Campaign case study: British Library joins the digital universe

Following a long lobbying campaign, legislation was changed to allow the British Library and five of its contemporaries to archive the UK's digital history. This includes 4.8 million websites and every e-journal and e-book published in the UK.

Networking: Attendees at the British Library's Capturing the Digital Universe launch event
Networking: Attendees at the British Library's Capturing the Digital Universe launch event

Campaign  Capturing the Digital Universe
Client         The British Library
PR team     In-house
Timescale   February-April 2013
Budget       £8,000

• To transform perceptions of the British Library from an analogue ‘dusty archives’ organisation to a forward-thinking digital hub
• To develop a media campaign that gave a ‘big picture’ of the implications for researchers and the general public
• To create a ‘moment in history’ despite the fact there would be no visible change – the digital archive would not be avail-able to researchers for another year

Strategy and plan
The legislation, technically known as Non-Print Legal Deposit, was initially rebranded as Capturing the Digital Universe.

Having engaged with senior journalists on a background basis about how best to present the story, an adviser from Electric Airwaves was drafted in to provide media training for the experts who knew the project best.

To bring the digital content to life and encourage debate, the concept of ‘100 Websites’ was also created, listing websites presented as ‘essential reading for future generations’. This was a key part of the initial media sell-in, which began by securing exclusive coverage by The Sunday Times a week before a launch event at the library. Part of the sell-in also included highlighting the current UK web archive, which is based at the library and selectively archives some UK websites on a permission basis.

In the week running up to this launch to mark when the archiving could begin, a countdown video was projected on to a large screen in the British Library foyer.

The event itself was planned to focus more on those directly involved in the tech industry. For the launch, held on a Friday night, tech events company 3beards was invited to relocate its weekly ‘Silicon Drinkabout’ event to the library. Meanwhile, a ‘red button moment’ was created to give a good picture shot.  

Alongside this, the library tweeted out developments, with a special focus on the 100 Websites list, which was hosted on the British Library website.

Measurement and evaluation
There were 467 pieces of global media coverage. This included online coverage by the Associated Press, The Huffington Post and, and broadcast interviews on BBC Breakfast and Al Jazeera. The news was also picked up by national papers including the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal and Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun.

Traffic to the UK Web Archive increased from 10,200 visits in March to 87,900 in April. On launch day there were 2,018 clicks on the story on the library’s homepage. Using the Radian 6 Social Media Monitoring service, it was recorded that there was an increase of more than 1,000 per cent in the number of tweets, blogs and other social media mentions using the words ‘British Library’ and ‘digital’ after the campaign ran.

Second Opinion

Victor Benady, global head of digital, Grayling

How many websites do you visit on a regular basis?

Ask most people that and you are unlikely to get a response that stretches to double figures. We have all had to become editors and curators. The British Library’s campaign plays that back to us perfectly.

Little wonder then, that such a seemingly bite-size chunk of the web is expansive enough to generate so much media interest.

The list makes for captivating reading and is not all household names – for example, Shit London, which will provide our great grandchildren with a unique historical document of the city.

The only area where the campaign fell a little flat was its attempt at  social media  engagement. More could have been done to drive engagement by deep-diving into some of the content and repurposing it for social sharing and discussion.

But this campaign can be seen as a real success. This is because it makes you reflect on how far we have come in practically no time at all, draws a line in the sand and elegantly marks the beginning of the rest of the life of the project.

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