This article is written by Travis Warren, CEO and Founder of WhippleHill Communications.
When I first read about the Library of Congress’s Flickr project, I couldn’t wait to check it out. It made me think about how schools could benefit from digitizing their photographic archives. I spoke with others at my alma mater, Proctor Academy, about putting our archives online for public viewing. Scanning the collection would make it more much widely available but I thought that the impact could be even greater. Could we turn these assets into a form of social currency?
I hoped that pushing photos from Flickr out to our Facebook and Twitter networks would start conversations and increase the sense of community online. The photos would serve as conversation starters, or ‘icebreakers,’ putting people at ease and creating a reason for them to engage.
Before we could begin we needed to get organized. We set up a Flickr account, and started scanning and posting photos one hundred at a time. Initially, rather than focusing on ‘conversations’ (currency), we set out to simply build our collection (assets). After we had about two thousand pictures posted, we began publishing links to the photos on Facebook.
Early on we learned a number of valuable lessons. Many photos failed to generate interest because they were from too far in the past, or because they had uninteresting captions. Relying heavily on the ‘Insights’ from our Facebook page, we refined our photo selection process and overall approach. The gender, age, and location of our audience helped us better determine which photos to post.
Before long we felt comfortable taking risks with our images and captions, trying hard not to take ourselves too seriously. Humor through photo or comment was often the best icebreaker. We realized humility was also key to starting conversations. Mistakes happen –occasionally we misidentified people, places or dates, and sometimes found that our mistakes led to the best conversations of all. We also selected photos from upcoming reunion years and focused on programs we knew our alumni were invested in and would love to respond to.
It might sound a bit illogical not to announce what we were doing. In fact, we just started and let whatever would happen, happen (read Seth Godin’s latest book, Poke the Box, if you’re looking for inspiration). Once a week or so we posted links to archive photos on our Facebook page or tweeted about a photo. It was great to realize our initial hunch was correct – that there was endless opportunity in digitizing archives. And as we found out soon enough, the rest takes care of itself.
Ski Hill Men – engaging Reunion years.
The Bird in front of Morton House – inviting humor.
Caution Boy’s School – inviting humility.