I thought I was completely sold on the concept of social media and it’s practical uses for interacting with the wider world. I didn’t realise until today, how much more sold on the idea I could be.
I’ve spent an interesting few days zipping back and forth to Oxford for the Institute for Archaeologists (IfA) conference and to Birmingham yesterday for a workshop on Local Engagement run by English Heritage in conjunction with Sound Delivery (www.sounddelivery.org.uk). Both were incredibly useful; I always come away from the IfA conference fired up with new ideas and wanting to start a hundred new projects (then reality kicks in with the 300 unanswered emails that have built up in my inbox…). Discussions relating to community archaeology projects and the presence of archaeology on the internet were particularly interesting and are of particular relevance when considered alongside such recent developments as the Localism Act. This however, has to be considered in context, with the reality for archaeology being that in the next 12 months 40% of Community Archaeology posts are set to be cut – a frightening statistic, and one which goes against the trends prevalent in the sector, which show an increased commitment to public engagement and a very enthusiastic take-up of this offer from the public.
I was very happy to be involved in the Birmingham workshop as a facilitator yesterday, having been an avid enthusiast for local engagement over the years. I went into it with a clear idea of what social media could ‘do for me’, being a Tweeter and a fan of Facebook and beginning to develop ways of using both for my work in archaeology. Tools such as AudioBoo for recording short sound bites have also proven to be very useful, especially when engaging young people with their thoughts on the historic environment. It was interesting to note the sense of resistance from around the room, given the relatively tech-savvy audience; of around 35 historic environment professionals, only about 5 had Twitter accounts, against a national figure of 26 million users. By the end of the session, many of the attendees were talking excitedly about the potential of these tools, with one person overheard saying ‘I’m off to buy a smart phone’! For me, these positive noises were not surprising – social media can be a fantastic, cost-effective way of getting our archaeological stories out to a wider audience, and given the cuts, could be part of a way forward.
Most exciting though was what came next. Throughout the day, those of us who were already Tweeters were asked to upload our tweets, updating those that couldn’t be there, on the messages and themes coming out of the day, by using the hashtag #histenviron. This enables anyone searching Twitter to see all tweets with that hashtag together in the same search. It also enables people from a wider audience to feed into the discussion, share points raised by retweeting to their own followers and post links to relevant documents, case studies and websites. Part of the social media reporting on the day also involved short AudioBoo interviews with attendees, recording people’s thoughts on how they might use social media, what tools they are currently using and what barriers there might be to moving forward. These interviews were uploaded immediately and available to the wider audience already generated via Twitter discussions. Some of the concerns being raised were immediately addressed by Tweeters who uploaded some great case studies and documents to support this kind of work. All this meant that many of the points being raised during the event relating to a need for various resources to be made available to the archaeological profession, were addressed almost before the question had been raised, and a whole online community had grown up around this one theme, within the space of just a few hours!
To conclude then, my excitement about this method of communicating is really about the ease of widening the discussion to include anyone who might want to feed into it, the immediacy, but perhaps best of all, the resource that we are now left with; one that includes recorded interviews, a wide range of discussion points, and a variety of useful case studies and examples of best practice from around the country and beyond. And all in less than 24 hours!