A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to participate in a wonderful session at the Society for American Archaeology organized and chaired by Colleen Morgan, everyone’s favorite archaeology blogger. In addition to being one of the first times that archaeologists got together at a conference and talked about blogging as a valid medium for discussing our discipline among each other and with the public, the session also prompted a few new archaeologists to start up blogs, and start engaging in social media in new ways. This coming spring, I’m excited to be part of a second go-round of Blogging Archaeology, this time organized by Chris Webster, who had been present in the audience in 2011, and has since embraced social media in a number of ways. As many of you know, part of the lead up to the session, as was the case in 2011, is a Blogging Carnival being hosted by Doug’s Archaeology. His first question: Why Blog, Why Keep Blogging, and Why Stop?
It’s an important question that you should ask before you even start a blog, particularly if you’re an organization. It’s important because it is a question that leads to other questions that will dictate how you blog, what you blog about, the language you use, and so on. They were questions we took very seriously when we pitched and designed the Society for Historical Archaeology’s Social Media strategy, SHA Social. I’m going to focus on that here, since it is the topic of my Paper for the Blogging Archaeology Session in the Spring.
Why did we think blogging was critical for SHA? A couple reasons.
First, we had an immediate crisis to deal with: if the organization didn’t start blogging, every single one of the organization’s committees was going to develop an independent online identity. They all wanted Facebook Pages, which would have been a marketing and communication nightmare: the SHA’s message had to centralized, but also had to be a space where committees could participate and produce content. This is, in the end, how we built the blog, with each committee who wanted to participate developing a social media liaison who works with me to get content posted. In this way, we have been able to share a variety of content about our organization and discipline from experts on those topics.
Second, we knew that it was time for SHA to start moving into the 21st century and to position the SHA as an organization that adopted and used modern forms of communication. This wasn’t a “we’ll attract the younger generation” type of thing, which I think is a shortsighted approach to social media, but instead was an understanding that in order to communicate with our membership, we needed to adopt all the tools at our disposal. Blogging, Facebook, and Twitter were new ways to do this.
Third, it allowed us to expand and add value to being a SHA member. The SHA could now be a part of our member’s daily lives throughout the year, as opposed to when they received the journal or attended the conference. We could become a vocal destination for them to access our resources, read about archaeology, keep tabs on what our committees were doing, and comment and interact with them. Most importantly, the blog itself provided opportunities for members to contribute. After the first year, fifty different archaeologists, all members, contributed to our blog, and many of those members had never participated actively with the SHA before. The Committee Liaisons have often been younger members who have not participated actively with the organization. Heck, this was my first contribution to the Society.
Fourth, it is a productive way of interacting with “potential members.” Social media lets us be loud about what we have to offer, and every blog post demonstrates our organization’s engagement with, expertise in, and commitment to the discipline. It also makes clear what members receive, and, therefore, why becoming a member would be worth one’s while.
These were the reasons we started. These all led to new questions, that I won’t get into in detail, but which were important: what media were we going to use? How were we going to get contributions from different people? How are we going to ensure that we get posts up regularly? Who would be contributing? What restrictions do we have on content? For example, I made a conscious decision to make sure that our content was focused on historical archaeology, since that’s what we do. We weren’t going to be an archaeological catch-all. There are other organizations that deal with the discipline on that scale, and we wanted to focus on our expertise and to highlight the work of our members. This way, our social media reflects our mission, provides content that you won’t find elsewhere, and supports our members in direct and important ways.
So, Why keep blogging?
We will continue to blog because of the momentum that we’ve gained and the success we are generating with it. So far, I think that the level of engagement we have on our Facebook and Twitter accounts have been tremendously successful, and that the amount of engagement and participation we have on the blog has been wonderful from an organizational standpoint. People are reading and sharing our stuff, and that’s good. We still have more that we can contribute, and I hope that our blog will continue to keep growing…we have a lot of committees that are still not contributing regularly that we’d like to get on board. The process of streamlining these things is a big task, with lots of moving parts, and a blog is intimidating to some people. We’re still working on getting buy-in and participation.
Recently, it has become evident to us the potential our social media campaign has for activism. This started to become evident to me during the rise of the TV Shows: we were able to use our blog to quickly distribute or communications with SpikeTV and National Geographic, and to continue keeping our members updated about what actions we were taking in order to represent our discipline and our shared cultural heritage. The power of social media became even more apparent through the wonderful work done by archaeologists independently through the People Against SpikeTV’s American Diggers Facebook page and the various change.org petitions that emerged.
Last month, the energy that was generated through our letter to Representatives Eric Cantor and Lamar Smith, and the corresponding #WhyArchMatters hashtag that we started has me thinking even harder about how the organization can better utilize social media as a tool for activism. We have developed a large support base, and we are beginning to discuss strategies for mobilizing that base of supporters when our collective voices need to be heard.
In all, blogging, or some form of digital media, is a mainstay for professional organizations in archaeology, particularly the larger organizations that have the resources (or volunteer membership, as is the case with SHA), to pull it off. In truth, I think that our use of volunteers to do the social media has provided a better product that other organizations who have marketing departments. Our social media content is entirely produced, edited, published, curated, and written by SHA members, meaning that they are coming from experts. It is helping introduce more archaeologists to the medium, and allowing members to be more active through their membership. As a professional organization, that is one of the most valuable reason to blog, and to continue to blog.