December 7, 2023
Using social media to engage local communities
This is the third of five posts which delve into key learnings from Putting the Local into Global Heritage: Balancing conservation, development, tourism, and community interests at the sites of the world’s National Trusts, an INTO study supported by a grant from American Express.
INTO members use social media to publicise events and tours, push advocacy campaigns, and pass news and information along to supporters. But as we saw in Putting the Local into Global Heritage, social media can also be used to engage those most affected by the work of National Trusts ― the communities surrounding our heritage sites.
Here are six ways the INTO family are making the most of social media:
Creating community-generated surveys and records
1. St Helena National Trust
Looking to update the island’s Historic Environment Record, Saint Helena National Trust turned to social media to collect personal accounts to broaden their reach and gather new stories from islanders.
The Trust is encouraging people to share their stories and submit photos of places they want to see protected. Whilst revising its HER with authentic personal histories, this approach is also a tool to engage the community in local conservation issues.
2. Badan Warisan Malaysia
Also taking a personal approach, Badan Warisan Malaysia’s Love MY Heritage campaign aims to discover, collect and archive Malaysians’ valuable memories. Personal, social and historical – it looks to ignite the idea of shared heritage. People are invited to submit vintage images online accompanied by an anecdote or story, with the stories that earn the best engagement being awarded prizes.
Taking time to notice
3. National Trust England Wales & Northern Ireland
In 2021, the National Trust wanted to build a deeper and more personal relationship between people and nature. Seeking ways to mark the need for connection and loss the pandemic brought, The Trust wanted to engage the public in noticing and celebrating the annual arrival of spring through their Blossom campaign.
Its annual #BlossomWatch campaign now engages local community on a national and even international scale. People are encouraged to share photos of spring blossom, which are collated onto an interactive map from their tags on social media.
To engage people with the idea of supporting more tree cover in the UK, people were invited to give a donation of £5 towards tree-planting with every post, although this was more about creating a movement rather than a capital project. Since its launch, however, the Trust’s Plant a Tree campaign has raised just over one million pounds.
4. Saint Lucia National Trust
Similarly, the Saint Lucia National Trust undertook a citizen scientist competition inviting people to share images and thoughts on the changes they had noticed in nature since COVID-19 began. Winners received a gift token and SLNT membership. This type of engagement may not lead directly to money or sales, but it’s all about deepening relationships, creating positive shared experiences, which will reap benefits in the long term.
Unearthing underrepresented histories
5. The National Trust for Historic Preservation
In 2020, the United States commemorated the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote. The National Trust for Historic Preservation took the opportunity to celebrate the place of women in American history.
NTHP started a crowdsourcing push in January 2020 as part of their Where Women Made History campaign. The initial goal was to discover 1,000 community sourced places connected to women’s history, and elevate their stories for everyone to learn and celebrate. Thanks to the incredible contributions received from people all across the country, they reached that milestone on Women’s Equality Day (August 26, 2020), and kept going for the rest of the year reaching more than 1,200 total entries.
NTHP continue to use the hashtag #TelltheFullStory giving platform to lesser known histories, in order to tell a whole American story through its work.
Capacity building for local communities
Successful use of social media can be about sharing skills and resources, as much as producing original content.
6. The Cross-Cultural Foundation of Uganda
As part of our British Council project, Melting Snow and Rivers in Flood, the Cross-Cultural Foundation of Uganda (CCFU) has been leveraging the power of social media to promote cultural heritage and advocate for its safeguarding.
In June 2021, CCFU trained local people in Uganda’s Rwenzori and Alur regions to use social media to publicise local heritage sites, share knowledge about their significance and call for their urgent safeguarding. This approach reinforces the potential of community custodians of the world’s special places – by having the skills to amplify these places, communities hope to see a rise in cultural tourism in the area.
CCFU have also used social media to mobilise young people online keeping them in touch with school cultural heritage clubs during school breaks via Heritage Youth Connect. And to mobilise support for advocacy campaigns, such as #SaveUgandasBuiltHeritage and #SaveWatotoChurch which sought to prevent the site from demolition.