Have you ever considered Unicron for dinner? If not, why not? Oh, right, yes of course – Unicron’s don’t exist. There goes my dinner plans. On Tuesday 29 January 2013 the Institute of Historical Research held a workshop on Social Media for the SMKE project. The second talk was by Julian Harrison of the British Library, who discussed the British Library’s Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts blog. The Unicron recipe came from a post about a long-lost medieval cookbook containing recipes for hedgehogs, blackbirds and Unicron’s. It has some great images and advice, just a shame the post was published on 1 April (see blog post here).
Harrison didn’t just talk about spurious blog posts, however, the purpose of the blog is more serious – to showcase the work that the British Library does and its holdings to a wider audience than was ever possible before the advent of social media. In using blogs, the British Library is trying to connect users with their content, facilitate research, and have a bit of fun in the process. The blog stats were particularly interesting. The Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts blog began in 2010 and received 14,000 views. In 2011 this increased to 70,000 views and then in 2012 it really took off with a massive 300,000 views. Harrison broke down the stats for 2012. Visitors came from 189 countries although the US (38%) and UK (23%) were by far the largest group. It is interesting that there was more interest from America than from the UK. Harrison mentioned that they had started to time some of their posts for the American audience – placing them at midnight UK time so that Americans could receive the posts near the end of their working day (about 4pm on the West coast).
Julian Harrison also outlined his seven golden rules of blogging. These are:
- Post on a frequent basis
- Be informative
- Write in a lively manner
- Include pictures or images
- Include links
- Know your audience
- Don’t be afraid to ‘plog’ (i.e. plug your blog – promote it – tweet and re-tweet)
All in all, this workshop was very useful in highlighting the usefulness of social media, including blogs, for the historian. The claim was made that in the current climate maintaining an online profile through social media is to be viewed as vital to securing jobs; someone findable online are more likely to be given a job than someone who keeps his or her research offline. I’m not certain if this is entirely true, yet, but I can easily see it going this way. I don’t think this should be the principal reason for entering the world of social media though. Self-promotion might prove useful, but it will only be successful – I think – if the reasons for posting blog posts and engaging in Twitter or photograph networks – is to further your own research and interest in a subject. If you are excited by what you are doing, and would like to express that excitement to others, I suspect that your online presence will be better received and more enjoyable and useful to both yourself and to others.