Beyond the Blog: Using Social Media to Enhance Conversation


   
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This spring, I will be taking part in a session at Society for American Archaeology Conference entitled “Blogging Archaeology”. In anticipation, there are a series of questions being asked by the session organizer, Colleen Morgan (@clmorgan), on her blog, Middle Savagery, regarding archaeology and blogging, to be answered by archaeology bloggers. Each week for the next four weeks, I’ll be doing my best to answer these questions. If you’d like to participate, here’s the gist of it all. Here are links to my posts answering question one and question two. Here are links to Carnival One and Carnival two!

“A final downside to the short form is the appearance of dialog. Noting this virtual round table and other blogs (like MS) as exceptions, most archaeological blogs that I read have very little in the way of dialog through comments. Often on this blog, I feel like I am talking to myself, which in a way is catharsis, but if an archaeology blogger writes and no one reacts, are we really changing opinions or moving the field forward?” I would add to this, how do you attract readership? Without too much in the way of SEO chatter, who is your audience and how to you interact with this audience? What do you want out of interactivity by means of blogging about archaeology?

Gauging your audience is a very difficult part of blogging. Both personally and through my work with the MSU Campus Archaeology Program, generating conversation on the blog was difficult, and often made it hard to distinguish who was reading and if your content is effective.

Social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, has allowed me to both generate conversation surrounding blog topics, as well as gather a specific idea as to who is reading my blog. For a program such as CAP, Twitter and Facebook provide a fantastic dataset to determining who the people are who follow or are interested in what you do. While this doesn’t capture everybody, it certainly provides a sample, and there are a number of tools that let you gather specific data. With Twitter, you can actively go out and follow the people you want to be reading and seeing your content. If they choose to follow back, then they will begin to be exposed to what you’re doing and read your blog.

You can also generate discussion through those media relating to your blog content. Retweets of your posts suggest that people find your work valuable enough to share with their network. These often generate conversations about the topic, or prompt questions. In some sense, on Twitter, this can much more personal than on the blog: questions go directly to author, and a quick back and forth can take place. Although it’s a “public” conversation, it makes it very easy to develop a relationship with your readers.

Facebook, as most of us know, is also a great place for conversation. For CAP, conversations about blog posts regularly occur on the Facebook wall that never do on the blog post. What is interesting about these conversations is that only, uh, “Likers” of your page, or your Facebook friends, can take part. This means that the community that is communicating is restricted, in a sense, and this tends to generate more focused conversation. I am hoping to start looking into using LinkedIn as another area to generate conversations: for us, the MSU Alumni LinkedIn group is enormous and very active, and could be a wonderful space to begin generating conversations about the archaeology being done on our campus.

Regularly looking at your Facebook Insights, and looking over the list of followers you have, should give you an idea as to what your digital community might look like. Social media also gives you a good forum for feedback: a Facebook post or tweet asking, ” what would you like to see more of?” or “what questions do you want us to answer?” provide a wonderful opportunity to both engage your community, give them ownership of your content, start conversations, and also make sure you’re providing content that they would like to read. This should, ideally, result in more communication.

At this point, I consider blogging to be one piece of a larger use of online media fir archaeology on the web. Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, LinkedIn, and other social media sites provide opportunities for archaeologists to build or join communities and networks to share, distribute, and talk about information relating to our research. There is a very tight community of archaeologists on Twitter that regularly shares archaeological information, and interacts with the public in fun, engaging, and creative ways: I would encourage readers to join us (Here is a starter list). Using these tools helps to enhance the dialogue surrounding the content on your blog, and expand the reach of your work and the information you’re hoping to share.

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About Terry Brock

Terry is an archaeologist who lives in Virginia with his fiancee and is writing his PhD at Michigan State University. In his spare time, he writes for Gradhacker, an Inside Higher Ed Blog, and tweets @brockter. His favorite thing he's ever written is Swimming Buddies and a Pipe Cleaner Necklace.