The MarineLives project uses a variety of digital and social media to communicate with its volunteers, and to reach a wider and developing public.
Today’s Shipping News article examines our approach to communication and reviews our use of three specific vehicles – Facebook, Twitter, and the Shipping News blog – and explains our thinking behind their use.
Our early strategy
We advertised for volunteer transcribers and team facilitators in a number of online media, ranging from the IHR website to genealogy fora. We also encouraged our early volunteer recruits to recommend the project on to friends and colleagues.
The role of our website was to provide a first port of call for potential volunteers seeking quick information about the project, but our focus was on eliciting email expressions of interest in volunteering.
The conversion rate from an emailed expression of interest to a signed up volunteer was remarkably high at about three to one, and the drop out rate after starting was relatively low. This we attribute to our explict statement to all volunteers as to our expectations from them in terms of time, and our commitment to train and support volunteers who were grouped into virtual teams of three to five volunteers, with each team supported by a volunteer team facilitator.
This single article was the prompt for more than one third of the eventual thirty volunteers who worked on the MarineLives project between September and December 2012.
Our evolving social media strategy
We opened Facebook and Twitter accounts just a couple of weeks after launching our website, in July 2012. Whereas we had some prior experience of Facebook, Twitter was a completely blank page.
In the early days of the project, we attempted to use Facebook and Twitter to drive viewers to our website, with the hope this would lead to volunteering. We had limited content to share, and the strategy was not a big success. This was reflected in relatively low views per posting on Facebook.
Our Twitter followership grew more rapidly, with a decent level of response measured in interactions and mentions. We encouraged our volunteers to open their own Twitter accounts and to retweet and comment on our own postings.
Analysis of the followership shows a large number of academics from the fields of history and English literature, at all stages in their careers, together with a significant number of PhD candidates. The third well represented field of followers is drawn from digital humanists, digitally oriented librarians, and web oriented computer scientists. In total, they are drawn mainly from the United Kingdom and North America, but include Italians, Germans, Russians and Japanese.
Our breakthrough in terms of communication with our academic and wider audience came when we established the Shipping News blog in September 2012. This blog has become our vehicle to communicate synthesised content from the English Admiralty Court archives. After an early flurry of articles, we have settled down to a publishing rate of two or three new articles each month.
As our blog has grown in importance, it has replaced our website as our primary vehicle to publish synthesised material. And as our corpus of full text transcriptions has grown to over 1.5 million words, the citations supporting our blog articles increasingly point through hyper links to a range of wikis containing the full text transcriptions, such as Annotate HCA 13/72 (the Admiralty Court deposition book for the years 1657-58).
Tempting as it has sometimes been to get content “out there”, our most read articles have been those into which we have put most work, in terms of text, images, and interactive maps. Good examples of highly viewed articles are: Fishing for whales, part one (January 22, 2013), The Admiralty Court and the Spanish West Indies (October 7th, 2013), and Language and Identity (November 8th, 2013).
The final piece in the strategy has been to use Colin Greenstreet’s personal Academia.edu account as a repository for published project documents. This is probably not the long term solution, but has the short term merit of being easy to use, with decent analytics of document views, and easy integration with other social media.
The top documents viewed via this repository are our Digital humanities and technical partnership discussion document (July 23, 2013) and our Case study of London whaling ship, the Owners Adventure, in 1656 (September 12, 2013).
Launched: July 20, 2012
Stats: 66 posts, 54 likes, average views per post = 35, highest view post = 270, lowest view post = 16
Use: Steer traffic to Shipping News blog and MarineLives Twitter account
Recent postings offering strong content and new functionality have achieved significantly higher viewership per posting
Facebook provides useful tools to monitor organic reach, post clicks, likes, comments and shares
Launched: July 11th, 2012
Stats: 364 tweets, 422 followers, average monthly tweets = 21
Use: Publicise new Shipping News blog entries, generate and maintain interest in MarineLives project, create a project voice, and support recruitment of project volunteers
Twitter useful for (1) Recruitment of volunteers (transcription; PhD Forum) (2) Promoting blog and blog postings (3) Establishing academic connections leading to partnership, e.g. Bath Spa University, Universities of Mannheim and Ancona.
Launched: September 22, 2012
Stats: 32 postings (avg 2 per month), 20,000 blog visits since launch (vs. 2300 + Facebook visits since launch)
Use: Communicate synthesised, strongly visual content; encourage trial of other MarineLives resources – http://marinelives-transcript.org/scripto/, http://annotatehca1372.wikispot.org/, http://marinelives-tools.wikispot.org/
Shipping News blog views are reported as running at over 2000 per month since the middle of 2013. These data strip out spam and spiders, but still probably contain some automated and other attempts to access or post to the blog.
Close inspection of the individual IP addresses, combined with country of origin, and the specific pages the viewers enter on and dwell on, suggests that the true viewership of the blog is running at 1000 + views per month.
The effect of social media promotion of new blog postings is quick, as can be seen for our posting on the Admiralty Court and the Spanish West Indies in the figure below
The interactive Google Map displayed in the blog posting above has been accessed 240 times since its publication on October 7th 2013. An earlier map of Admiralty Court depositions by French witnesses in HCA 13/71 (1656-57) was published on December 16th, 2012, and has been viewed a remarkable 2,758 times.
In the figure below, the first peak in blog views was generated by the first two of three Tweets, and the second peak was generated by the one Facebook posting. First day responses to Tweets and Facebook postings are almost instantaneous, with the great bulk occuring within sixty minutes of the postings.
An ideal Twitter response combines straight Retweets of a message with a repackaging and commenting on a message by opinion leaders, as in the example below
Undoubtedly our use of social media will continue to evolve as we gain in experience, and as our project needs change.
We would be delighted to hear your own experiences of using social media as part of your communication strategy with volunteers and audiences of different types.
Please feel free to post your comments to the Shipping News blog, or alternatively to contact us directly.