I want to be crystal clear about this — there is an online project called Encyclopedia Virginia. It is a comprehensive resource about the culture and heritage of Virginia. It is a project under the auspices of the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities.
This week’s Blog of the Week is the blog that accompanies the project. Got that? The blog is this: http://blog.encyclopediavirginia.org/ an entirely separate publication from the encyclopedia itself.
I’m fascinated by the project in and of itself, but what I wish to celebrate this week is the all-important blog that helps serve several critical purposes in support of the Encyclopedia Virginia project.
1. The blog helps to market the project — a regularly updated blog is the single, best way to enhance your Web site’s search engine optimization. If you have a Web presence at all, it serves you well to have a blog to share your story: search engines like blogs and without one, your audience may not find your content.
2. Transparency is a social media-era buzzword, but an appreciated and ever-rising way of doing business and serving one’s community. It’s sharing the good alongside the bad — and addressing the bad to make it right is the new, respected way of providing good customer service. The blog (any blog, really) allows the project managers to share the good feedback along with the negative, and to address the negative feedback in a public way, sometimes generating some thought provoking conversation.
3. Cross-promotion – and Brendan Wolfe illustrates this more fully below but in the case of any blog that accompanies a larger Web presence, it’s a way to link, link, link to other related news and information about your organization. See my post about repurposing content — this is a good example of that practice.
4. Building Community and yes, I intentionally left that C capitalized — this is the future, folks — we’ve all started talking about our “audiences” as communities and the new PR job will be a “Community Manager” starting now. Yes, this blog, and all the others I’ve featured on Blog of the Week have Communities and that is a group of people who share a common interest — even if that common interest is so narrow as to attract a very small number of people. As an example, I blogged once upon a time about a significant and rare medical issue we went through with my daughter. Once in a blue moon another parent searches online and we, those one in a million parents are brought together through a common experience and feel better for it and THAT, my friends, is why building community is important.
In summary, I want to applaud the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities for being a forward-thinking organization — and the people involved in the Encyclopedia Virginia project for “getting it” and realizing the value of their blog and keeping it going for the students, educators, history buffs and blog fans out there who they serve every day with their online presence. Way to go, VFH!
Excerpts from my e-mail interview with Brendan Wolfe, associate editor for the project:
HISTORY OF ENCYCLOPEDIA VIRGINIA
Encyclopedia Virginia is a multi-year project under the auspices of the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. In 2001, the National Endowment for the Humanities awarded VFH a $50,000 grant to study the feasibility of creating a comprehensive online resource focused on the culture and heritage of Virginia. From this planning process, VFH learned it was well suited to bring together the agencies, resources, content, and technology to make EV a reality. The Virginia General Assembly and organizations such as the Virginia Cultural Network, the Virginia Historical Society, and the Library of Virginia have endorsed the project, which is made possible in part by VFH’s amazing ability to foster collaboration among institutions and individuals.
In 2004-2005, VFH garnered $400,000 in seed money to support the planning and early implementation of the project through an appropriation from the Virginia General Assembly and a gift from a friend. Since that time, the General Assembly has increased its financial support for the project and, in 2007, the Dominion Foundation awarded a two-year $100,000 gift to bolster EV’s progress.
We have a staff of five, including a managing editor (Matthew Gibson), associate editor (Brendan Wolfe), assistant editor (Tori Talbot), programmer (Peter Hedlund), and media editor (Donna Lucey). We are also overseen by editorial and technical advisory boards.
We create the site by sections — so far, we’ve nearly completed all of literature, twentieth-century history, and the American Civil War. And we are beginning work on pre-colonial and colonial Virginia history, as well as folklife.
IDEA BEHIND THE BLOG
Marketing — It’s a venue for us to explain what we’re doing with the encyclopedia and point people to particular entries. Here’s an example:
Transparency — The blog can be used to illuminate some of our processes. We use the blog to print any feedback we receive about the encyclopedia — both good and bad, and where appropriate, explain the thinking behind some of the decisions that we make. Here’s an example:
Cross-Promotion — It’s a means of reminding readers that we are plugged into other things going on at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and indeed the entire Virginia humanities community. We’ve done a lot of posts on the VFH radio show BackStory with the American History Guys.
We’ve also posted video from the VFH Folklife Showcase and a remembrance of Mike Seeger by VFH Folklife director Jon Lohman. Here are some examples:
Building Community — The blog can create a community of readers who can then become a community of encyclopedia users. Beyond that, though, the blog can be good as a community of ideas and discussion, both in terms of the encyclopedia, but also in terms of Virginia history and culture.
See the last link above for an example of that kind of discussion.
Anything we’ve run related to Sally Hemings has generated (relatively speaking, of course!) a firestorm for us.
VISITOR BASE FOR SITE/BLOG
EV is still in its infancy in terms of the amount of content we have up.
Most of our visitors will come from people using search engines to find text or images. (For instance, someone looking for information on Massive Resistance or Edgar Allan Poe are likely to stumble upon our
site.) Those “searchers” are already coming from all over the country and the world — a testament to how rich Virginia’s history and culture are.
We hope that a large part of our audience will eventually be students and educators. (To some extent, they already are. Our numbers drop off noticeably when the school year ends.) No resource quite like ours exists in Virginia, and we think that teachers, especially, will find EV really useful when preparing lessons on Virginia history. We’ve spent a lot of time talking to teachers and have some interesting ideas about how to tweak the site to make it more useful for them.
WHO THE BLOG ATTRACTS
The blog is eclectic, sometimes a little brainy, sometimes a little confrontational. We hope that it attracts anyone interested in Virginia history and culture — everyone who might want to use the encyclopedia and more.