This little piece is me responding in my own way to Alison Innes’ post “Thoughts on Twitter Outreach” and it in turn bounces off Michael Fontaine’s “Promoting Classics to the Public – what worked, what didn’t what couldn’t”
Firstly, I find “Outreach” a funny thing in the Classics world. I certainly ‘get’ it – if the discipline is to survive it needs to connect with people outside its own little bubble, it needs to continue to demonstrate relevance, and it needs to attract new people to be involved in it (in the church we call this evangelism!). All interest-groups have this same imperative – to engage outsiders of the interest-group for the sake of the interest-group’s survival. Classics is just another version of this and it’s unclear to me why Classics thinks it has any more warrant on public attention than any other interest group.
Anyway, this is all besides the point. Outreach is primarily about (a) increasing visibility (remember how hard it was to find out things in the pre-internet age? Of course, you don’t), (b) leverage visibility to create engagement, (c) turn engagement into buy-in.
So, on to Fontaine’s article. I quite like Fontaine’s Latin-related pieces, but this was a bit bizarre. Basically, he says he just tried everything that he thought would work or even things that wouldn’t work. The weirdest part is this:
My experiment with Twitter proved to be a failure. I began by obeying the rules of etiquette, then breaking them deliberately to see what worked.”
Of course, it didn’t work. Twitter, like all social media, evolves its own set of social norms (well, really multiple sets of social norms because Twitter is not itself a monolithic culture, but a series of related sub-cultures. I understand the “exploratory” desire to break social norms on Twitter, but turning up to a party and breaking all the rules doesn’t work (unless, apparently, you are trying to become the US President.
Fontaine’s goal, and the SCS’s, was to reach non-classicists. Innes’ post goes on to interrogate Fontaine’s approach. It critiques the vague idea of ‘outreach’, and prefers “humanities communication” and engagement. Innes’ article is interesting on its own terms, and most interesting to me when she discusses Twitter.
Twitter, in my own social media engagement, has become a fabulous place. Every social media “place” has its own vibe, culture, demographics, and sub-groups. Also, how one chooses to use those platforms may change. I have very peculiar usage patterns for Facebook, for instance. Twitter, however, is a free-for-all.
What Twitter has done for me is to bring me into conversations with a wide range of people in my disciplines. And particularly, having the (un)fortunate circumstance of a single foot in several disciplines, it engages me in conversation with a range of people I would never have come across without Twitter. Twitter is the virtual equivalence of the conference, the coffee shop, and the seminar room. It doesn’t replace any of those particularly well, but it mediates global (and national) communities for me in patristics, classics, biblical studies, and classical languages/linguistics.
I don’t have a social media strategy, or at least a super-well-thought-out one. However, I do think social media is a great invention because it is essentially social – the conversation of people, and a medium – a means by which that conversation takes place. It’s ability to mediate that conversation (removing the necessity of unmediated access, i.e. in person relationship) is precisely what makes it invaluable.