Project: Introducing #DigitalBurns, Robert Burns vs Social Media & Event Amplification


I was working with John Popham on the “Our Digital Planet” project when it visited Glasgow last October when we got chatting about the potential for exploring the potential for digital Robert Burns night. You see, it is a little known fact that I’m originally from a small costal town in the south west of Scotland that happens to share the same birth place as that poet bloke (you’re from Ayr, Jay Jay, you never said!) and John Popham is .. well Internet famous for his event amplification, community engagement and social media for social good chat – so it wasn’t long before we got plotting about potential for trying out something that mixes up the town.

A few months prior to our chat, the Robert Burns Worlds Federation approached UWS about potential collaboration on applying for an Interface innovation voucher (funded by the Scottish Funding Council) to carry out some knowledge exchange work relating to social media and community engagement. I’ve already worked on three innovation vouchers by this stage, so was excited that I could piece together some of the initial plotting towards exploring the potential for Robert Burns in the 21st Century.

RBWF and UWS made a joint application to Interface in February and were successful, which means the below proposal will go ahead and the work begins this week with a meeting in Kilmarnock tomorrow in preparation to pilot the study at the 3rd Degrees Burns Music Festival in Ayr on the 1st of June. I’m working with Prof. Gayle McPherson on delivering the innovation voucher and as it is very much about research and development, I will be blogging the process as I go.

Below is an extract from the original funding application form which has further detail of the project:

The scope of the Digital Burns project is to plan, develop and pilot a social media strategy and intervention for engaging with Robert Burns for the 21st Century. It will focus on using digital communication tools to harness and the amplify the ubiquitous nature of Robert Burns and use its strong, recognisable identity to map the cultural export of ‘Scottishness’ in the 21st century. The project will use an existing event (Third Degree Burns festival) to access and pilot a strategy to develop a “Digital Burn” night in 2014, which is a significant year for Scotland with homecoming, the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, the referendum debate and the centenary of world war one.

This will be done by promoting and testing a live stream of a music event at the Burns Museum on June the 1st, mapping regional, national and international community engagement with the event online and its impact beyond environment, using the geo-locative function of video and audio and social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. This will allow for the development of a social media strategy for future events associated with the Robert Burns community, producing a Digital Burns Supper toolkit to be distributed by the Burns Federation, that can be shared and tracked using social media analytics, allowing for curating an internationally connected Digital Burns Night in January 2014.

The Burns Federation are interested in looking at innovative processes to engage younger audiences post-secondary education and to investigate new ways to connect up the growing number of international Burns Clubs around the world, recruiting new membership in the process. This project would allow for the piloting and development of a social media strategy that capitalised the international focus of 2014 and to test-drive methods to amplify homegrown events to wider audiences, and to capture and evaluate impact using social media and emerging analytical tools.

This is tied in to the year of homecoming to encourage diaspora to return to Scotland during 2014 – and to encourage SME and tourism around Burns.

The University will gain by building on its portfolio of association with UK event research and social media interventions, which UWS is heavily involved in, by practically implemented strategies tested and embedded through cutting edge research currently being undertaken within the faculty. This in turn will impact on teaching in this area, offering opportunity for students to be involved in from a new media production, event management and cultural policy perspective.

By focusing on a widely recognised and understand cultural phenomenon of Robert Burns’ work, the project will allow the Burns Federation to develop social media interventions around existing portfolio of activity and to take ownership of the process that would allow to visualise and map impact of any Burns activity being amplified online.

This innovation voucher would allow for the development of a 12 month timeline strategy to work towards the curation of an affordable method of live-streaming and event amplification using free and widely accessible social media tools. A subsequent aim would be to work towards the research and development required to build a mobile application that was a “burns supper toolkit” that can be shared easily and monitored online and used to connect international audiences to an event happening in Ayrshire in January 2014.

Develop partnerships with local suppliers to put together Burns Supper kits that can be ordered ahead of the event and exported internationally.

Generate new interest in Burns from an accessible online platform, whilst looking at developing the current pedagogy for engaging with Burns education beyond the initial event. Utilising the current Schools Competitions to develop online activity which children and youths can engage.

Showcase local and upcoming talent from the local area and the university’s school of creative and cultural industries using the established platform of the Burns Federation and their international network.

This could be changed from local to Global engaging with Scottish Studies groups in other universities for example.