Published on March 12, 2014
"Building an online community to promote understanding of the history of the black country and its legacy.” Emma Neil Volunteer Social Media Assistant Distinctly Black Country
Social Media www.facebook.com/distinctlyblackcountry @distinctlybc http://distinctlyblackcountry.org.uk/
Aims • To gain an understanding of the Distinctly Black Country network • Raise an awareness of what to consider before building an online community • How to keep an online community interested and engaged • Understand some of the challenges and obstacles of developing an online community
• Link people who are interested in the way the past has made the modern Black Country landscape • Describe the distinguishing landscape features of the Black Country • Get people out exploring the features that make the area special and different distinctly black country
Why was Distinctly Black Country set up?
The Black Country Landscape • Natural - rich geology • Period before the industrial revolution - relatively isolated • Industrial age • The last century - residential neighbourhoods
Why an online community? • Distinctly Black Country started out as a collaborative research project • It wasn’t the intention to use social media • A WordPress site was created in 2011 • Hesitant to use other social media platforms • The project evolved which led to the establishment of Facebook and Twitter in 2012
Building an online community Brand Staff / Volunteers Social Media Audience Offline Community Time
Brand and Identity • The name for the network was originally the ‘Black Country Landscape Character Network’ • A logo which is distinctive, simple and memorable • Many social media platform have space for a ‘banner’ image • Creating a strap line
Staff and Volunteers • One part time member of staff Paul Quigley, Landscape Archaeologist • Two long term volunteers – Social Media Assistant and Photographer, Matthew Whitehouse • Volunteer recruitment • Volunteer training • Volunteer management
Audience • A local audience • A younger audience • What audiences already existed online? - Local historians -Arts and Heritage services across the four local authorities
Time and Costs • In-house resources of the Arts and Heritage Service have been invaluable (volunteer recruitment and management). • Never enough hours in the day - finding time to create new content • Social media tools are free, but investment in manpower and brainpower isn’t • Internal communication teams • Future of the network without funding
My Postcode History • My Postcode History is a participative online project designed to demonstrate the heritage of apparently ordinary places. • Project launched in the summer of 2012 • Open for entries during two periods in 2012: for the month from 15th June to 13th July; and for four days of the Heritage Open Days weekend in September. • A total of six histories have been published.
How old is my street….and how do we know? What was there before? What else links the area to the story of the Black Country? Can you add to this story? Where can I find out more?
My Postcode History – DY5 4LJ
Results • Today if you typed 'history of my road' into Google, My Postcode History is the first webpage recommended (higher than the BBC's Secret History of our Streets) • Made local historical and archaeological evidence more accessible • My Postcode History has supported the identification of new heritage assets, such as a previously unrecorded castle and a surviving legacy of the architect Charles Reilly's greens.
This project is training and supporting residents to investigate the history and heritage of 1960s high-rise council flats in the centre of the Black Country.
Keeping the Momentum • There is a wealth of information relating to the Black Country • We just need to keep trying to present this information to our audiences in an interesting way • Pictures and events seem to attract the most interest and online engagement • Connecting with audiences through their emotions and memories stimulates conversation • Posts which link in with particular anniversaries and events • Twitter hours - #hours
Obstacles and Issues • Demands on staff/volunteer time in maintaining the social media • The project under-estimated the amount of time it would take to edit content provided by volunteer contributors • In terms of future financial support for the project, it has generated many more ideas for fundable projects. Which has resulted in successful initiatives, for the time being at least, come to an end for example My Postcode History. • We still have a skew in the geography of our audience towards Wolverhampton
Can social media help us appreciate the history around us? Two in every three agreed that “the distinctly black country network has helped me appreciate the area’s history and heritage”.
Social Media Platforms
Connections with the Black Country
Statistics • In terms of social media outputs, we have published 27 web pages and 37 blog posts (with 200 images), 250 Facebook posts, 1550 tweets and 50 circular emails. • The website/blog has had over 50,000 page-views and has attracted 122 blog followers. • Our competition ‘My Postcode History’ attracted 300 entries • 561 Facebook Likes, 1100 Twitter followers and more than 600 email contacts. • We have also attracted several volunteers as a result of our social media profile, and a proportion of the content is now generated by volunteer input.
Facebook / Twitter 0 200 400 600 800 1000 1200 May-12 Jun Jul Aug Oct Jan-13 Mar Apr Jul Oct Feb-14 Twitter Facebook
Summary • Building a network takes time to establish relationships. A digital social network is not necessarily different. • Be open-minded about your definition of heritage – there’s a lot of relevant activity already out there which isn’t branded as heritage. • Social media isn’t free. The tools can be, but with limited staff resources it will replace other forms of community engagement • Better liaison between planning departments and museums can pay dividends for Historic Environment Records. • Talk to your communications team if you aren’t doing so already. • Built heritage is photogenic! Share your photos. • People are interested in ‘recognised’ heritage, but they are also fascinated by the history of their own house & street.
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