Five years ago, I started the East Kingdom Gazette as an experiment in using a blog and social media to improve communications in the East Kingdom (the Northeast chapter of the SCA, Inc.). Last weekend, I moved from Site Management and Content Editor to a more limited role. This made me introspective about what I’ve learned about the SCA and its communications. Here is a summary of the most important points.
- People read about the SCA as if it were a community, not just as a hobby. The articles they care most about are ones with an emotional content, in which we celebrate or grieve. Obituaries are always read widely. In Memoriam: The Calontir Falcons may never lose its place as our most read article because that loss was felt beyond the East. A happier article that has stayed in the top ten is Baron to Knight to Prince in a Day, because it caught people’s imagination in all the right ways.
- Politics matter and word choice matters even more. The other most popular subjects are politics and changes to rules. How those posts are written matters. I sometimes pushed for rewrites of submissions from people in positions of authority because what they wrote was open to misinterpretation. In the real world, I’ve written for political campaigns and have some experience with this, so I came from a good place to make the request. I strongly advice that anyone in the SCA writing a potentially controversial piece get experienced feedback unless they want their inbox to be filled with unhappy emails. The number of emails can be significantly lessened and – more importantly – the SCA made a happier place.
- Research has longevity. Articles that contain Arts & Sciences research continue to be read long after they are posted. They are picked up in searches that extend beyond the SCA also. One author was contacted by a Harvard researcher for permission to cite an A&S article we posted.
- The SCA and the web have huge visual potential together. The Gazette doesn’t have time to fully take advantage of photos, but when we did the results got wide readership such as with this Coronation piece.
- Many people think their projects are not important enough to be publicized. Frequently we got an email with an intro that goes – “I was told to send this but I wasn’t sure if you’d want to post it…” The Gazette doesn’t post self-promotion pieces or advertisements, but there are so many things we would post and aren’t sent to us because people think no one cares. They were usually wrong. People would care.
- Both push and pull matter. In other words, use a webpage and social media and email. All have advantages. All get used. Here’s the Gazette’s current stats:
Followers – 171 via WordPress, 198 via Twitter, 296 via email, 301 via Google+, 2,317 via Facebook.
Webpage Views – Range from 2,797 – 5,438 per month although they have gone as high as 30,988 in a month.
- There will never be enough time to do all the things the Gazette could do. The potential for what we could do with the Gazette has consistently outstripped the available time and personnel.
- Expectations have increased in the last five years. People expect more and faster coverage of everything significant now. Often they can get the information from places other than the Gazette, but finding those places depends on knowing the right people. While the Gazette cannot always turn information around as quickly as a private individual, we can make sure our information is accurate and accessible to anyone who wants it. Accessibility is important in a large group like the SCA.
- Unofficial makes things easier and harder. The Gazette is not an official publication. This gives us an agility and freedom that official websites don’t have. It also means we are not integrated into the official structure. We can’t have the best of both worlds, but I wish we could because…
- As a Society, we can and need to do better. It’s easy to criticize Corporate or a kingdom for what they could do better. I’ve had moments of doing that. Now I mostly have sympathy for the enormity of the task of helping a 50+ year old organization run almost exclusively by volunteers adapt to an online mode of communicating that is not static. If people are interested in helping the SCA adapt, I would strongly suggest that they volunteer to help their local webminister. It’s a more manageable place to start making change, and most activities occur locally. Offer real help, though, and not just helpful suggestions. My response to helpful suggestions for Gazette articles quickly became – “We would post that. Let me know when you’ve written it.”
All of these lessons weren’t something I learned by myself. The Gazette is run by an amazing staff of editors that bring varying opinions and experiences to our discussions. I am deeply grateful to everyone who worked on this project. It could not have happened without all of their time, devotion, and creativity. I look forward to seeing where it goes from here.