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Communicating with an Expanding Audience

I’m Heather, the Outreach and Assessment Coordinator for Project Vox. This blog post is about how Project Vox, a Digital Humanities Project, is working to reach a broader audience while still maintaining our original mission.

Project Vox is a Duke Libraries initiative that works to highlight the contributions of early modern women philosophers who have traditionally been excluded from the philosophy canon. We provide resources for teaching and research on the philosophical contributions of Lady Masham, Margaret Cavendish, Anne Conway, and Émilie Du Châtelet. The Project Vox website launched in 2015 and has grown significantly since then. We are debuting information and resources on another important female philosopher, Mary Astell, in late Spring of this year. (Sign up for our newsletter if you’d like to get updates about this and other projects.)

Originally, Project Vox conceived of its audience as philosophy researchers and, especially philosophy teachers. The idea was, in part, to transform the canon in the classroom, to encourage women to pursue philosophy, and to support the next generation of female philosophers. But since then, Project Vox has received significant media attention, from local news outlets to The Atlantic, The Washington Post, and Feministing. Coverage in these major outlets showed us that we were reaching audiences beyond our initial scope.

As we expand our materials and grow the project, Project Vox is re-examining its reach. As a part of strategizing, we are also thinking about who our audience is and how to best reach them. Here are 5 steps we’ve taken to address growth and new audience reach:

(1) Have conversations about mission and focus. Project Vox is a collaborative effort, with collaborators working internationally, nationally, and in the Triangle. As we grow, we add new team members with new ideas about Vox. While we celebrate new insights, we are equally cautious of mission creep and overreach. As Outreach and Assessment Coordinator, I organized a series of strategizing sessions wherein various stakeholders expressed their views on the history of the Project and on possible futures for the Project. These strategizing sessions helped us set the tone and parameters for our outreach efforts.

(2) Identify and analyze current users. Our Assessment Coordinator and Analyst, Adam Griggs, designed and implemented a series of surveys of our current users in order to find out more about who they were and how they use the site. This information provides us detailed information about our users. It also provides a “baseline” against which to measure our outreach campaigns.

(3) Imagine latent audiences. Adam’s surveys demonstrated what is often called the “demographic” audience, that is, audiences that are already extant. We wanted to imagine audiences that we haven’t yet reached, so that we could grow our user base and reach more interested people. While our primary audiences were those interested in (early modern) philosophy, we imagined possible audiences might include feminist scholars and activists, historians, digital humanities, librarians and others interested in digital publication, and scholars of gender and women’s studies.

(4) Hire a Social Media Manager. Project Vox has long had a social media presence, but we wanted to devote more attention and resources to fully developing a long-term, sustainable social media strategy. Olivia Branscum, our Social Media Manager, was already part of the Research Team on Project Vox (look out for her work on Astell!). In the past few months, she has researched, organized, and implemented a social media strategy that is consistent with our focus brainstorming sessions. We look forward to seeing how the social media outreach campaign influences user engagement and grows our audience.

(5) Go multi-media (with buttons!) Although we are a digital humanities project, not all of our outreach is digital. In fact, we use a variety of multi-media strategies to reach a variety of audiences, including flyers and buttons at events and conferences. Project Vox team member and Librarian for Philosophy and French Canadian Literature Cheryl Thomas spearheaded the button-making; they have been among the most popular of our outreach efforts.

Project Vox is fortunate to experience “growing pains” as we move forward, develop more resources, and reach new audiences. In the future, the Outreach and Assessment Coordinator will be responsible for meaningfully communicating with these audiences and expanding our reach even further.




About the author:
Heather Suzanne Woods is a doctoral researcher and teaching fellow in Communication at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Heather’s most recent research project analyzes the rhetoric of the artificially intelligent body. Her research on digital media and social movements can be found in Feminist Media Studies, Present Tense: A Journal of Rhetoric in Society, and Teaching Media Quarterly. Heather’s work as Outreach and Assessment Coordinator of Project Vox is supported by the Carolina Digital Humanities Initiative Fellowship, underwritten by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Follow her on Twitter here, where she routinely tweets about technology, the scholarship of teaching and learning, and cute dogs.