Heritage is #Trending

Facebook, Twitter, blogs and other types of social media can connect heritage conservationists throughout the world. We sometimes get so focused on the brick, stone or wood that we forget that successful heritage conservation is built on relationships between people, according to Kayla Jonas-Galvin, a heritage planner based in southern Ontario. Social media websites allow user to create and share content with each other. In her keynote address at the 2014 Municipal Heritage Forum in Lacombe, Kayla highlighted the many ways social media enables communication between heritage professionals and members of the public.

Kayla Jonas-Galvin speaking to the delegates at Municipal Heritage Forum. (October 16, 2014)
Kayla Jonas-Galvin speaking to the delegates at Municipal Heritage Forum. (October 16, 2014)

Kayla speaks from experience. She has worked for the Heritage Resources Centre (at the University of Waterloo), the Architectural Conservatory of Ontario and ARA Heritage. She finds that social media is a key tool in promoting heritage conservation. She is responsible for, among other things, founding the #builtheritage twitter chat – a twitter chat sponsored by the U.S. National Trust for Historic Preservation. What started as a small group of heritage conservationists discussing heritage and conservation issues quickly grew into a large international discussion that drew in many people beyond hard-core conservationists.

Kayla emphasised that social media shouldn’t be complicated—it’s just another way to have a conversation. It’s an opportunity to talk to several people, often separated by vast distances, as though they were sitting in the next room. With this in mind, Kayla founded #builtheritage twitter chats to spark discussion of heritage conservation issues with people outside Waterloo. She started the chats by simply tweeting a few people that she was interested in talking to about problems of conserving historic places. The chats quickly grew to attract conservationists from all over the United States, Canada and around the world. People who had never met were suddenly talking to each other about the problems and opportunities they faced when trying to conserve historic places in their own communities. Anyone could participate and in time many people who normally did not think about heritage conservation were suddenly involved. At one point, Gloria Estefan replied to a tweet about the Miami Marine Stadium.

So how do we use these tools? Kayla emphasised the importance of setting goals. Who do you wish to reach and what do you want to say? Facebook and Twitter (just two examples) connect people in different ways. Twitter’s short text messages allow large groups of people to chat in real time, while Facebook allows users to share and comment on pictures and weblinks with friends easily.

Kayla related stories about how social media is bringing heritage preservation into the mainstream. There are many groups on Facebook that love to share old photos. The Vintage Edmonton Facebook page currently has over 11 000 followers. Hundreds of people who probably don’t consider themselves heritage conservationists share pictures and stories of Edmonton’s history.

To be effective, says Kayla, it’s important to have personality and to talk to other people. Don’t treat social media channels as just as a means of delivering announcements—talk to people. Social media is another avenue to start a conversation.

If we all encourage people to share photos, sound records and videos we’re probably going to be surprised by the number of people who want to discuss our common heritage. We need to start asking ourselves what about my heritage can be shared over social media and who do I want to share it with.

You can start the conversation over at the Alberta’s Historic Places facebook page, the @ABHistoricPlace twitter feed or by commenting on this article.

Written by: Michael Thome, Municipal Heritage Services Officer.

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