Can Content Stop A Wrecking Ball?

Apr 17, 2014


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"Tear it down," was their cry.

The city council was almost unanimous in the decision to rid their city of a horrible eyesore. Citizens were in agreement, the monstrous blight on their skyline should go. It had been 20 years since they had built the temporary structure as an entrance to the World's Fair. But the general consensus in 1909 was to destroy the object and salvage the scrap. At the last minute, several commercial uses were implemented and a stay of execution was granted for the ugly edifice. Thankfully for us and rest of the world, 105 years later we still have an international symbol and the most visited monument in the world: the Eiffel Tower.

In this shiny world of instant gratification and disposable technology, it can be easy to overlook content from our past. With our culture driving forward and pressing for constant innovation, we are all tasked with finding new, exciting ways to share our stories. Flavor-of-the-moment social media sites lure us in to shortening life experiences into six-second video clips or mashing up pages of soliloquies into ten-word phrases that fit on a vintage-filtered square photo. And while I cheer on invention and creativity in content creation, I also see a place for digging into our past so that we can share our stories with the future. Genuine stories are still the most powerful form of communication in the arsenal of content creation. So how do you celebrate the past while still pushing forward into what's next? Let's look at several examples of how to bridge the gap between old media and new.

Share Your History

Throwback Thursday (aka #TBT) is not just a day of the week for the US National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Tasked with preserving historical and government documents for the United States of America and making that data more accessible to the general public, NARA has one of the largest curation jobs in the country. The National Archives has a treasure trove of images, movies, audio, and text cataloging the history of the USA. In 2009 NARA launched a YouTube channel and a Flickr account where you can watch the moon landing or see construction pictures of the US Capitol. If you want a more up-to-date place to hear about our history you can also check out their Instagram account. Sharing this country's history has started countless conversations around the content. Locations of photos have been verified, nameless faces have been identified, and it hit very close to home when I found my grandfather's naturalization papers from 1937 when he moved from Mexico to California.

The power of your history as a company or individual can only be realized when you share your stories and create a conversation.

Provide Context

The stories and content that you share about a brand, company, or individual are amplified when you provide context. Context is as simple as where, when, how, and why did this happen. In 2004 HP decided to restore the original garage in California where Hewlett and Packard gave birth to Silicon Valley in 1939. They have documented their history on their website with stories, images and video of the partnership that led to the renaissance of technology. You can still go by 367 Addison Avenue, Palo Alto, and see the restored garage.  

Websites like Historypin.com have gone a step further by allowing you to overlay images onto Google Maps and Streetview, so you can see exactly where historical photos, paintings, and images were created. Seeing history through the filter of our current surroundings provides a connection to the past and can make a 100-year-old story relevant.

Every person and business has a story. And sharing those stories can create deep bonds with your target audience. Ask your colleagues or family to see who is archiving your history. Are you saving your past, so that you can share that in the future?

In the same year that the Paris city council decided to save the Eiffel Tower, George L. Carter, a southern railroad magnate, built the Model Mill in my hometown of Johnson City, TN. It was the first true industry and the largest employer in our city at the time. One hundred and five years later the massive brick structure and grain elevators are scheduled to be demolished to build apartments. Is there hope that we may learn from the past and save a piece of our history? Possibly, a groundswell of support from the community could stop the wrecking ball. But the photos, stories, and conversations stirred up by our potential loss, has created content that will keep the history of the Model Mill alive for generations to come. What's your Eiffel Tower?