Friday, June 30, 2006

Proposal for a regional digitization project, part 7 (The End)

First, I want to thank those who have commented on this series. The comments have been thought-provoking and helpful. If others have thoughts to share on this mythical project, please feel free to do so.

Today I want to tackle a very important aspect of this project: marketing.

We tend to think that "if we build it, they will come." Although that happens in the movies, it doesn't happen in real life. In real life, there is often much formal marketing as well as things that spark word-of-mouth marketing and "idea viruses." (If you've not heard of ideaviruses, you might want to check out Seth Godin's book, Unleashing the Ideavirus.) Let's look at several marketing activities that these collaborators can use:
  • Although the potential finished products were outline in part 2, those ideas, alpha and beta versions, and final versions should be shown to potential users in order to obtain feedback (e.g., focus group sessions). Along with asking for feedback, these sessions should also be thought of as marketing. Here are early opportunities to get people interested in the project. These people should be empowered to talk about the project with others in hopes of starting some word-of-mouth advertising.
  • Press releases should be issued when the collaborators receive major funding, when a new collaborator joins the group, or when a major milestone is achieved. These press releases should give a nice overview of the project, its goals, etc., and contain pithy quotes from people involved, supporters, and/or its users.
    • Press releases don't always get published without the efforts of a PR person (e.g., a staff member given PR responsibilities) to follow-up with reporters and "push" a story. However, even when not published, they make the media aware of what's going on. And keeping the media in the loop can be helpful when you need that "big story" written.
  • Brochures, etc., will need to be created for use when the web site goes live. These brochures (or maybe just something like a 3" x 8" card) should be placed in prominent places within every collaborators' institution, in libraries, in schools, government offices, and in places visited by tourists.
    • Since some tourists now travel with web-enable devices, they may check out the web site while in the area. That could lead them to actually visit some of the institutions.
    • Brochures can be expensive, depending on their quality, so the collaborators will need to look at ways of having professional looking brochures (marketing materials) at a reasonable cost. (Or maybe they can get a grant maker to fund some of the publicity materials needed?)
  • Small signs should be placed near some of the actually objects (that we digitized) noting that they are part of this mythical online collection. The signs should include the project's logo as well as text. I would not places then next to every object, but perhaps "enough" so that they are noticed.
  • The logo is a marketing tool as well as the project's name (on the web site). These should be carefully considered since they should not be changed after the project has formally launched.
    • The site's URL is also important and needs to be memorable and not too long. The project should be on its own web site and not part of one institution's web site.
  • Every institution that contributes materials to the project should have something in its foyer that announces that to visitors (perhaps a poster).
    • Each institution should also have something on its own web site including a link to the project.
  • Materials should be sent to 4th, 7th and 11th grade teachers within Dauphin County telling them about the project. These materials should be geared specifically for them and might include ideas on how to integrate the materials into lesson plans.
    • Similar materials should also be sent to school librarians.
  • Purchasing advertisements (e.g., newspaper ads) can be quite expensive, so I would encourage the project team to "work" the media and get stories written about the project instead. In fact, those stories might reach more people than the ads.
    • TV coverage might include screen shots and perhaps a mini tutorial.
  • There should be a "grand opening" for the project. This might occur after the project has been "live" for a few weeks and any bugs have been worked out. (I used to work in IT and I know that no matter how much testing you do, there are always bugs.) The collaborators, the people who worked on the project, the supporters and funders, representatives from the key user groups, and the media should be invited to this event.
    • The mayor of Harrisburg and the Dauphin County Board of Commissioners need to be at this event. Having them at the event not only allows them to show their support, but it will ensure that the media is there.
    • The governor should be invited and someone from the governor's office (if not the governor or lieutenant governor) should be at the event. Again, that will help ensure media coverage.
  • During special theme weeks/months (like Women's History Month), the project should generate a press release and perhaps other materials to circulate. These materials should highlight the parts of the digital collection that support the themes.
    • These should be done every year, not just during the first year. This does not mean that the materials need to be new every year, just that the promotional activity needs to occur. Don't expect people to automatically remember that the project has information on that subject/theme.
Are there more activities? Probably. The collaborators should think creatively about marketing and look for ideas that are unique as well as inexpensive. Personally, I like swag and think that the team should find a way to include/use giveaway items to help promote the project.

There should be someone in charge of marketing. This might be a specific institution or a team of people from several institutions. Likely some of the institutions involved will have marketing people on staff who can (and should) assist with this effort.

And the cost? As I said above, some of these marketing ideas only take time while others require materials to be purchased/made. A marketing budget will need to be developed early in the project with considerations given to what institutions may be able to do out of their own budgets or as part of existing marketing activities. There is also the possibility of getting funding specifically for marketing.

Everyone will need to keep in mind that marketing is an ongoing activity and not just something that will end (just like those activities that surround preserving the digital assets). Remember that even the most famous museums continue to market themselves. They know that if they do not market themselves that their visitors/usage/importance will decline.

How should the collaborators track the results of their marketing efforts? Usage will be the most important thing to track.
  • Does the marketing result in increased usage of the web site?
  • Can a specific marketing effort be linked to specific changes in usage?
  • Is usage increasing or remaining steady? (If it is decreasing, why?)
If institutions sell reproductions of any of the items, they should track those sales and note if they increase.

The group should also collect other evidence that the project has made a difference. For example, has the project made a difference in:
  • How students are accessing materials (or how many materials they are using)?
  • How teachers use primary source materials?
  • What people know about the area?
  • How often the original materials are accessed?
  • How history will be retained (preserved) for the future?
My exercise of creating a mythical collaborative project for Harrisburg, PA will now come to an end. Have I forgotten anything? Yes. For example, I didn't address the need to keep the content fresh by doing ongoing maintenance, adding new content, etc. And I needed talk about adding more contributors after the project has gone live. And even though I have consistent used the word "project", I didn't talk about why everyone should see this as an ongoing "program." Oh well...

As I said before, walking through a project in this way is useful because it give you a chance to envision what will really occur, to spot areas of concerns, and to see what you might overlook. Hopefully you will do such exercises with your digitization programs/projects.

The previous parts of this series are available at:
  • part 1 -- Introduction
  • part 2 -- Material selection & products to be created
  • part 3 -- Obstacles & copyright
  • part 4 -- Digitization, standards & guidelines
  • part 5 -- Content management & metadata
  • part 6 -- Preservation

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