July 11, 2013

Guide to social media for historic sites and history organizations

We're working on a guide to social media for historic sites and history and heritage organizations.  It will be available individually in electronic form at no cost.  If the first one is well-received, we'll do a follow up with more advanced topics.  (To be notified when the guide is available, and for occasional updates on The History List, sign up here.) 

We're looking for your experiences, insights, recommendations, and questions regarding increasing awareness of and attendance at your site and events, including . . .

  • Using Twitter, Facebook, Vine, Google+, YouTube, Vimeo, Instagram, Flickr, HistoryPin, Pinterest, and others
  • Policies and practices, including getting started, gaining followers, growing and expanding, and managing growth
  • Handling reviews and recommendations, including Trip Advisor, Yelp, Google, and others

Here's an example of a great tip we received from Matt Wilding, who heads the web and social media efforts at The Freedom Trail Foundation:

Guide to social media for historic sites and history organizationsEveryone knows you’re supposed to use hashtags, but often they’re not used very well. Using a tag regularly that might be used by someone else (such as #thisdayinhistory, #history, #mapoli, etc) is a good strategy, but a really good way to boost visibility is to find ways to tie what you’re posting to what’s going on in the world. For example, we have used #pirates when the Pittsburg Pirates are being buzzed about. #Occupy and #OccupyBoston were handy during the Occupy Movement to post about the British Occupation.

Our goal is for this to be useful regardless of the size of your organization or your level of experience with social media.

Please send problems you've encountered, your solutions, your ongoing struggles, your questions, and your successes and failures.  We'll attribute your tips and suggestions to you—unless you'd rather we not.  Just let us know.

Your contributions can be as short as a single sentence or question, a few bullets, or a longer form case study with before and after data points.  

Our deadline for submissions is July 20.  Send us a note, and please include links and screenshots, where appropriate.  

To receive updates on The History List, including information on the guide, sign up here.

And check out the case study we wrote last year about Matt's ongoing "On this day" campaign of 365 videos, which are posted on YouTube and promoted through Facebook and Twitter.

Update on The History List on social media

We started with Facebook and Twitter accounts for The History List.  We recently added Facebook and Twitter accounts under the "Seeing History" name.  

Going forward, the accounts for The History List will primarily focus on the interests of the organizations that participate on The History List, including ways to increase awareness and attendance.  Seeing History is primarily focused on individuals and families looking for something interesting to do in their communities or as part of planning a trip.  The recommendations on Seeing History are drawn from listings on The History List.  In the months ahead we will introduce additional ways organizations can publicize the events they list on The History List through social media.

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May 19, 2013

Using QR codes at historic sites and other ways to meet the needs of mobile visitors

Using QR codes at historic sites and living history museums to meet the needs of mobile visitors was discussed recently in the closed LinkedIn group for the Using QR codes at historic sites: Boston Redevelopment Authority "This Building Has History" QR code campaign during Preservation MonthAssociation for Living History, Farm, and Agricultural Museums (ALHFAM):

Question: How to Interpret a Living History Museum with QR Codes?

I am looking to design a QR code tour for our living history site and my problem is that there are so many possibilities that it's hard to narrow it down. What works? Where to start? Does anyone out there have a success story or advice to share?

Some of the respondents reported that they'd implemented these and had some statistics.  

Using The History List is another option to meet the needs of all mobile visitors.  Since our move to a responsive design is complete, a historic site can publish the URL to their page on The History List and users of smartphones and tablets can use it for a tour of the facility.  Pages on The History List can have as much text and as many photos and videos as desired.  There is no cost.  More information on the way in which history organizations can use The History List, with links to examples.

The discussion that follows is my response, edited slightly and with links added.  The photos of the preservation month campaign "This Building Has History" from the Boston Redevelopment Authority and the Boston Landmarks Commission from May 2012—the signs were still up in February 2013 when these pictures were taken—are discussed below.

Using QR codes at historic sites and other ways to meet the needs of mobile visitors

If the goal is to increase a visitor's understanding of and interaction with a place, I'm skeptical of the utility of QR codes and am interested in seeing the key stats in Neil's report.  Making your site— both your website and your physical site— easy to use for people on tablets and smartphones seems like Using QR codes at historic sites: Traditional sign and QR code on The Old Corner Bookstore in Bostona smarter way to spend additional time and money.

The reach of QR codes

Based on the "20% of 50%" figure quoted, you're starting with 10% of your population who even has the ability to call up the information.  If 1 in 4 people actually does—a very generous estimate—you're reaching 2.5% of your visitors.

Question: When was the last time you saw a QR code?  Now, when was the last time you pulled out your smartphone and scanned a QR code?  We notice the codes because they stand out graphically, not because we've scanned them and found great content.

Updated May 19, 2013: Rachelle Clayton added this anecdote to the original discussion:

I was recently at a tourism conference where the speaker was pushing QR codes and their benefits. I did a quick poll of the tables around me. Out of six tables of ten (60 people), all into social media and enhanced visitor experiences, 100% had smartphones or iPhones. One had ever scanned a QR code (in a provincial park), and only that person knew how to scan or even had the app to do it. 

Responsive design as a way to reach mobile visitors

Instead of creating a tour based on QR codes, invest in a website built using responsive design.  For an example of the way responsive design works, look at Old Sturbridge Village's page on The History List

If you're on a laptop or desktop, take your browser window and re-size it—make it narrower, like a tablet, or narrower still, like a smartphone—and you'll see that the content automatically rearranges so that you don't have to zoom in to read it or scroll side to side. 

With responsive design, users on all devices with browsers, including tablets and smartphones, are able to consumer your content just by visiting your site.  They don't need a special app.  A new report shows that 9% of all web traffic to US sites was from tablets and another 7% was from smartphones; both numbers continue to grow. 

To go back to our thought experiment: When was the last time you used your tablet or smartphone to browse the web?

What responsive design means for historic sites and living history museums and facilities:

- Ensures that a growing percentage of your web visitors have a great experience.  The design of some sites today makes them unusable on a smartphone.  (If you wonder what your site looks like on the dozens of different combinations of devices, browsers, and OSs that your visitors use, there are online services that you can try our for free.  We use crossbrowsertesting.com.)

- Enables you to forestall development of a dedicated application for iOS and Android.  Or, if you already have created them, track the use of your apps and the cost to build and update them and compare that to the cost of creating and maintaining a single website that works across all platforms.  (A dedicated app makes a lot of sense for folks like ESPN or American Airlines, but it's unlikely to generate a rate of return that's high enough for most of us.)

- Solves your outdoor use problem.  Simply add the URL of the section of your site with your tour to your signage and materials, such as http://www.ExampleHistoricSite.org/tour.  (For those with really long URLs, you might also print a URL that's created using a URL shortener, such as bit.ly or goo.gl.)

Responsive design options for historic sites and living history museums and facilities

- For sites built on WordPress or another content management system (CMS) that has a responsive framework: WordPress and some of the other CMSs that have responsive templates, so if your site was built on WordPress or another that has a responsive framework, talk with the person who handles your site about implementing responsive design.

- For sites built using other CMSs: It's become easier for developers to build these sites, which use HTML5 and CSS3, since the introduction of Bootstrap from Twitter and other frameworks.  If your developer hasn't talked with you about this already, ask them.

- For all sites: Regardless of what you do with your own site, you can take advantage of your organization's responsive page on The History List.  Listings are free.  As you saw above, the organization pages are responsive. (Soon the entire site will be.)  You can, at no cost, build out a page for your facility that is as long and detailed as you wish, with dozens of pictures and video clips and thousands of words of text on the page, and then publicize that URL.  (Use a URL shortener, such as bit.ly or goo.gl to generate a URL that's much shorter to enter.)  All at no cost, and without making any changes to your current site.

Learn more about the way in which your organization can use The History List to attract and serve visitors.

More about the photos aboveUsing QR codes at historic sites: Boston Redevelopment Authority "This Building Has History" QR code campaign during Preservation Month: Information on the Old Corner Bookstore

The photos are of the "This Building Has History" May 2012 QR campaign from the Boston Redevelopment Authority and the Boston Landmarks Commission.  The pictures were taken when I came across the campaign en route to an event at Old South Meeting House in February 2013. 

The first one I saw was on the pillar.  I thought at first it was a handbill.  Once I got closer, I read the explanation, dug out my iPhone, looked through my apps to find a QR reader, scanned the code, and clicked on the link.  This brought up a webpage with a PDF similar to to the one to the right.  In order to read it on a smartphone, you had to zoom in and then scroll side to side and up and down.  (The link returns a 404 error today.) 

The irony is that they could have simply plastered the very same PDF on the pillar and skipped the QR code entirely.  

The PDF to the right is the one that comes up when you scan the poster on the door in the photo above.

The green sign, which can be read easily by everyone, is nearby.

As with many programs that start out with good intentions, it appears that this became focused on a particular tactic (QR codes) and lost site of the goal (increase awareness and appreciation of historic buildings).  One way to spot such a problem in advance is to think through the user experience carefully.  And throughout, tracking expenditures and focusing on results helps you keep the program from drifting off-course.

Modifying the campaign

Here's what could have been done instead with a QR codes and some of these same assets:

- Develop a flier that has information about the building and has a QR code for additional information that doesn't fit or can't fit on the flier.

Using the one to the right as an example, remove the "Now" photo, which doesn't add any value when you're standing in front of the building, and put the QR code there.  Link the QR code to a page with a slide show with pictures of the location over time or a video clip of someone who campaigned for the preservation describing those efforts or of an historian describing the importance of the Old Corner Bookstore.

In the case of this location, now a quick service restaurant, don't put the flier on the door people are using to enter and exit the store, but put it off to the side where someone can read it without disturbing others.

Reducing the density of text and adding bullets with key points or a pull quote will increase the likelihood that more people read at least part of the information.

For more information, and at the end of the campaign, rather than breaking the links, redirect them to a site that can easily be read on a smartphone—such as a site created using a responsive design.

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February 28, 2013

How history authors, experts, and costumed interpreters can use The History List

Updated July 28, 2013

Yes, The History List includes hundreds of organizations and their events.

However, individual presenters, such as authors, filmmakers, and lecturers, performers, costumed interpreters, musicians, artisans and craftsmen, and other experts who present history-related programs can take full advantage of The History List by using an Organization page and listing themselves as the “organization" and then adding their events.

There are two requirements: These must be scheduled events, such book tours, lectures, or programs or exhibits at an historical society, history museum, or historic site, and they must be directly relate to history.

It's three simple steps:

1.Sign in—Login to The History List with Facebook for immediate access or request a free account on The History List.
2.Click “Add events”--When you enter your events, list yourself as the organization presenting them.  These must be scheduled events and they must relate to history.
3.When you’re finished, complete your organization page.  The events you added will already be listed at the bottom of your page.

As with listings for organizations, there is no cost. 

The slides that follow walk through this and provide tips and examples.  To view the slides full screen, click on the icon with the four expanding arrows on the right end of the grey bar below the window with the slides.

If you are unsure of whether your program, event, or exhibit belongs on The History List, ask us.

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January 24, 2013

Bumper stickers for summer history camps

Wouldn't it be great if we saw more like these? 

There are thousands and thousands of summer camps and programs.  Now there's one resource just for history summer camps and program: "The History List Guide to Summer Camps and Programs at Historic Sites and Institutions."  And as with listing other types of events on The History List, there is no cost your organization and program.  

Learn more and view examples of listings for summer programs at historic sites.

"Your kid went to summer camp.  My kid went to live in the 1830s" -- Bumper sticker for history summer camp


"My daughter spent her summer in the 1830s" -- Bumper sticker for living history summer camp


You can add your history summer camp or program to "The History List Guide to Summer Camps and Programs at Historic Sites and Institutions."  Start here.

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January 16, 2013

My comment on "Edutainment and the Boston Tea Party"

Updated December 11, 2013: The long post from the CEO, who also, apparently, designed the exhibit, defending his museum is worth reading, as are several of the other comments.

My comment on a post on The Junto blog about the new Boston Tea Party Museum:

"This is an important topic, and there is an interesting contrast between this experience and the annual reenactment, which took place on December 16 at the Old South Meeting House and continued on to the docks to watch the boarding of one of the replica ships and the dumping of the tea (pictured). (Several additional photos of the event.) The Boston Tea Party ship during the annual reenactment of the Boston Tea Party

While the Meeting House wasn’t as full as it’s reported to have been when the actual meeting took place, it was full by modern standards and there was an electric feeling, as if we were about to witness something special. The reenactors were great and struck the perfect balance between their portrayal and, say, helping a youngster lower the mic so he could address the gathering. I was surprised to see so many kids step up and speak to what was probably the largest group they’d ever addressed.

Of course the Boston Tea Party attraction can’t afford to stage a huge meeting several times a day, but the larger point isn’t one about the use of technology as a substitute, per se. Instead, it’s whether we should focus on delivering an authentic experience that tells the story in a straightforward and honest way, or whether we should feel that we have to “sex it up.” In order to attract a generation that is growing up on iPhones and iPads, do we need to introduce these new technologies in order to capture and hold their interest when they step into our museum or onto our site?

I would argue that the reality is just the opposite. Regardless of the age of the guest, we should presume that they are there because they want to be–not always true for all kids in school groups, I realize–and that they deserve to be treated as intelligent individuals. They may not know much about the history of what they’re looking at or of the site where they’re standing, but they’re standing in front of you because they want to be there. If they wanted to stare at their iPhone or iPad, they would have stayed in the car. A well-designed exhibit or a capable engaging docent should not be replaced with an investment in flash. It’s authenticity that they’re after, and that’s in the documents and the artifacts, the place and the narrative, not the technology and certainly not in a ham-handed attempt to make it relevant and engaging by dumbing down the story and turning up the volume.

A final note: If organizations are going to invest in technology, they should focus on the people who aren’t there but who one day may be. This means immersive online experiences, live streaming events, and providing access to documents and photos of the collection. The viewers and users of those online resources are all people who are going to plan a trip or encourage others. The preview and the opportunity to engage online only makes it more interesting. Let’s banish the statement, “If we put it online, no one will want to come.” Do we believe that the White House, the pyramids, Wrigley Filed, or Disney World get fewer visitors because tens of thousands of photos and descriptions are online?"

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