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Digital Public Archaeology at Must Farm: A Critical Assessment of Social Media Use for Archaeological Engagement

Christopher Wakefield

Cite this as: Wakefield, C. 2020 Digital Public Archaeology at Must Farm: A Critical Assessment of Social Media Use for Archaeological Engagement, Internet Archaeology 55. https://doi.org/10.11141/ia.55.9

Summary

Must Farm under excavation. Archaeologists excavate while balancing on scaffolding just above the waterlogged wooden remains
The excavation uncovers the 'wood mass' of well-preserved debris and contents from the pile-dwellings. Image: Cambridge Archaeological Unit

Digital public archaeology is increasingly exploring social networks as platforms for online outreach initiatives. Despite a growing body of literature concerning archaeological engagement on social media, there are few examinations of such applications in practice. This research critically assesses the current discussions surrounding archaeological social media use before exploring commercial digital outreach at Must Farm, Cambridgeshire. Quantitative examinations of the project's Facebook metrics and qualitative comment analyses are employed to assess whether audiences were meaningfully engaged by these online strategies. The research concludes there is substantial value in using social networks to communicate archaeology and provides recommendations for future applications.

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  • Keywords: Social media, digital public archaeology, public engagement, development-led archaeology, Must Farm, communication, prehistory
  • Accepted: 29 July 2020. Published: 5 October 2020
  • Funding: This work was supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council [grant number AH/R012733/1] via the York Open Access Fund.
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Corresponding author: Christopher WakefieldORCID logo
cpw516@york.ac.uk
University of York

Full text

Figure 1: The excavation uncovers the 'wood mass' of well-preserved debris and contents from the pile-dwellings. Image: Cambridge Archaeological Unit

Figure 2: The Must Farm Archaeology Facebook page

Figure 3: Examples of a daily progress post and Site Diary link

Figure 4: Facebook Metrics: 6 Oct 2015 to 8 Aug 2016 (Daily New Page Likes, Total Page Likes, Daily Page Reach and Daily Engaged Users)

Figure 5: Negative metrics: 6 Oct 2015 to 8 Aug 2016 (Feedback, Unlikes)

Figure 6: The percentage of Post Clicks that translate to Reactions, Comments and Shares left during the final months of the project: 13 Apr 2016 to 8 Aug 2016

Figure 7: Facebook Metrics: 6 Oct 2015 to 8 Aug 2016 (On-Page Post Likes, On-Page Post Shares and On-Page Post Comments)

Figure 8: One of several comments left on media coverage of the project (Kennedy 2016a) directing readers to the project's website or social media

Figure 9: Coding results of all on-Page Comments received on the daily updates: 6 Oct 2015 to 8 Aug 2016

Figure 10: A selection of users' content and general questions

Figure 11: A selection of user Interpretation Comments

Figure 12: User Interpretations identifying a wooden artefact soon after it was excavated

Figure 13: A selection of Comments displaying Excitement, Compliments and Humour

Figure 14: A selection of user comments responding to Must Farm's digital outreach

Figure 15: Comparison of Facebook's global demographics and those of Must Farm Archaeology (after Facebook 2018c)

Table 1: Glossary of Facebook terminology

Table 2: Outlines of the coding categories into which User Comments were sorted

Table 3: Must Farm's ten most successful posts. Total Reactions, Comments and Shares incorporate off-page metrics including Comments and Likes on shared posts

Table 4: Averages of key metrics. Multiple averages are presented including/excluding particularly high or low periods of traffic

Table 5: Interactions received on 121 Posts from 13 Apr 2016 to 8 Aug 2016. Figures include interactions received on off-Page shares

Table 6: Stats from 119 Posts from 13 Apr 2016 to 8 Aug 2016. A total of 121 Posts were made, although two were Reshares and do not include Share data

Table 7: The stark contrast in Must Farm Archaeology's Facebook metrics between the last active month and the Page a year later

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