knelsonmann

History Outside the Classroom

Week 13

As my supervisor is finishing early, this will be my last posting for my internship. He will be graduating and moving on to serve as corporate assistant to the director of corporate giving at Grosvenor, an asset and property management firm downtown. Exciting stuff. I on the other hand, will be leaving for the middle east for the summer in a few short weeks and am having a hard time separating myself from the HS, my internship at the British Consulate, my work with the Quebec Government Office, and my school duties. It is difficult to imagine it all coming to an end so soon. I would say it is the end of my school career, but I will be continuing on to Graduate school in January. To be completely honest, I wish I could say that I had learned more from the Historical Society during my time there. I found there to be a desperate need for some fresh perspective, methods and a general need for “new tricks” for the proverbial old dog. However, at every turn, I discovered what my supervisor had long before me: a persistent, all-encompassing resistance to change. Where there is need for change, it was resisted, and any hints at innovation or a step outside the norm were brushed aside. Unfortunately, resistance to change is futile: it always wins. At the beginning of the semester, Jared and myself had some exciting, positive and ambitious ideas for how to maximize my time this semester, and ways we truly believed we could make a difference to the HS. Instead, we were blocked at every turn by resistance and inflexibility. There is nothing to do about it now, and I wish them all the best. In a way though, I guess my time this semester did serve to demonstrate to me more things I do not desire or appreciate in a workplace, which is useful as well.

Week 12

These last few weeks of my internship will be spent developing a template the HS can use for posting on facebook after both myself and Jared have left. Much of the work was completed by scouring  the calendars the historical society sold last year, and the RPWR Wiki page. Here is a sample of what we have come up with:

 

The Rogers Park/ West Ridge Historical Society is recruiting volunteers and interns for the coming Spring 2013 semester. Contact _______________ at Info@rpwrhs.org for more information.

The Rogers Park/ West Ridge Historical Society is currently looking for volunteers and interns for the upcoming Spring 2013 semester. Regardless of your major, we would love to work with you. Contact ________________ at Info@rpwrhs.org for more information.

The Rogers Park/ West Ridge Historical Society is looking for help within the community with our Events, Education and Outreach Committee! Joining the Society’s Events and Education Resources Committee offers terrific opportunities to implement your ideas, learn more about our neighborhood, meet other people interested in local history and in general have a great time!  Programs include visits to local cemeteries, a tour of gangsters’ houses, the Society’s annual House Walk, and much more. Contact ______________ at Info@rpwrhs.org

 

Obviously, the blanks are meant to be filled in with information relevant at the time, and all possible postings have the potential to drive new recruiting and interest in events. Though the examples shown above could be used for any occasion, we are in the process of developing a template that includes every posting a facebook manager could need for every month of the year. Here is an example:

 

February

In February of 1916 the first mass was celebrated in St Jerome’s new church at 1709 W. Lunt.

February 4th: On this day in 1929 Paschen Park was opened at 1932 W. Lunt.

Happy Birthday to Abraham Lincoln!

February 15th: On this day in 1857 “Ridgeville” was split into two neighborhoods becoming: Evanston & Lake View.

The Rogers Park and West Ridge Historical Society would like to wish everyone a wonderful President’s Day! Also a happy Birthday to everyone’s favorite ivory haired president Mr. George Washington.

 

Through the use of this template, someone with very limited training could manage the facebook account and keep it active for at least a year.

Week 11

For an office of volunteers, I am constantly amazed by the fact that anything gets done at the office at all. For example, my supervisor is a full-time student and has another internship, and still manages to make it in to the HS on a part-time basis. The books, that is the accounting, are done by him for the most part, and he manages the majority of bill-paying, clerical work and social media/volunteer coordinating. When he leaves in a few weeks (three I believe), I am not sure who will have the time or the availability to come in as much as he does and keep the books. The majority of the other board members are retired, and don’t seem to get around enough to be able to stay on top of the finances. When Jared does leave, I think the HS should try to find a retired accountant or office manager that lives in Rogers Park/West Ridge that can donate their time and make sure the office stays afloat. The other issues like the rapidly deteriorating building, the mariachi band that plays upstairs (only a nuisance to some) can wait, while the management of the HS’ finances is of paramount importance.

 

Week 10

I have been thinking a great deal lately about the problem of how to build value for the HS (and therefore building value in membership) outside of the conventional demographics. This got me wondering about what it is that makes certain people value “history” over others. As mentioned in previous posts, it seems rather clear that, allowing for certain exceptions, public history (especially history of an area or town) is simply not sexy. Younger demographics do not seem to value, consider, or even really care about the history of a city or neighborhood. I have read a great deal recently on the ways that millennials differ from previous generations. For example, studies have shown that in the workplace, millennials are notoriously difficult to manage, self-absorbed, inexperienced from an educational system that does not prepare them for the real world, and tend to make decisions about where to work and how they perform on the job in ways that reflect their aspirations for their personal life. In much the same way, younger generations are increasingly worried about their social life over anything else – they crowd to areas that are trendy and expensive in order to maximize the enjoyment of their free time, even when they cannot afford it and end up in debt or at the very least having to make a great deal of sacrifice in order to maintain their lifestyle. Are we an increasingly consumerist/materialist society? I wonder if this has an effect on how we value history like that the HS represents. If the preservation of an area’s past has nothing to offer one’s social life, it will most likely not be supported…It is an interesting question, and I am curious if this is at all correlated with the gap in support and interest between previous generations and people my own age.

 

Week 9

While it hasn’t been easy to fit work at the HS into my schedule lately, I have been able to do work with my supervisor on frameworks for the HS’ social media that are reminiscent of  what I might call a “business strategy” or more specifically public relations strategy. One of the challenges of this is catering content and in a sense “advertising” to a demographic that is unique in their general unfamiliarity with social media platforms. The HS’ target demographic is older and supports the Historical Society based upon their view that there is an inherent value in preserving history and the heritage of their neighborhood. Because many of them are from here or have history in this neighborhood, they are likely to support the HS regardless of whether or not there is a sharp advertising strategy being implemented – that is they would support the HS no matter what. The real challenge is devising ways in which to attract other demographics and to somehow build value in the preservation of this neighborhood’s history. Unfortunately, expanding the appeal of the HS is more difficult, so perhaps the best strategy would be to find ways to use social media as a means to spread awareness about the HS to a wider audience within the same demographic. The trouble with this is that these problems are best solved through an active advertising campaign, which the HS sorely lacks funds for.

Week 8

When I was a child, and my family would visit my Grandmother in Chicago, she would sometimes take me with her on errands around town. My grandmother was a member of an immeasurable number of clubs, societies and groups, and even today at almost 90 years old, she still volunteers at the local public news channel. Along with the Garden Club and her book club errands, trips to “the HS” (Historical Society) were my least favorite. We would drive in her old Buick LeSabre to the building which I remember like a scene out of a harry potter film: books stacked from floor to ceiling like a labyrinth; the smell of the books and old stationary; a few donated typewriters with faux-leather covers even then collecting dust in a corner. Essentially, the very last place that a child on vacation wanted to be for “a bit” which was Grandma-speak for several hours at least. The fact that the HS has survived this long with such little funding and relying entirely on the donated time of a few concerned local citizens is simultaneously remarkable and heartening. The HS lives in a new building now, and even has a small museum with pictures and displays that even the 10 year old me might have enjoyed. And now I go willingly – my how things change…

Weeks 6 and 7…again.

The weeks before the break were taken up mostly with finalizing a plan for the board at the HS concerning our automated posting program. Hootsuite has not been met with a great deal of enthusiasm, even after my supervisor and myself went about explaining the technology in great detail.

We were able to conclude that the automated facebook posting program “Hootsuite” would be a considerable asset to the HS-  accounts start from $8.99 per month for the application we are looking for. It would enable us to pre-load as many postings as we would want for a given week, as well as have a much greater level of control over content efficiency. The other benefit of this program is its statistics and analytical features, which allow one to “geo-target” demographics and maximize one’s level of knowledge of their audience. It is a great program, and would be instrumental in a future plan for social media posting after Jared and myself leave the HS.

It would also make the whole process quite a bit easier and more effective-one or two people could work for several hours one day a week “pre-loading” hootsuite, which would then post throughout the week, as well as passively manage and collect data on facebook page traffic.

Additionally, we have developed a sort of contest to draw more fans to the facebook page, as well as the HS itself. For those individuals following our Facebook page, we will put on a contest in which when one individual likes or shares our one of our statuses advertising any of our events, our search for volunteers, or any other news the historical society wishes to put out. Those who help us by sharing the status or liking it will be recorded by the office manager or any administrator to our facebook page and automatically entered into a drawing for a free gift from the society. Names will be selected once every two weeks from our selected postings. The status updates that qualify our followers for the drawing will be clearly labeled “RPWRHS Bi-Monthly Give-Away” so as to provide clear instruction to our followers.

The gifts given away by the society will begin with a free poster and then escalate each two weeks in the following order: poster, coffee mug, travel mug, book set, tote, t-shirt, and then culminate with a free year membership (with the approval of the Membership committee). If this rotation is followed the contest should last just over 6 months and will provide a substantial boosting to the society’s Facebook page that should easily be repeated twice a year for the foreseeable future.

For the weekly postings, we have additionally come up with a schedule that can be followed for content:

Each weekend, posts could be pre-loaded with content along these lines:

Monday: “today in Rogers park history”
Tuesday: upcoming event reminders
Wednesday:”quiz day”(the poster comes up with a fairly easy quiz question from the RPWR wiki material – prizes we’ve discussed)
Thurs-break from content
Friday-“over the weekend” : (if any upcoming events or reminders, OR random fact)
-also: announcement of quiz winner and instructions
Sat and sun: gathering content and loading hoot suite, ensuring quiz winners get their prize, etc

I feel like this is a good start, something we can build on. This schedule would allow for regular content which would bring in support, strengthen current “like” results, and give enough time for a reasonable preparation period on the weekends. It seems realistic time-wise, as well as ambitious enough to see results.

more to come next week!

 

Week 5

This has been a slow week for the HS. Much of this week’s work consisted of coordinating about our framework for facebook. Hootsuite, the program that allows users to plan and automatically post content throughout the week, costs around $9 for the professional version, and allows for multiple accounts, postings etc. The most effective way to execute this process would be to spend the time throughout the week gathering content from Hank, the creator of the RPWRHS Wiki page, and then spend several hours on the weekend pre-loading Hootsuite to then post the content at strategic times throughout the week. The other component/goal of the internship is to develop a plan that future interns/employees at the HS can carry on after Jared and myself have moved on. I am beginning to get my head around the goals and benchmarks we need to achieve in the next few months which is encouraging. Hopefully I will have more exciting news next week…

Week 4

This week, my supervisor and I worked on setting up and implementing a system for improving the efficacy of the Historical Society’s social media and online presence. After discussions with the board and presentation of our ideas, it was decided that we would focus most of our energy on facebook and social media endeavors, rather than some of the other projects we had talked about previously. Running a successful social media campaign requires a great deal of time and effort-in order for people to follow you online, you must consistently publish content they find interesting and useful to them. As the timing of these posts is important as well, it is best to have someone dedicated to regularly posting content at strategic times during the day-in the morning before work hours and evening after 5 for example. 

One way to bypass the need to have dedicated social media personnel- there are programs available that allow one to “pre-load” content and set it to automatically post throughout the week. At the moment, we are working on acquiring “Hootsuite”, as well as determining what viable sources of content would be. There is a Rogers Park/West ridge Wiki site with a great deal of content run by one of the board members, and we will most likely take advantage of that resource first.

Week 2….and 3

Unfortunately, I was unable to post an entry for the second week, as we (my supervisor and I) were unable to get going until the third week. Work at the HS is made slightly difficult by the fact that every decision, big and small, has to be funneled through the executive board of directors. Additionally, the board is composed primarily of slightly older folks, who make decisions based on a complex set of nostalgic ideas of how an organization should be run, antiquated conceptions of technology and its role in the office environment, and rather unrealistic expectations of the potential of social media and its role in marketing a business (or otherwise) entity.

These realities present challenges to the execution of any manner of updating or upgrading that would need to take place to guide the RPWRHS (Rogers Park/West Ridge Historical Society) into the twenty-first century. To begin with, my supervisor is the only paid employee. While the other, ruling members of the board of directors are all very dedicated and knowledgable, they work on a volunteer basis, on their own time and according to their own schedule. This means that it is rather difficult for anyone to coordinate and collaborate to enact any sort of change or implement any sort of new programs to accomplish any of the goals they set forth. These goals could include increasing the efficiency of their archival systems, volunteer databases, and member and contributor information. 

Even though he is the only paid employee at the HS, an executive director, and is in charge of essentially all of the clerical and logistical duties necessary to keep a business running and the lights on, my supervisor is not afforded much of a degree of autonomy or trust. The board seems to still consider him an Intern (which he used to be but has now moved his way up the chain of command), and in their interactions with me seem to mention him as only an afterthought, almost ignoring the fact that he is essentially my boss. I can tell that it must be frustrating to be such an integral part of an organization and get little respect or acknowledgement. I have enough work and internship experience (I currently work as a consultant to the Quebec Government Office in Chicago and have an internship at the British Consulate-General) to recognize that it is a rather unprofessional and inefficient way of running a business. Before anything else, serious discussion needs to take place on the chain of command, as well as much firmer and clearer divisions of labor and a better sense of where different people fit in.

As an initial step towards ironing down some of the projects I will be working on this semester, my supervisor and I met to brainstorm ideas and determine what would be the best and most useful application of my time and skills. As he has a great deal of experience at the HS and is intimately familiar with the unique challenges the HS is facing, we came up with a variety of goals and ideas on ways to improve the HS both in and out of the office. We were excited about the ideas we had come up with, and were asked to present them to the board. When I presented the ideas (which were all easily-attainable, exciting ideas), the board seemed to dismiss most of them, and focus mainly on the ideas we found to be the lowest on the scale of priorities, including improving the HS’ social media presence. One of the reasons we found this to be one of the lower priorities was a) the HS’ primary audience are by and large not particularly active on social media platforms b)to wage a successful social media campaign and increase readership/participation, an entity must have a steady stream of content that its viewership finds valuable, or it will be dismissed, and ultimately ineffective.

In the face of these challenges, I am interested to see how my role at the HS progresses. I believe that we have the potential, taking advantage of the wealth of historical materials and artifacts at the HS, to create an interesting and engaging social media campaign, with generous material and positive results. However, at the moment I am worried about the potential effects of a dis-organized office structure and obvious strong disagreements in the way the HS should move forward.