Monday, December 7, 2009

Blogging with VWC Alumnae

I created a blog to help organize the Virginia Women’s Chorus’s 35th Anniversary Concert, which is coming up in the spring of 2010. My goal was to create a site where alumnae could stay connected with the chorus and with each other, and where they could find information about the concert and get involved easily. Essentially, I wanted to build a forum where my audience would feel included, well informed, and valued as members of the VWC network. I realized that the Internet allows for me to convey this kind of message in ways that other forms of media would not, and that different mediums inherently portray a certain message that shapes how they are used.

As my project progressed, I was always thinking of ways that I could make sure that the message I was trying to send to viewers was accurately reflected in the blog. For past anniversary concerts, the chorus had contacted alumnae through more traditional means like mail and telephone, and not via digital media. While this previously worked fairly well, it was both time-consuming during the creation and distribution process, but also required much more manual upkeep in terms of sustaining a correspondence between alumnae and the chorus (i.e., making regular phone calls, answering letters, etc.). I was also aware that as the use of social networking sites by some of the group’s older alumnae has increased, more of them have expressed interest in VWC becoming more accessible online. So, I did not only choose to take on a blog for VWC as my project because it was beneficial to the chorus, but because it appeared alumnae thought it would benefit them, as well. In simply choosing to put this content online, and not in another form of media, the audience assumes a certain streamlined quality of information, content that is easily navigable, and an ease of communication with the creator and with other viewers. These automatic assumptions would hold true for any viewers of a certain website or blog, not just my own. This shift in demand for the digitization of information and communication shows how different forms of media carry with them certain assumptions and values, and that as peoples’ lives are growing busier and increasingly ‘digitized’, the more they value having all of their resources in one place—which, apparently, is online.

Despite the extra effort required for older mediums, though, today those mediums are associated with a sense of personalization that the Internet is not. I struggled to find the ideal balance between what type of message I wanted to send to these women—that of efficiency and consolidation, or that of intimacy and maintaining a personal bond, both of which people value. Throughout my phases of distribution and promotion, I tried different techniques involving both old and new forms of media, and found that for my particular audience, the combination of digital and more traditional media channels reaped the best results in drawing attention to my blog. I realized that while each form of media conveys a certain message, the way in which the medium is promoted sends its own message, too, and has an impact on how successful that promoting tactic is. For instance, I first used the medium of standard mail to promote my blog, sending out “Save-the-Date” postcards for the concert, with the URL for my site on them and a blurb about using the site to find out more. I also promoted my blog by linking it to VWC’s Facebook pages and website, and was convinced this combination would be successful.

I found, however, that while the medium shapes the message, and I had covered this from several angles hoping to draw alumnae looking with different values in terms of receiving information, the message is also dependent on the social context and intended audience. Content on the Internet is capable of reaching an incredibly large audience on a global scale, but it can also be used for smaller groups, both those who are only acquainted virtually, and those who have a social bond outside of the digital sphere. In my particular case, my intended audience was a group of women whom were fairly interconnected, and all had the common thread of having been members of VWC. In a scenario where the intended audience was much wider, digital promotion would send the message of universality, drawing a larger scope in to the site. Here, though, I discovered that my blog needed to send a hybrid message of efficiency and interconnectedness through its content format, but a message of social intimacy and personalization in its promotion, in order to gain more attention. Since I came to this realization, I have combined these messages and have received a more positive response. By personalizing digital media—for example, having alumnae with many connections sending personalized emails to their former co-members with links to my blog—I have been able to reshape the message the medium of the Internet sends. It seems that the medium shapes the message, but then, the larger social context and the creator’s knowledge of how their audience perceives that medium shape it, too.

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