had achieved its objectives for livestreaming through the broadcast of four events. Online audiences for these events more than doubled total attendance with views from around the world. Content for CHF’s mobile app was developed during the fall of 2012 and will launch by February of 2013. It has spurred a broader interpretive multimedia program that has enhanced its social media channels as well. Through these objectives, the organization has enhanced existing audience engagement experiences and opened them up to much a much wider array of audiences with relatively few additional resource requirements.
COMMONALITIES IN PLANNING APPROACH
Collectively, these organizations mentioned above represent a wide range of perspectives related to the preservation of heritage. Their digital strategies reflect that diversity, yet these also share common themes in approach. Here are similarities that can inform other digital planning processes related to the preservation of heritage.
Write an Honest Situation Analysis
Defining goals, objectives and tactics for digital strategy is a process that requires a realistic evaluation of organizational position and responsibilities, whether perceived or actual. This typically examines events and circumstances in the organization, professional fields or among affected publics (including internal ones) that can be leveraged for acting on these results. This should also include threats, including heritage resources the organization is currently charged to protect, or situations it commonly finds itself in when online engagement could make a difference. It should also include a frank look the organization’s existing technology in comparison to emerging platforms.
Root Digital Planning in Existing Organizational Priorities
The critical leap to success depends on tactics being rooted in a larger strategic vision for the organization. In many cases, this has been articulated to some degree with a mission statement and a five-year outlook. While having these directives makes the social media strategic planning process much easier, many heritage organizations either don’t have such a document, or it’s severely out of date, or more likely lacks measurable specificity. Additionally, pre-existing commitments, politics, and infrastructure may not allow a direct route to an articulated plan based purely in mission. In these cases, a strategic plan for digital media can spur a grass-roots recognition of the value of defining audiences and measurable expectations of work.
Thoroughly Define and Prioritize Audiences
The principles of social media in particular will often engage naturally when you are using the social tools while intentionally remembering who your audience is and what drives them. The “World” is not an audience. Neither is “The Public.” This will make participation from the staff and publics much easier as well. Measurable success in digital strategy depends on articulating every potential audience for the organization, and prioritizing those by importance. This will help focus appropriate digital platforms as well.
Monitoring and Management
There must be someone responsible for social media execution, and they must be supported by an interdepartmental team. They must also have appropriate tools to accomplish this job. Milestone check-ins are critical to the success of each project. Commit wholeheartedly and integrate these functions into job descriptions of a full-time individual, but be realistic about what they can accomplish in a given period of time. Google Analytics is used by virtually every organization evaluation. The free service provides a deep level of data on how visitors access and interact with websites. Google has recently begun to focus on increasing its capabilities for measuring social media’s impact on website traffic. For social media monitoring and posting, Hootsuite is also widely used by each organization that engages on multiple platforms. Hootsuite allows subscribers to collaboratively schedule posts, monitor social engagement and respond to audiences through one web-based interface. Once an account is setup, Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and Linkedin streams can be organized into tabs. Information from those tabs can be further organized into columns, providing a comprehensive social media dashboard.
Costs and Content Development
Costs for digital media initiatives vary as widely as the content standards of the organization, and the greater the time put into crafting this plan, the more efficient it will be in the long-term. Online audiences value consistent, authentic connection with individuals at an organization over higher production values with a corporate voice. Agreed-upon posting schedules and suggested best practices for documenting field work will keep the short-term costs for the public engagement side of digital strategy low. Based on outcomes of the situation analysis, investment will go toward adopting or sustaining storage systems for heritage data that can interface with web-based platforms.
Heritage organizations routinely partner to protect the resources they care about. That spirit of partnership is effective online as well. NCPTT collaborated with the local university journalism program, other National Parks and National Heritage Areas to accomplish some of the tasks in the development of its plan. It also shared its expertise in helping partner organizations like the Association for Preservation Technology launch their digital initiatives.
Be Your Own Platform
Digital media services and platforms will come and go. They are all ultimately tools. It is critical that heritage organizations own their data and take responsibility for continually growing its accessibility. While this is especially important for metadata related to memory collections, it also applies to the organization’s collective voice, a critical part of which should be its blog. Unlike social platforms whose fates are controlled by their parent companies, most blogging platforms allow back up and migration of data through open formats. With their multimedia capabilities, blogs are the most effective means for dynamic digital storytelling. As was demonstrated with SHA’s response to the “Diggers” television shows, it can also be a place to centralize thought leadership and mobilize audiences. Additionally, its built-in syndication capabilities make automating direct feeds to social media and mobile applications possible.
Seek organizational buy-in the long-term, but start initial planning with an interdepartmental group of influencers that are most enthusiastic about heritage outreach. Identify the digital interests of staff members, and then encourage that through training by people with those areas of expertise. Provide the opportunity to apply those skills with internal engagement opportunities that are internal or to a limited audience. For written posting procedures, one page is ideal for a social media policy. Legalistic guidelines discourage internal participation and lessen the effectiveness of online conversation.
While day-to-day engagement is a critical component in gaining trust, a much more effective strategy is to use time-limited digital outreach campaigns. Use the organization’s long-term activity calendar to align planned projects with potential campaigns, involving as much of the organization as possible over the course of each year. A project lead and team are assigned to keep these time-limited campaigns on track. But other willing staff must be empowered with awareness and proper equipment so they know how to look at a situation and capture engaging content as it presents itself.
Defining goals, objectives and tactics digital planning facilitates a proactive approach for organziations. It ensures that strategic directives can be sustainably accomplished in a world that demands digital accessibility. This goes beyond the traditional archival responsibilities of such organizations to address the current expectation among audiences for ever-present engagement. For any historical narrative, people are both the catalyst and the audience. Much like the digital landscape, these audiences are also diverse and complex. The strategic planning process simplifies focus for both these areas so that professionals in fields such as archaeology, archives, preservation, conservation, landscapes and oral history can be more effective in advocating for heritage resources.
Bonacchi, C. (ed), 2012. Archaeology and Digital Communication. Towards Strategies of Public Engagement. London: Archetype PublicationsGiaccardi, E. (ed), 2012. Heritage and Social Media: Understanding Heritage in a Participatory Culture. New York: Routledge.
Goldstein, L. and Brock, T.P. (2010). MSU Campus Archaeology Social Media Action Plan.
Can virtual connections and digital media yield tangible benefits for heritage resources? Dale Kronkright says “yes.” And, that’s based on his experience as head of conservation at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe New Mexico. In this interview, he’ll talk about the Georgia O’Keeffe Imaging Project. The project field-tested three technologies in “Computational Imaging” and brought its audiences along for the ride with real-time updates on the social web. Their approach was profoundly effective, without being too complex from the production standpoint. There’s a takeaway here for most any heritage project.
If you’d like to learn more about the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, the Imaging Project, or Dale, visit:
This show explores an approach to new media that we rarely get to see — a coordinated, research-based strategy that brings together cultural heritage institutions throughout a country. One of the organizations spearheading this efforts is the Royal Commission for the Ancient and Historical Sites of Scotland (RCAHMS). This interview features Philip Graham, Public Engagement Manager for RCAHMS. Philip will talk about the Digital Futures for Cultural Heritage Initiative, and how is own organization is going beyond social media engagement to encourage user-contributed content. If you’ve struggled to build consensus about digital outreach even within your own institution, you’ll find this interview compelling.
First off, I want to thank Jeff for inviting me to share a guest post on this blog. Although I appreciate the medium, I find that between parenthood, endless grant writing and reviewing, and working on Open Context, I’ve got less time than I’d like for blogging.
By background, I’m an archaeologist with a PhD awarded back in 2001. Since then, I’ve been increasingly interested in digital media and in trying to make archaeological research more transparent and open for wider participation. That’s what we’re trying to do with Open Context.
Why Make Archaeology Open?
Archaeology largely financed, either directly (through grants) or indirectly (through historical preservation laws) by the public. Opening up data to wider sharing is a way for the public to see more benefit purchased by their tax dollars.
The benefits to the public are mainly indirect. I doubt most people, except for the uber-archaeological-nerds out there, are interested in raw counts of potsherds found in some remote ancient village in Jordan. Instead, the public benefits from greater openness because openness makes research more efficient, with less duplication of effort, and with greater scientific rigor. Making underlying data can open for inspection and reuse enables other researchers to “audit” claims about the past, or reuse old data to make new interpretations. Data sharing makes archaeology a discipline more worthy of trust and better able to address key issues about human history and our relationship to the natural world.
Most researchers would agree that there should be more openness and better stewardship of data. However, time and budgets are tight. Slogging through and cleaning up a messy database is not very fun. Preparing data for sharing is not something that will win you tenure (if you’re an academic archaeologist), or something that will win you the next contract (if you are a commercial archaeologist). The realities of professional life create a lot of inertia that keeps data stuck on the hard-drives of individual researchers, one crash away from irrevocable loss(!). That’s tragic, since archaeology uses inherently destructive methods (excavation). So loss of archaeological data represents a permanent loss of our shared history.
Money is also tight for this kind of work. Archaeological databases are often big, and complicated. It take time and often a lot of information technology expertise to make these suitable for public sharing. While open standards and open source applications now make this much easier and cheaper, it still takes some expensive programming effort to make something work well on the Web.
Working with Open Context
Open Context is very much oriented toward archaeological geeks. We’ve spent most of our time and effort making sure that the data can efficiently flow out of Open Context. The main reason for this emphasis is that we’re sure other people can do more interesting things with our data than we can!
For instance, we work hard at managing archaeological data, but we know we’re not great at presenting this information to the public. That requires other kinds of expertise that we just don’t have. But, by making our data fully available with all sorts of APIs and Web-services and by removing copyright restrictions, we open doors for all sorts of reuse. This enables experts at public presentation to easily repackage and reuse our content in ways that can make better sense to the public. For instance, along with other data formats, Open Context also renders its content in KML, the standard used by Google Earth:
The public can also get into the act. Using our data is free and requires no special permissions. It does take a little bit (not a lot!) of programming knowledge to make good use of Open Context data. We’re really interested in getting mash-up developers to use our data in creative ways. Open Context data can be mapped and combined with data from other fantastic open collections such as the Portable Antiquities Scheme, Nomisma.org, or even Flickr. You can even use our data in innovative games or mobile applications. All it takes is a little bit of Web-programming skills and a lot of imagination, and anyone can visualize and explore real research data.
If you want a much longer, and more academic discussion of these issues, please see this book that I helped edit: Archaeology 2.0 The book is free and open access, reflecting a growing movement to use technology to make scholarship and learning more open and accessible to everyone.
Some of you may not realize that the National Park Service (NPS) has “museums” or museum collections. Many of you may not know what a Curator, an Archivist, an Archeologist or a Conservator actually does behind the scenes for any museum that you’ve been to. And most of you have probably never heard of the Northeast Museum Services Center – referred to by our initials (NMSC). But, you undoubtedly know the power of social media to connect you and other readers with this type of information.
The NMSC is an NPS program that helps parks – primarily in the Northeast – with preserving, protecting and making accessible museum and archival collections. Our team of Curators, Archivists and Conservators are available for cataloging (both archeology and archives); museum research and planning; collections conservation and general technical assistance. Think of us as museum consultants for the parks – we help parks to assess their collections management issues; to find funding to correct those problems and then to assist them with correcting those problems.
We were fairly late to the game, but we now realize the value of social media to any organization and have started additional public outreach through Twitter, Facebook and a blog of our own.
Is Tweeting Really for Us?
For at least a year or more, that was the question bouncing around our office about Twitter and other forms of social media. Our office is a generational mix from 20 something volunteers, interns and technician that all want to be on the cutting edge of innovation to 40+ year old staff that are unsure of the value added by websites that our kids are using in their free time. We are also like most entities nowadays, being asked to do more with less. Two of our full-time staff members left for other jobs in less than a year and we were unable to re-fill those positions. In that time, the workload only increased. With that in mind, should we be “wasting” valuable staff time on something “frivolous” like Facebook or Twitter?
I’ll admit that I’m one of the 40-somethings and I was on the fence about the value that we might get from putting any staff time towards social media. But, I/we realized several things based on general observations, calls with our parks and an assessment of social media usage –
Most people are unaware that NPS sites even have “museums” and/or museum collections. We hear the same thing that you may be thinking, “But, the NPS is Grand Canyon and Yellowstone. It does not have museums like Smithsonian.” You are correct that the NPS has very few traditional four-wall museums like the Smithsonian. But, what we do have (and that we help to manage) are 26 million artifacts and archival documents in the Northeast alone in the real places that they were used or made. That includes the landscape drawings of the Olmsteds at Frederick Law Olmsted NHS, the library of John Quincy Adams at Adams NHP, archeological collections from Jamestown at Colonial NHP, Civil War archival collections at Gettysburg NMP, and natural history specimens collected from Shenandoah NP.
Since the NMSC is a behind-the-scenes group that even lacks a public domain name, most people (NPS staff included) are not aware of the services that we provide. In many cases, the general public may have heard the title Curator, Archivist, Archeologist or Conservator, but may not really know what we do. We all know the objects that we see on exhibit or the documents that we use for research, but collections care is also a critical component of the NPS mission that needs to be fostered. Not to mention the fact that all cultural institutions need to help build and diversify the museum studies workforce.
Social media has already become the information clearinghouse for the museum field. While we were blindly thinking that Twitter was just celebrity gossip or blogs are a dying form of communication, all forms of social media had become the accepted way of disseminating information for organizations such as Association of American Museums (AAM), Smithsonian Institution and most of our parks. We had isolated ourselves and we were missing critical information.
So, in late 2010 with the relaxing of some NPS social media restrictions, we decided to join the rest of the world and test out a social media initiative for our office.
Now, Go Engage Your “Audience”
Okay, so, we knew what we wanted to say about the museum collections in the National Park Service and about our work. Our goals were/are fairly simple: highlight the museum collections in the Northeast Region of the NPS; encourage the public (as well as NPS followers) to adopt an overall stewardship ethic; and connect (or re-connect) ourselves with non-NPS museum professionals in order to stay abreast of the latest curatorial trends.
BUT – Who is our audience? How do we attract them to us? What are the best forms of social media to do that? And, what format should the content take? Many books have been written about the use of social media by museums; workshops are available and the web is full of great websites that provide guidance. None of those are focused on a behind-the-scenes program like ours that works with collections from many disparate sites and focuses on region-wide collection management issues. We decided to turn to one of our 20-something Museum Specialists (Megan Lentz) as our de facto Social Media Consultant to develop a short-term and long-term social media strategy.
Utilizing a third-party social media dashboard (Hootsuite) to plan and space out postings to all of our accounts.
Where Do We Go From Here?
In less than 6 months, we feel like we’ve made significant progress towards our goals with NPS and non-NPS followers from across the nation. In many ways, the numbers speak for themselves. We primarily provide service to 76 sites in the Northeast, but @NPS_NMSC (190+ followers), @NMSC_Volunteers (80+ followers), NMSC on Facebook (70+ followers), and our blog (300+ readers per posting) are reaching a much broader audience. Hootsuite also provides analytics and many of our postings get 10 to 30 additional clicks for more information. Are those numbers that you’d be interested in?
Additionally, the current NPS Director Jon Jarvis was appointed in 2009 with a set of priorities that focused on Workforce, Relevancy, Education and Stewardship. Our early successes with social media are also helping us and thus the NPS as whole to make progress in each of these areas as well. We’ve been able to re-connect with the museum workforce outside of our region and outside of the NPS; help parks with relevancy by focusing on the latest trends in the use of museum collections; discover some of the latest technologies such as the use of Google Maps and also QR codes that might improve access to museum collections for educational purposes; and find information on fire prevention and security needs for museum collections. And, we feel like we’ve only just started to scratch the surface.
Based on these early successes, we will continue to support and improve upon our current social media outlets. We plan on getting more of our staff involved and thus highlighting more of our work as well as the collections in the Northeast. We are also considering other social media options including a blog for our entire office. Megan continues as our de facto Social Media Consultant and monitors the latest trends in social media usage. We are also advocating for other NPS parks and regional programs to use social media in a similiar way (with an emphasis even less on “us” and more on the actual resources). These statistics and early successes may also help us to advocate for a public domain name to reinforce the NPS stewardship role to the general public.
If you or your organization does not have a social media strategy at this point, consider the tremendous benefits and get started. If you don’t have a 20-something on staff to work with as your Social Media Consultant, consider bringing someone on board or contracting with someone to develop and implement that strategy. If you are interested in connecting with more museum or NPS information, consider following some of our parks and other cultural institutions through social media. And, if you want to know more about NPS museum collections, what a Curator does, or what the NMSC does, consider following us on Twitter, Facebook or through our blog.
For a very small time commitment, you will find that social-izing is worthwhile.
Today we’re talking to Carla Schroer of Cultural Heritage Imaging. CHI is a small company based in San Francisco–the social media capital of the world–that’s doing some interesting things through photography and photosharing through Flickr. They focus on rock art and technologies related to photography in heritage research. In this podcast, we’ll explore how CHI is implementing its social media policy based on its strengths, priorities and available time.
Schroer: Cultural Heritage Imaging has a mission to drive both the development and adoption of practical digital imaging and preservation solutions for the cultural heritage community. (Audio timestamp #00:02:02.6#)
Guin: What are some of the heritage resources you’ve worked on that our audience may be familiar with? #00:02:04.3#
Schroer: We’ve done quite a bit of work on rock art, including a workshop focused on rock art. We’re also working with a number of museums, including the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the New York MOMA and the Pheobe Hearst Anthropology Museum in Berkley. In all those cases, our primary focus is with the conservation departments in those museums. #00:02:32.4#
Guin: So this is pretty technical. You do a lot of work with laser imaging and scanning of cultural heritage objects. #00:02:43.2#
Schroer: Everything we do is based on digital photography, so one of our core philosophies as an organizations is that we want to develop technology and get it in people’s hands that they can do themselves. We really don’t like the service provider model where you have to hire someone to come do things for you. We’re looking for technologies that people can do on their own. A couple of the primary ones that we’re working with right now are reflectance imaging, where you take a sequence of images with light in different positions around the object. Once you put that together in the computer, you can dynamically relight the object and bring out very very fine surface details of the object. This is one of the reasons we’re working with museum conservation, because getting very fine surface information is of great interest to that community. We also do work with photogrammetry and some other photographic-based imaging techniques. #00:03:37.4#
Guin: With audiences so defined, you wouldn’t ordinarily think of an organization like this needing to adopt social media as part of its communications strategy, but you’ve taken a proactive approach. #00:03:51.8#
Schroer: I sit here in San Francisco, surrounded by all these technology people. We’re not really innovators compared to them. But we always had a web presence and later an electronic newsletter. From there, it became clear that blogging and using Flickr to create sets and have photos people could find online made a lot of sense. We are just starting to foray into video and posting things on YouTube as well. The focus was to make it easier for people to find us through keywords and search. We know from watching our traffic that people are finding us that way. #00:04:46.9#
Guin: You’ve really emphasized photography, and tell stories very powerfully with it. What made you decide to go the “still image” route to connect with your audience? #00:05:08.9#
Schroer: Our work is based on digital photography, which means that we already have good cameras with us when we’re working. So still photography makes a lot of sense. Marlin Lum (http://www.c-h-i.org/about_us/marlin_lum.html), who is our imaging director, also does wedding and event photography, so a lot of the photography on the website is his work. He has a great photo-journalistic style. The rest of us are more studipophotographers–very focused on special needs for getting a reflectance image and photogrammetry sequence, where Marlin is more of a photo-journalist. #00:05:56.7#
Guin: You’re a little different than most folks that I’ve interviewed for Voices of the Past in that you’re not a solo blogger or someone doing this for the fun of it. You’re doing this because it’s rooted in the values of your company. And, though you’re a non-profit, you still have to make payroll. So, how does your social media work? Is it the responsibility of one person, or is you as a group working together? #00:06:23.0#
Schroer: It’s definitely us as a group and we even have volunteers that help. It’s a group blog and we have guest bloggers as well. We are currently updating our website to WordPress to make it easier for all of us to share web management duties as well. We’ve started using CulturalHeritageImaging.org, rather than C-H-I.org, which will allow us to transfer content to the new site while keeping the old site. We’ve had some incredible volunteer help, including a design group that offered to help us pick a theme at get it customized. We’ve also had a writer who’s been doing a lot of work editing existing materials. We made decisions on how to regroup the material, but were missing some “glue” on how to make it flow. #00:08:13.7#
Guin: What kind of topics do you blog and what is your audience for your posts? #00:08:20.6#
Schroer: It’s a group blog, so we’ll have equipment tips on there, we’ll talk about conferences we’ve been to or projects that we’re working on. We also invite people who are adopting technology, particularly reflectance imaging, to talk about their experience doing that. We have guest posts from the Smithsonian and the New York MOMA. We also post FAQs when we get questions. #00:09:14.5#
Guin: Beside your blog, what other social tools do you use? #00:09:14.5#
Schroer: Flickr has been big for us. We have started YouTube as well, including a video on our NCPTT grant project, and we have some additional videos on projects sponsored by the Kress Foundation with a museum conservation focus. Hopefully, the YouTube work will be similar to what happens with Flickr in that it will help people from a broader audience find us and be interested in the stuff we’re doing. #00:10:00.8#
Guin: Now that you’re branching out into these other forms of media, if someone wanted to visit your content there, what do you recommend they take a look at? #00:10:15.8#
Schroer: On our Flickr site, we make use of collections, so it’s easy to identify our work both by topic and project. #00:10:45.5#
Guin: You mentioned optimizing your content for search, so that you make connections. How do you optimize your content for the web through titles, tags and descriptions? #00:11:04.1#
Schroer: That’s what we’re working on right now as part of our website redesign. We’re doing some search analytics for what people are searching for. It’s a little tough, because some of the things we’re known for, like reflectance transformation imaging, are not something most people will go type into Google. So we’re working to figure out what people are searching for when they find us. And terms like “photography” and “cultural heritage” are so broad that it’s hard to optimize for those concepts. As we become more known in fields like museum conservation, that’s an area we’ll work to optimize. #00:11:59.6#
Guin: Since you’re transitioning to a new content management system, is there something that’s changing in your social media approach since you first began? #00:12:15.4#
Schroer: We are trying to tie some things together. For example, we have an e-mail list that we started about five years ago. So we use our social media blog posts, photo galleries and videos, as content to drive traffic that way. We also pick themes. So each month, we’ll focus on something like training and education, or rock art, etc., and use all of our platforms to emphasize that theme. It’s a more powerful way to help people learn about an aspect of our business. The biggest thing is that it always takes more time than you want it to. Because we’re small, we’re always thinking about how much time and effort should we put into these platforms and what kind of payback are we getting from them. We’ve stayed away from Facebook and Twitter at this point, not that we wouldn’t go there, but just because of the amount of time that it takes to really use them correctly.
Guin: What advice would you give to another small cultural heritage organization that’s just now getting into social media? #00:13:49.6#
Schroer: Blogging is an obvious first choice, because it’s easy to throw in pictures to help tell your story. To take that on, you have to have a person or two on your staff that are into it and feel that it’s fun. For us, Flickr made sense because we already had piles of photographs. We’re learning to use YouTube to tell our story in a more dynamic way. We had a couple of projects that specifically called for producing video. We’re also exploring the use of Screenflow [screencasting] technology to help explain concepts without people having to download data sets or a special view. They can quickly get a sense of what we’re doing. That will hopefully whet some appetite so that people want to download a data set and seeing what’s possible. #00:15:07.3#
Guin: What are your social media goals for Cultural Heritage Imaging? #00:14:42:00
Schroer: For us, it’s an expansion of why we started our website. We want people to learn about us, our work and the people who are partnering with us. It’s also a way for people to find out if they would like to partner with us, undertake a new technology or take one of our classes. As a non-profit, we also hope it will inspire people to volunteer or become donors. We have multiple audiences for our website, so we have multiple audiences for our social media as well.