KETC TV Social Media Experience Part One: Getting Started Through World War Two Memories

Posted by Bill Ives on Sep 22, 2010 12:28:00 PM

KETC, the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) St. Louis station has been conducting a series of projects integrating social media with traditional broadcast television. This integration of old and new media is a topic we have frequently covered here and KETC is doing some of the most innovative work in this space. They began with a project on preserving World War Two stories from local vets. A second effort supported those caught in the mortgage crisis.

Now they are using social media to help facilitate more rational conversations on immigration issues. We are very pleased that they are using the Darwin Awareness Engine™ as part of this third project. I recently spoke with Rob Paterson who is participating in this effort and is the lead person in their use of Darwin. This post is the first in a five part series covering our conversations.

Here is screen shot of the KETC instance of Darwin. It will be explained and covered in more detail in part four of this series.

Bill: Rob can you provide some background on the KETC social media project? What are its objectives? What has resulted so far?

Rob: KETC is the public television station in St. Louis. Since Jack Galmiche took over as President four years ago, his mission is to find a new model for a public television station in America. Like others, he understands that the old financial model for public television cannot continue to be successful. The old model worked on the premise that that public TV has quality content that you cannot get elsewhere. You have to adhere to our broadcast schedule and if you like what we bring you will support us financially with donations.

This old model will not work going forward as you can get great content for free anytime you want from many sources. While there is still a legacy group of supporters, this dwindling group will not take any TV or radio station securely forward into the future.

So the question becomes if we cannot rely on the old base of support, what will become the new base? Over the past four years Jack and his team have been working on a hypothesis that social media can help reach and sustain a new base of support to augment the old one. The current project on immigration is the end result of a series of experiments using social media to expand the base of support. The hypothesis goes on to say that public television should be in a great position to become the safe place where the community can interact with itself on issues that it cares about since public television is so trusted.

The first time we did this we used a very safe topic around the Ken Burns series on World War Two. As this series was being aired we went out to the local community through social media and other means, We said that there are many veterans in our community and you may or may not have shared your personal stories with your family.  Ken Burns is providing the stories of some vets. We are going to provide an easy means for you to share your own stories of the war that can be recorded forever. We will provide a way for these stories to be shared. 

This effort around World War Two stories went really well. We found a way to enable people to use the Web to share their memories. We discovered a way to engage a community around a topic. In this case, an important one, but also a safe one. No one was going to object to us having grandpa tell his war stories. One of the great examples occurred when one vet came to the station and asked to see Jack. He gave Jack his war medals. He said that he had never told his war stories before and for the first time he felt safe enough to do it. He wanted to tell then before he died. We were all moved by this experience and felt we had learned something.

Bill: This is a topic that is very near to me as my father was a World War Two vet who as a commando, often operated behind the Japanese lines. He was reluctant to tell more that general overviews of much of what he experienced but I know that it had a profound effect on him. He gave his medals, not of disrespect, but more out of modesty, to me incorporate into my childhood reenactments of World War Two. This was a favorite play topic for us in the 50s.

Rob: We are the same age and we did this also.

Bill: This occurred in the raised cemeteries of New Orleans that we pretended were urban battlefields.  There are many friends my age who also report their father’s reluctance to take about the war.  So what do you see that occurred that enabled these men in your community to share their experiences? How did social media play into this?

Rob: There was definitely a social media component. We had a dedicated Web site. We had a way of getting content to us and then we would put it up. We ran something like an antiques road show where people came in and told their stores and we recorded them. We found that the grandchildren started to ask their grandparents to tell these stories. For many men and, in some cases, women, once they saw others telling their stories and it was safe, they felt comfortable doing it themselves. They also realized that this might be their last chance. We have now set up a permanent memorial of all these stories so they will live on through the Web.

Bill: So, if I am hearing you correctly social media was used in two ways. First, to make people more aware of what you were doing. Second, to share the content once it was collected.

Rob: Yes and we had never done anything like this before. The Web had simply been the place to find out the schedule for TV shows or asking for donations. This was the first time we had a two-way interaction with the community through the Web. We asked for stuff and we got stuff back.

Bill: So what did you learn from this first step that you applied to the next step?

Rob: We learned how to start to work together. The tools are free and easy to use. The underlying story was a breakdown of the silos. To work well on the Web you have to have all the parts of the organization working well together. So we had cross department meetings to get the work done.  We had producers, marketing, outreach people, and our one person Web department. These cross department meetings had not occurred. As we moved forward this integration was a big deal and key enabler.

Bill: Thanks Rob. In the next post we will look at the second initiative in the social media pilot, the mortgage support project. 

Topics: Web Awareness, Darwin Case Examples