Reading the chapter in Digital History on building an audience was pretty interesting. It was a lot of stuff I’ve thought of before– I’m a pretty shameless self-promoter when it comes down to it, especially in the semi-anonymity of the Internet– and some other stuff I hadn’t. As someone who’s been slow to subscribe to H-Net, for example, I really wouldn’t have thought of that.
The key, though, seems to be pretty self-evident. Pimp your site out to everyone and anyone who might be interested. Encourage "word of mouth," as "word of mouth" in blogs is a VERY powerful thing, and boosts your Google juice, etc. Keep track of visitors and where they’re coming from– I’ve mentioned this here before, but I’m fairly obsessive about checking my click-throughs on my TypePad blogs, here. I use a couple other journaling and community sites, and when I’ve referred to stuff over here in those sites, I consistently see my click-throughs skyrocket in the following couple days. It’s kinda amazing to me– I don’t assume a lot of my non-academic friends are interested in what I have to say about something like china cabinets in the early republic, but my "lay" friends seem to click through just as much– if not more– than my on-line academic colleagues. (Although the union portion on the Venn Diagram of those two is pretty big– a sadly large number of my friends are academics.)
One strategy I noticed NOT noticing in the chapter– though I will admit I read it somewhat quickly, and may have missed it– is something that’s a little old-fashioned by web standards, but even more important than it was adopted as a practice– the "Links" page.
Most web pages have ’em. Your readers/viewers/audience/players/whatever who are most interested in your topic are going to be the most likely to use them. They provide instant connection to other sites. And there’s a netiquette standard quid pro quo, tit-for-tat quality of mutual addition. These pages are going to boost your Google juice, by making your page more frequently linked from and to. They’re going to bring over audiences– and the most intensely interested audiences– from other pages. And it’s a free, easy way to increase traffic.
I guess that thinking like this is pretty natural to me– as I’ve said in class, I’m pro- academic showmanship, I think of this whole deal more as a profession than as a higher calling (though there is that element, too), and, as I said above, I’m not afraid to be seen as a shameless self-promoter. As the beginning of the chapter indicates, the audience for history isn’t the biggest one– I mean honestly, a lot of days, I’d rather be reading comic books or going to see a concert myself. If we are ashamed as historians to make an honest plea for attention, to really argue for the interesting and compelling nature of our work, aren’t we sort of to blame if nobody looks at our research? And if you publish a monograph and nobody ever picks it up, what good are you really doing anyone?
Oh, and if anyone has any doubt as to the efficacy of Internet self-promotion, consider the case of the brilliant Terri Senft, an academic who works on Media Studies at the University of East London. She wrote her dissertation at NYU on LiveJournal and "Cam Girls," and put together a LiveJournal account herself, actually becoming her subject. When she announced recently that she had gotten a book deal on her dissertation, she had dozens of posts from LiveJournal "friends" saying that they planned on buying the book. So using the Internet to market yourself as an academic can work in your favor beyond just the simple matter of getting web traffic for your CLIO project.
(And everyone should check out Ms. Senft at any rate, ’cause she really is brilliant, and offers a lot of sage advise about academic practices, how to improve your writing, and lots of other good stuff.)