Stephenie McGucken is a PhD candidate & tutor at the University of Edinburgh in the History of Art. Her research interests include the uses of heritage in film, and draws on her experiences with various fandoms to help form research questions. She also runs the social media for the Edinburgh Medieval Pigment Project.
Everyone loves a good story, especially on the big screen. And seeing a familiar place or story on the big screen excites a lot of people. In her study Film-Induced Tourism (2005), Sue Beeton argued that film could ‘motivate travellers, create new images, alter negative images, strengthen weak images, and create and place icons.’ Alongside this, film and TV can generate the same type of interest in heritage – both in terms of the story told, the ‘true’ story, and the locations that feature. Fandoms are actively making history while using it to form connections to the past through characters and place.
From a new cinematic production of Macbeth to the time-travelling TV show Outlander to the recent filming along the Royal Mile of Avengers: Infinity War, Scotland has become a sought-after filming destination, despite not yet having a dedicated film studio. One of the draws is, of course, Scotland’s heritage, both natural and built. There is also more than just the place aspect, with history coming into play in several productions. While some historians (and fans!) groan about the misuse of historical fact, there is an ever-growing number who use it to teach the past. And social media platforms allow for an engagement with the on-going discussions around heritage on screen.
One example in particular can be used to highlight the importance of social media to fandom: Outlander. A quick look at Twitter or on Facebook will reveal dozens of fan groups, most of which have conversations not just on the show and its stars, but on the show’s history and use of filming sites. A historical drama seeped in Jacobite history, the show’s production has used a plethora of heritage sites including Doune Castle, Highland Folk Museum, Tibbermore Church, and several sites in Culross. Sites such as Wardlaw Mausoleum and Culloden have been the focus of fan engagement because of their relationship to the story rather than as filming locations. (A stand-in location was used for Culloden during the filming rather than the battlefield itself). Many of these have seen an uptick in visitor numbers. Fans visiting not only get to experience a bit of Outlander, but also engage with the history of the site. Further, sites have also seen concerted fundraising efforts by fans to preserve and promote the site, with social media providing a key platform for these activities.
Outlandish UK, the largest Outlander fan group in the UK, not only sponsored tours of the locations as part of their recent Gathering, but also organises trips to museums throughout the UK – both for special events and because a museum holds relevant collections. Both on Twitter and in Facebook groups, discussions about the history and heritage the show utilises are continuous. While fans share their experiences with related heritage sites, few heritage sites share their experiences with fans, although this is slowly changing as the benefits of engaging with fandom are recognised. The upcoming Jacobite exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland is one of many responses to the ‘Outlander effect’ from a heritage body.
While Outlander provides one example, there are many more with a fanbase that is easily tapped into with social media: the All Souls Trilogy, Harry Potter, Star Wars, and the Avengers to name a few.
So, why should heritage sites and bodies be concerned with fandom? For one, it provides an opportunity to introduce collections to a new audience. And that can help generate revenues. It is also a form of outreach that can be easily done, and that has the potential to grow without much guidance. It helps heritage stay relevant in a time of increasing budget cuts and pressure to make history and heritage seem cool. Last, but not least, it can help showcase a particular part of a collection or site to a wide audience that may not be familiar with it.
You know that you have something (or lots of something) in your collections that would be of interest to a particular fandom. How can you tap into these types of audiences on social media? Here are a few ways.
- Hashtags are the easiest way to push content to a specific audience. Figuring out what to hashtag, however, can be more of a challenge. The simplest way is by hashtagging the title of the film or show. Then, related tags such as character names, objects, or places can be used to widen the draw.
- A resource like All Hashtag (www.all-hashtag.com) can help generate other hashtags for you to use to reach your target audience.
- Get creative. Use the name of the show or movie, but also think about making one that will link back the fandom back to your collections. Once you’ve chosen a particular hashtag, stick to it. It’ll help your new audience find your material across platforms.
- Remember that your non-fan audience will still see these posts, so try not to over-post or over-tag with any one focus. Experiment and find what works best for your organisation.
Twitter & Instagram
- Explore the fandom. Spend a few minutes looking at the different fan sites out there. This will help you generate ideas for what sort of content will appeal, as well as the gaps in content. Invest in researching the fandom as you would any other specialised audience.
- As you encounter different fan groups, reach out to them. Ask them to retweet/repost or share information. Tag them in photos.
- Post multiple photos of something. Or, record a mini-tour.
- On Instagram, provide background to whatever you have chosen to focus on. The history of the object and how it relates to a particular fandom are things that equally interest a fan-driven audience.
- Almost every fandom has a podcast dedicated to it. Reach out to them, a lot of podcasts actively look for guests on their show and would be happy to work something out.
- Alternatively, if your organisation or site has its own podcast, a themed episode can be a great way to tap into a fandom.
- Reach out to groups that also have a Facebook presence. Share your Facebook posts and upcoming events with the group either by Private Messaging the page or an Admin, or by joining in.
Importantly, it is not just up to the heritage bodies and sites to engage with the fandom on the materials. It’s all up to fandoms, and many fandoms already try to engage both online and offline. Fandom can be a welcoming place, and heritage bodies and sites hold information that lots of fans will find interesting. As fandoms grow, they look for places to hold events, including meet-ups, places that allow them to form attachments with the characters they love, and places that demonstrate the history of the story they are already invested in.