Wisconsin Historical Society

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How to Use Internet-based Technologies to Build Support for Your Historic Preservation Group

How to Use Internet-based Technologies | Historic Preservation | Wisconsin Historical Society

If your historic preservation group has yet to integrate internet technologies into your daily operations, you risk closing doors to a broad audience. Today, people of all ages use the internet not only for entertainment, but also as a primary source of information.

If your preservation group makes the leap into the Digital Age, the internet can become like a 24-hour multitasking staff member who works mostly for free. Today's digital technology tools can help you create more dynamic web content, share your message with a broader audience, facilitate online interactions with and among your supporters, and even transform your group's public image. These tools are more user-friendly than ever, and many are free.

Take Advantage of New Technology Opportunities

The internet is the underlying technology that supports all of the new digital tools. The two oldest internet-based technologies are email and websites. In the 1990s, when the internet was still relatively new, nonprofit organization's websites looked like yellow pages ads. They included contact information, a mission statement, and a few photos. But a lot has changed over the past 20 years. You should be aware that today's users will judge your website for its richness of content, usability, and aesthetics with the same standards they apply to commercial sites. Therefore, your website should be designed with a journalistic or commercial format.

Another development is the availability of many sophisticated multimedia technologies. These technologies allow you to feature compelling content such as digital video and audio files on your group's website. Some historic preservation groups have incorporated virtual home and building tours using online mapping technologies.

Social media technologies, such as blogs, Facebook, and Twitter, have become very popular in just a few years. Social media is a category of web-based and mobile (i.e., cellular) technologies that create opportunities for interactive dialogue.

Your preservation group can use the interactive nature of social media tools to:

  • Exchange information
  • Cultivate wide support for a cause or issue
  • Organize advocacy actions
  • Build your membership
  • Raise funds online
  • Produce a positive change in your community

In 2000, the Pew Charitable Trusts set up the Pew Internet and American Life Project to research the internet's social impact. According to the results of a 2010 Pew report, social media tools are building bridges between generations. The report noted that as of May 2010, of internet users between the ages of 50 and 64:

  • 47 percent were using Facebook or other social networking sites
  • 11 percent were using Twitter
  • 92 percent were reading and sending email messages

The report also stated:

While the results can sometimes be messy, these social spaces pool together users from very different parts of people's lives and provide the opportunity to share skills across generational divides.

Navigate the Online Communication Landscape

Person-to-person contact is still extremely important in any advocacy action, but social media tools have quickly changed the landscape for grassroots advocacy work. Social media tools allow you to communicate key information to the right people without relying exclusively on the news media. These new tools also call for a different kind of communication, one that invites a response — and in some cases, dissent. You should be cautious about accepting these responses as directives. Instead, treat your social media communications as contributions to a larger conversation.

Your group's social media presence will also require constant monitoring and management. If your group creates a social networking site such as a blog, you must commit to updating it regularly. If people find your blog and the information in it is months, or even weeks, out of date, they may assume your group is no longer active. Followers of your group's blog will comment on ideas and data they care about, creating user-generated content. Your group may not be able to completely control the content they post, even if you clearly articulate your participation guidelines. This means your group will need to adopt strategies to mediate discussions about challenging topics.

While embracing social media tools, your group should not allow online communications to replace all one-on-one interactions with your supporters. The challenge will be to integrate social media into your group's advocacy toolbox. If your group makes good use of social media, you will probably also do a good job of engaging your supporters in person. 

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