The International Society for the Study of Religion Nature and Culture’s (ISSRNC) 10th anniversary conference, “Religion, Science and the Future” would end up coordinating the activities of 225 scholars from 5 continents over 5 days and relaunched the ISSRNC as a member-centered organization. But in April 2015 the ISSRNC’s efforts to promote awareness of the conference, let alone generate proposal submissions, was coming up against a few deficits.
Before: @ISSRNC April 2015
The ISSRNC’s promotions for its 2016 conference were at a stand still. Neglected social media, not even a hashtag, thin connections across its digital channels, and no plan to announce the call for papers beyond email lists with PDF attachments, and a web announcement. Complicating matters, the organization had a reputation for being an irregular conference with no member interaction between events: there was little by way of word of mouth let alone “buzz.”
What the ISSRNC and its conference had going for it: an emerging list of distinguished keynote speakers, the ability to use the Society’s 10th anniversary and its legacy to reconnect with former members, the inauguration of the ISSRNC’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and two networking opportunities at conferences, each with a large contingent of international participants, in advance of key deadlines.
Relaunching the ISSRNC and “Religion, Science and the Future.”
The ISSRNC’s leaders and conference directors agreed with my pitch to prioritize several steps to relaunch “Religion, Science and the Future” and realign the ISSRNC as a member-centered organization. ISSRNC’s leaders agreed to translate the call for papers into other languages and commission a series of online graphics and a printed promotional card, all designed to culminate in conference’s program, sessions, and services and the launch of year-round outreach and working research groups for members.
Working with the ISSRNC’s founder and conference director, Bron Taylor and Daniel Whittaker, the ISSRNC’s graphic designer and web developer, we established the design guidelines for the relaunch of the ISSRNC and “Religion, Science and the Future.”
ISSRNC 2015 Branding Elements
Expanding on cues from the the ISSRNC’s presence on ReligionandNature.com, Daniel designated visual elements that would serve as the base for the social media campaign and would allow me to impose branding on all ISSRNC documents.
Henri Rousseau’s The Snake Charmer was in use for ReligionandNature.com and was the cover art for the subfield’s Encyclopedia. We opted to use additional images from Rousseau’s work: The Green Monsters and Exotic Landscape With Lion And Lioness In Africa to retain ties with religionandnature.com as it was familiar to the subfield, to give the ISSRNC a visual identity distinct of the 2016 conference, and to expand the options with which we could anchor the ISSRNC’s campaigns to increase followers on social media, and to inaugurate the ISSRNC’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
Religion, Science, and the Future, #ISSRNC2016
Sistine Evolution (Daniel Whittaker, 2014) the image underlying the text, was also used to produce a printed card to be handed out by ISSRNC’s leaders at professional events and the conference program cover. The copy on the graphic enabled us to deploy character count for targeted messaging and was designed to be used for all updates, announcements, and conference promotions.
After: @ISSRNC May 2015
The ISSRNC relaunched with the conference graphic and after I started the use of the conference hashtag #ISSRNC2016 and formatted all social media and public-facing documents in line with the newly established design guidelines. From May of 2015 through January 2016, the conference graphic was used nearly 200 times across Facebook, Twitter, and ReligionandNature.com. The graphic was used to relaunch the call for papers, to announce deadlines, deadline extensions, and the schedule, to promote each of the 14 keynote speakers, conference panels, and the ISSRNC travel grant program, and then to anchor live tweeting of and announcements during “Religion, Science and the Future.”
The ISSRNC’s design guidelines enabled me to establish visual consistency across email attachments, website downloads, academia.edu postings, print materials, and conference signage, as needed.
ISSRNC Social Media
With the relaunch of the ISSRNC and the conference underway, the next task was to grow follower numbers and increase engagement on Facebook, Twitter, and Academia.edu. Graphics promoting each platform (see below) were created to reach out to environmental studies scholars on social media, to cross promote platforms with existing followers, and to distinguish the ISSRNC from the 2016 conference. On Academia.edu, the ISSRNC posted the call for papers for “Religion, Science, and the Future” and conference programs from the previous 10 years and connected with all ISSRNC officers and members on the platform. Beyond the conference, the ISSRNC’s social media promoted the activities of its members and shared or retweeted news and announcements across environmental studies disciplines and environmental news and policy.
The ISSRNC’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
In 2015, the ISSRNC officers opted to inaugurate a Lifetime Achievement Award. The graphic immediately below, based on Rousseau’s Exotic Landscape With Lion And Lioness In Africa, was used to solicit nominees across all environmental studies disciplines. After the ISSRNC selected J. Baird Callicott as the first recipient of the award, a modified version of the graphic was used make the announcement and to announce his address at the conference.
Promoting ISSRNC members
The ISSRNC at the 2015 International Association for the History of Religions (IAHR)
The ISSRNC’s President and a board member were slated to appear on a panel at the 2015 IAHR in Erfurt Germany, in conjunction with REDO a Norway-based religion and environment research group. The IAHR is held only once every 5 years. With 1,000+ scholars in attendance, the graphic below and the IAHR conference hashtag were used to call attention to the panel (one of 150+) and its panelists and for live tweeting. To encourage paper proposals ahead of the extended deadline for the conference and to promote awareness of the ISSRNC, the ISSRNC President, current and former board members, and conference directors attending the IAHR handed out a print card, based on Sistine Evolution, highlighting the Society and its 10th anniversary and a list of keynote speakers for the conference.
ISSRNC members at “the Annual Meeting”
To promote the research of ISSRNC members and their talks at the largest annual gathering of religion scholars in North America (roughly 6,000+ attendees), I asked members to indicate if they were presenting at “the Annual Meeting,” and if so, to provide the title, time, and date of their presentations. The ISSRNC’s social media was able to highlight the presentations of 8 ISSRNC members and the ISSRNC’s leadership in advance of the meeting, with a graphic (see below), and the larger conference’s hashtag. The ISSRNC was able to make its new focus on supporting members tangible as it was asking them to register for Religion, Science and the Future.
The campaign managed a 23% increase in Twitter followers within two weeks of the relaunch, and a 350% total increase in followers by the end of the conference 10 months later. 5 months after launch, I delivered “Stories from the Field: How a Professional Organization in the Humanities Promotes and Disseminates Content Internationally” about the mechanics of the ISSRNC’s relaunch at the National Federation of Advanced Information Services conference, “Digital Humanities & Digital Publishing.”
The campaign to promote the conference exceeded the target to generate proposals for the call for papers by 15% and managed to increase the number of registered participants by 9% over the previously best attended ISSRNC conference; all while compensating for a delayed and compressed promotional window.
Religion, Science and the Future, #ISSRNC2016, was the first ISSRNC conference to be live tweeted start to finish. Attendees were able to go to a designated Help Desk if any assistance was needed either to connect to secure wi-fi or to start or refine their social media profiles. With introductions to keynotes and speakers made through social media in the week prior to the conference, those attending were primed to settle in and discuss their work with each other. The ISSRNC tapped current and former board members to facilitate the launch of working groups for all those attending the conference.