Starting Big Conversations on Twitter: How Indigitization has Revitalized its Social Media Engagement

*** This article original appeared in BCLA Perspectives.

By Allison Jones.

Over the past year, Indigitization has tripled its social media audience and provoked thoughtful online conversations on themes such as decolonization and open access. These successes have been achieved through the use of Twitter threads, which provide in-depth commentary on hot topics and build a community of engaged and interested information professionals wanting to learn, share ideas, and change their institutions and profession for the better. This article describes Indigitization’s new approach, provides examples of successful Twitter threads, and shares transferable lessons to encourage other libraries, archives, and information organizations to consider how they could start their own big conversations on Twitter and realise similar rewards.

Background

Indigitization is a B.C. based collaborative initiative between Indigenous communities and organizations, the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre (UBC), the Museum of Anthropology, Northern BC Archives (UNBC), and the UBC iSchool. It facilitates capacity building in Indigenous information management, specifically by supporting Indigenous community organizations to digitize audio cassettes by providing training workshops, maintaining a digitization toolkit, and funding digitization projects (Dupont, 2016).

Since January 2018, Indigitization has revamped its social media presence, shifting away from a focus on broadcasting information to passive followers and towards a more reciprocal model of sharing ideas. Indigitization now prioritizes using social media to share and discuss its experience, awareness, and knowledge of Indigenous information practices with others in a more engaging and interactive way.

To do so, Indigitization began responding to hot topics in the news or under examination at conferences in Twitter threads of about 10-15 tweets. As Indigitization’s Twitter audience consists mainly of information professionals and academics, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, Indigitization’s role on this platform is different than when working with Indigenous community partners, who tend to be more active on Facebook. In these threads, Indigitization offers opinions and expertise that challenge non-Indigenous academic and information organizations to consider and improve their approaches to Indigenous knowledge and Indigenous communities’ needs. Primarily, this means discussing the impacts of colonialism in the information professions.

Offering this kind of commentary required Indigitization to change how it prepares social media content. Instead of posts independently written by student employees, Indigitization developed a collaborative writing processes involving the organization’s steering committee in order to effectively share their knowledge and experience. As a result, the typical writing process for one of Indigitization’s threads now involves the following steps:

  1. Student employees identify a topic and draft a thread about it from Indigitization’s perspective;
  2. Steering committee members revise the draft thread, offering additional commentary and resources based on their expertise;
  3. Final approval of the thread is given by a steering committee member; and
  4. Student employees post the thread to Twitter and monitor it for responses and feedback, forwarding any major concerns or questions back to the appropriate steering committee member for input.

This process produces insightful content that is strengthened through the inclusion of multiple perspectives. Furthermore, it is an opportunity for student employees to learn from the feedback and input of steering committee members and to apply these lessons in future writing and work for Indigitization.

A Common Theme: “Decolonizing” Libraries and Archives

Two of Indigitization’s most popular threads have focused on the meaning of decolonization. While “decolonization” is often used to describe efforts by non-Indigenous organizations to understand and incorporate Indigenous perspectives into their work, this is a misunderstanding of the concept. As emphasized by Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang (2012) in their influential article, Decolonization is not a Metaphor, “decolonization in the settler context must involve the repatriation of land simultaneous to the recognition of how land and relations to land have always already been differently understood and enacted” (p. 7, emphasis added). Decolonization is unsettling, literally and figuratively, and where it is happening in information organizations it is being led by Indigenous people. The misuse and misunderstanding of “decolonization” is a topic that Indigitization is well-versed in, and thus it has formed the root of the two Twitter threads described below.

The first thread was in response to a CTV News article titled “Archivists look to ‘decolonize’ Canada’s memory banks” (Canadian Press, 2018). This article had many oversights and errors in its understanding of decolonization of archives, including its choice to centre the work of non-Indigenous organizations, ignoring the leadership of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, Xwi7xwa Library, and others. Indigitization’s thread examined some of the inaccuracies and omissions in the article in a transparent and thorough way, making this critique available to other information professionals, Indigenous peoples, and journalists writing on this topic. While acknowledging that Libraries and Archives Canada (LAC) is trying to do good work, Indigitization wanted to be sure that people reading this article understood the context in which LAC’s so-called “decolonizing” initiatives are taking place.

The thread received numerous positive replies, retweets, and comments from Indigitization’s colleagues in aligned organizations and professions. Not only did these peers like and retweet Indigitization’s commentary, they themselves added new perspectives and enhanced the commentary, sharing resources, and boosting Indigitization’s message to their own networks. By sharing this thread, Indigitization had made a significant shift in its Twitter approach and was no longer broadcasting about what it was doing but was engaging with others in discussing why and how it was doing this work.

In April 2018, after the Society of American Archivists (SAA) shared “Decolonize” as their “Word of the Week”, Indigitization posted another thread discussing the meaning of this term and the weaknesses of the SAA’s definition. Indigitization acknowledged the value of SAA talking about decolonization, especially with its influence in the archival community, but also highlighted that this was an example of an organization with good intentions failing to realize their own blind spots on an issue. The definition that the SAA shared contained many common misconceptions about decolonization, which Indigitization responded to in its thread. Indigitization also encouraged its audience to share their feedback with the SAA. Indigitization later received a reply from the SAA noting that they would be considering the feedback they received and revising their definition.

These examples demonstrate that although a topic may seem large and daunting to discuss in the short form offered by Twitter, it is in fact possible to start a big conversation in a few characters. In particular, if you are looking to influence or effect change in a medium-sized organization such as LAC or SAA, Twitter is a good place to start. Organizations of that size notice when they are being discussed on social media, and Twitter allows you to demonstrate that others also care about and potentially share your perspective on an issue.

Key Lessons

Indigitization’s experience offers a number of key lessons for other information organizations considering how to revitalize their social media presence, spark big conversations, and influence the information profession. By shifting out of broadcast mode and focusing on engagement, organizations can see major positive outcomes on Twitter. Here are three key transferrable lessons from Indigitization’s experience to keep in mind if your organization decides to engage in more big conversations on Twitter.

First, the numbers show unambiguously that this approach attracted and engaged followers. Over the first five months, Indigitization’s number of Twitter followers doubled, and the number of people viewing Indigitization’s tweets grew by 500% (see Figure 1). This second trend cooled off somewhat in May as Indigitization was less active on social media during the summer, indicating a correlation between meaningful content and attention. The lesson here is simple: by identifying your organization’s areas of expertise and sharing your thoughts on them, you will engage and inspire your existing followers and attract new ones. People will want to learn from you on the topics you know best.

Jones_graphFigure 1: Indigitization’s Twitter followers (left, in red) and impressions (right, in blue), January to May 2018.

Second, Tweets do not have to be the final word on a topic. Indigitization’s threads prioritized sharing the work of Indigenous information professionals and scholars, and provided links for people to learn more if they were interested. This can be reassuring as you approach a big topic on Twitter. Linking to others’ work is also an opportunity to build relationships with key thinkers in your field and demonstrate that you are listening to what they have to offer. These relationships increase the chances that they will find ways to support your work as well. Indigitization’s new Twitter relationships have blossomed into offline connections, including invitations to speak at conferences where wider audiences may be exposed to Indigenous perspectives on information practices for the first time.

Third, social media moves quickly. Indigitization had to be on the ball to notice what topics were emerging and prepare a response before something was yesterday’s news. The new collaborative editing process described above helped Indigitization generate strong content, but the team could not spend weeks going back-and-forth. In order to get things out in a timely manner, it should be clear who decides when something is ready. For Twitter, good, timely content is better than perfect irrelevant content.

Conclusions

Overall, the time and energy that it takes to engage in big conversations on Twitter is well worth it for Indigitization. Since changing their strategy, the organization’s audience grew, it pushed influential organizations to reconsider how they are addressing decolonization, and Indigitization is now more deeply connected on- and offline. In future, Indigitization hopes to expand this success on other social media platforms and with a wider range of audiences beyond information professionals and academics–for example, using Facebook to support Indigenous community partners’ work in enduring and meaningful ways. To stay relevant on social media, organizations should reflect on what big conversations they wish to start within the library and information field and considering using Twitter as a venue to do so.

References

Canadian Press. (2018, February 19). Archivists look to “decolonize” Canada’s memory banks. CTV News. Retrieved from https://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/archivists-look-to-decolonize-canada-s-memory-banks-1.3809132

Dupont, S. (2016, January 31). News from UBC’s Indigitization program. BCLA Perspectives. Retrieved from https://bclaconnect.ca/perspectives/2016/01/31/news-from-ubcs-indigitization-program/

Tuck, E., & Yang, K. W. (2012). Decolonization is not a metaphor. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, 1(1), 1–40.

Allison Jones is a MLIS Candidate at the UBC iSchool and works as a Program and Digital Engagement Assistant with Indigitization as well as a Student Librarian at North Vancouver District Public Library. They are interested in community-led librarianship, Indigenous information practices, social movement history and education, and teen and adult services, and blog about these and other things at https://allisonlouisejones.wordpress.com/.