English Heritage look after 255 free heritage sites, which make up over half of the organisation’s portfolio. These sites range from the remains of a second-century AD Roman fort, Bronze Age tombs on Cornish cliff tops, Neolithic long barrows dating back to c.3800 BC, and the ruins of numerous abbeys, villages, castles and priories. They represent a broad sweep of human history, from Prehistory to the Industrial Revolution and beyond. With no manned gates or paid entry points at which to gather even straightforward data such as numbers of visitors, the free sites represent something of a challenge in understanding visitor engagement. How many people are visiting primarily to engage with the historic value of the sites? How many are engaging with the natural beauty of the environment? What emotional responses are triggered by these spaces? How do people discover and connect with the sites? This gap in understanding also represents a lost connection between the visitors and the organisation. How can English Heritage ask people what they enjoy about the sites, whether they want more information, refer them to other sites of interest, or raise awareness of their work, when they have no means of interacting with the visitors to the free sites?
This knowledge exchange project will pilot the use of social data, primarily from Twitter and Instagram, to try to understand the extent to which visitors’ use of social media can contribute to our understanding of how visitors connect to free sites.