Today, the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Office of Digital Humanities hosted project directors from 34 different projects representing recent awards from the Institutes for Advanced Topics in the Digital Humanities, the Digital Humanities Start-Up Grants, and the new Digital Humanities Implementation Grants. Three minutes, three powerpoint slides, and one project: it was a whirlwind of cutting-edge digital humanities highlights from across the country. MITH represented its recently awarded projects: Active OCR, led by Travis Brown, ANGLES and the Digital Humanities Data Curation Institutes, led by Trevor Muñoz, and Topic Modeling for Humanities Research.
The meeting itself is a great example of the innovative leadership the Office of Digital Humanities is demonstrating in its grant programs: providing a public platform for project directors to talk about their projects and meet one another presents opportunities for collaboration and information exchange that likely wouldn’t take place otherwise. I was delighted to be asked to present on publicizing your digital humanities project as part of a roundtable with Paula Wesley (NEH Office of Communications), Natalie Houston (University of Houston), and Sheila Brennan (CHNM @George Mason University). Here are a couple of quick lessons on how to promote your project:
1.) Pre-Planning is your best friend. The first task we undertake on a project when it gets started is to grab all the various team members (scholars, developers, design team, etc) to discuss the project goals and what message we want to send about a project. We distill this into a couple of verbal bullet-points that allow us to address our audience. Who is your audience? What language do they use? What types of medium are they most comfortable with? Each of these needs to be answered to extend your project to those communities. Once everyone is clear on the project, the message, and the audience, we then spin up our publicity machine.
- Logo: select a logo that visually represents your projects interests and goals. nothing too elaborate and nothing that can’t be inverted into black-white or other colors.
- Tweet handle or hashtag: digital humanities is a community that likes its social media. Establish a twitter handle (or preferably a hashtag) that will allow you to monitor, gather, and contribute to the online community. It should conform to your brand. For example, our topic modeling workshop uses #dhtopic as its tag….the field of study (DH) coupled with the tech method (topic modeling). Make it short and sweet since you’ll only have 144 characters everytime someone tweets.
Once we’ve established those two things, we move onto our MITH Project Page (http://mith.umd.edu/research/current-projects/ ). A project page is hosted by MITH (forever) and basically captures our role in any given project (be it an event, conference, project, etc). We include:
a. project description
b. participating staff
c. project contact
d. blog roll and recent tweets
e. share functions (tweet, facebook, email, g+)
f. project website link and Git repository
The project page updates itself once it has been set up. We automatically pull any tweet with the project tag to that page and automatically link as posts that have been tagged with the project tag. We then update the static portions annually to reflect what may have changed in terms of project goals and staffing.
Now, you are asking what about building some snazzy project website? At MITH, we discuss what the scholarly goals of the project are. Where possible we deploy custom-themed CMS systems (WordPress or Drupal) to be as efficient as possible with our time and resources (financial and staffing). More significantly, we know that projects evolve, primary investigators change or leave universities, and/or the project completes its work. By seperating the project page from the project site, we provide project staff more flexibility in updating without having to rely on MITH staff updating or limiting what technologies a project site might use.
So, you’ve got social media and a web profile under control. Now gather your thoughts to launch the publicity.
At MITH, we announce any significant issue for a project as well as regular development updates. They get posted to the MITH blog, tweeted via link, and sent out via listerv. We run google analytics to identify what are high traffic times for digital humanities and visitors to our site. For MITH, we get a little over 1,000 unique hits a month…most are concentrated in late mornings monday through thursday. We then launch our regular project announcements to post around 10 am with special announcements taking place around lunch time. This way, we catch the east coasters with regular announcements and the west coasters as they are getting into work. Plus, we catch our project partners across the pond so we aren’t tweeting and posting while it is the dead of night.
All of our announcements include the funder twitter handle, a project URL, and our twitter handle. Giving props to your funder is very important as your project wouldn’t exist without their support. Because there is power in numbers, we also give our own staff a heads up on really significant announcements so they can deploy their re-tweeting and postings. One final note about tweeting/posting. MITH has branded a special hashtag #mithleaks to tease the public about our projects and on-going work. It allows us to flag people that something is coming and have a bit of fun at the same time.
Since most of these things create a tweet/blog/post windfall, we also make sure to loop in our local stakeholders on projects. We send special notes to our campus constituents highlighting the projects that intersect with our University priorities. This is pivotal because we use these to generate interest from our local supporters: the College of Arts and Humanities, the University of Maryland Libraries, and the Office of the Vice President for Research. We also tap their promotional and publishing networks. By sharing information with them, they can help us identify appropriate media outlets. Plus, we get them interested in featuring our projects on UMD sites.
Now that your project is getting out there, don’t forget that you’ve got to report on its products. At MITH, we post (when possible) midterm and final reports. We also post a project completion blog that highlights what we’ve learned. We like these to coincide with major conferences and events of the constituent communities and audiences. It allows us to reach committed scholars while simultaneously providing the project team with the opportunity for feedback.
When the project is completed, we crawl and archive the project website, gather the tweets and blogs, and package that as a digital file for our archives. Project members get a copy for their files and then we conduct an internal review. We return to our project goals, message, and audiences. Did we complete our goals, communicate our message, and reach the audience we intended? We then note what we need to change for next time.
This all seems like a lot (and it is) but you should also know we don’t do this all on a daily basis. Tweets are scheduled via tweet scheduling, mail via mail chimp, blogs via regularly scheduled contributions where every team member takes a turn, and project updates on a quarterly basis. We set the schedules at the beginning of the semester for every project and then divide up responsibilities. Projects generally get awarded quarterly which means we are able to plan out months in advance and estimate when we will have major announcements.
Whether you follow the process above or create one of your own, the principal remains the same: unless you promote your project, how will others know how cool it is?