Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Did Someone Say "Party?"

Social media is like a party. And no, I am not just saying that because I think everything is like a party (or because I consider myself a party).

Posted on the @DigInterp
feed this past week. 
Recently, the National Park Service offered a internal, web-based course called "Digital Media for Interpreters." By design, the course illustrates the many uses of digital media for parks to utilize. I did not take this session, having previously taken the course, but I followed some of the ideas through the Facebook group and Twitter this past week. The course instructors posted photos, questions, and ideas through both social media sites. One of the questions started "Social Media is..." and analogies followed.  Of course, the first thing to pop into my head is "like a party!" As I chewed on this further, I realized I can also say "interpretation is like a party."

Whaaaaa? How is she going to fit social media and historic sites or park and interpretation AND a party into her argument? 

Wait for it.

So, what's your Twitter handle?

Parties are planned.
Yes, spontaneous gatherings of friends sometimes turns into party-like fun times, but that is not what I am talking about. Quality parties take quality planning. When is the best time for a party? Who is attending this party? Should there be a theme, food, or activities? What considerations of the guests should be made (maybe Johnny is a vegan or Sarah can't stand to play charades; what alternatives are available so the party is inclusive of all guests?)?

In the same manner, historic sites wanting to launch a social media presence should plan. Who is the audience (your guests?)? What content will you provide (consider this your food and activities)? What types of media will work best (where is the location of this party)? Interpreters have to ask similar questions when planning for interpretive programming. They plan the programming (times, locations, content) and let the visitors handle the rest.

Parties are dynamic.
Brownie Wise is my hero. She made parties her business.
I know I just said parties are planned, but that is only part of the party fun. Parties might have a theme, and people may dress in character to match the theme, and the food may be assigned cute names to coordinate with the whole idea, but the "people" aspect of the guests will ultimately impact the outcome of the party. People are dynamic, therefore parties will be dynamic. You may have poured your heart and soul into planning, but you have only established a framework for an event.

Setting up a social media presence is like establishing the framework for a quality party; you plan your content and direction, but you relax and allow guests to enjoy themselves once the party starts. Interpreters giving programs start the program as planned and let the dynamics of the group impact the flow of the program. Ultimately, interpretive programming, whether formal/on-site or digital/online, is designed for visitors. Let the visitors create their own experience. We are just here to facilitate.

Would you like to try a lemon bar? Or a piece of historical
trivia that helps tell a bigger story? Maybe a picture of
a wild animal to share on your wall?
Parties allow for interactions. 
Parties mean meeting people! Sometimes, you meet people you know. Sometimes, you meet new people. Sometimes, you find out guests share similar interests and other times you learn new ideas by interacting with the group of people. Sometimes, you have a passing conversation with somebody you've never met and then you never see them again. C'est la vie a la partie. Even those guests who have wallflower-like tendencies can learn new things by watching and listening to interactions. Hosts and hostesses are not in every single room, participating in every single conversation. They facilitate party happenings. They introduce guests to each other, they monitor the life of the party (providing new activities or conversation starters as needed).

Interpreters do the same thing; they facilitate. Interpreters provide content to facilitate meaningful connections to places, stories, and ideas. Formal programs, informal interactions, and social media presences are mechanisms for this to happen. Social media administrators, especially, do not have to actively participate in every conversation. Rather, they can monitor the conversations and comment or reply as necessary to possibly redirect the conversation, to alleviate potential misunderstandings, and to encourage further discussion. They provide the image or the video or other interpretive content that adds to the conversation or contributes further to the one already happening. Wallflowers have value, too. Maybe they don't participate, but they are absorbing something.

Parties happen throughout the house. 
"@Margie Your Jello salads and parties are to die for! #delicious"
A conversation may be happening in the kitchen as a rousing game of badminton happens in the back yard all while inner rockstars come out during a Rock Band jam happening in the living room. This may also be called the "different strokes for different folks" approach to party planning. This works for party planning and digital media planning.

I have seen people who freak about about the massive number of digital tools available for use. "What are we going to do with a Facebook AND a Twitter AND a YouTube channel AND a blog AND a [fill in the blank here]. People will stop coming!" These tools should be implemented in a manner that will enhance the visitor experience. Each digital tool serves a different purpose and should be utilized according to their strengths (and not all have to be used, either). They can be integrated in manners that compliment each other, but they should be considered as different tools. You don't want someone playing badminton in the kitchen, do you? Think of the tweeted Facebook post the equivalent to that.

Get ready for the backwards-pants-wearers AND the
overly-political posters when you launch. It's all
a part of social interactions
You never know who might show up.
Surprise! Unexpected guests keep parties interesting. Hostesses or hosts should be ready for the spontaneous to happen and ready to step in if necessary. Make the unexpected guest welcome? Be ready to grit your teeth in an awkward smile? Call the authorities (depending on how unexpected your guest is)?

I think sometimes sites contemplating utilizing social media are afraid of the "letting go" part. But what if Uncle Bob shows up with his polyester suit on backwards (again) to tell the same lame joke "it looks like I've put my head on backwards" (again)? It is part of the chemistry of the party, and as an adminstrator/host, you let it be. Let the social element of social media happen. People will sometimes comment bizarre things (I find it mildly entertaining to comment on the Stones River National Battefield Facebook page posts just to be obnoxious... and they handle me with grace and poise... yes, I am one of those commenters... see the point below). Part of the planning portion of implementing social media includes a comment policy; at what point(s) will the park step in and redirect a conversation or even delete comments?

Parties are fun.
Parties, first and foremost, have a comfortable and safe atmosphere. Social media sites provided by historic sites should do the same. It is the fun that makes the memorable. Encouraging "play" is a form of encouraging engagement on social media. Again, it is called social media for a reason; interactions are desired. Providing a digital place, whether it be a Facebook page or a Twitter feed or a blog (or all of the above) allows for guests to engage. When there is an element of fun included, guests (visitors) have an easier time making a connection. Every post does not have to be fun, but neither does every post have to be super serious, either. Don't underestimate the fun.

*Note: As always, thoughts/opinions on here are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Park Service.

** Images borrowed from the following links: Party Perfect, Brownie Wise, Interactions, Outdoor Party, and Two Dudes.

***Let it be known that if you ever decide to show up to one of my parties in a backwards, polyester suit, I will exclaim in excitement, "you are my hero!" while offering you first dibs of the hors d'oeuvres.

1 comment:

  1. I feel like you should be the official blogger of the NPS.