As the American Experience team was preparing for the rebroadcast of their popular 2010 documentary Roads to Memphis for the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Digital Editor Lauren Prestileo found herself fascinated by a young man interviewed as he was marching in Memphis just a few days after the assassination. Who was this young man who spoke so eloquently about what Dr. King stood for? When the team went back to the archive to pull the metadata on the footage, there was no information about him. The American Experience team decided to turn to their hyper-engaged fans on social media for help, to see if the community could identify the mysterious young man.
American Experience's largest social audience lives on Facebook, a highly-engaged group of American history enthusiasts. The American Experience Facebook audience commands an interaction rate 84% higher than the average rate for history documentary producers. To convey what we were trying to do, editor Eric Gulliver created a short video featuring the question "Who is this boy?" with footage of the young marcher. The video was short, running under one minute, featuring a direct, clear call-to-action to share and comment to help the team identify him.
Once the video was ready, the team posted it on the American Experience Facebook page on Tuesday, January 23. Within the hour, the team had their answer when a man named Keith Ellis Hart commented: "That's my brother PHIL ANTHONY HART…" After a few days of work, the team had verified that Keith's information was indeed the answer they had been looking for. The Hart family had seen this footage before, in the 1980s, but had never gained access to a copy.
How did the video end up on Keith's Facebook feed, even though he had never "liked" American Experience before this? A combination of shareable content that encouraged meaningful interactions, and careful paid targeting — the team boosted the post for $100 over 48 hours, targeting men and women 45-65+, in the United States, who like Martin Luther King Jr. or the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Once we made contact with Keith and his family, our team headed out for Memphis, Tennessee, the site of Dr. King's assassination and the home of the Hart family. What we learned there, we put into a digital short film that premiered on Facebook in April of this year.
Phil Anthony Hart, however, was not available to us; he tragically died at age 14 from a brain tumor, just one year after he was interviewed at the 1968 march in Memphis. His family were kind enough to show us around the city and tell us their brother's story on camera.
The result is "This is My Brother," a five-and-half minute short film that tells the tragic and inspiring story of this young man, and how we reunited his family with this footage.
At the beginning of this project, our goal was to identify and connect with the young marcher in the footage, as well as drive engagement around the digital videos and push to the rebroadcast and streaming of our film about the MLK assassination, Roads to Memphis.
Our first video and the search itself generated 2,100 engagements and 26,000 10-second views. Most importantly, we identified the young marcher, Phil Anthony Hart, and made the footage available to a family that had not heard their brother's voice in decades. The resulting short film added depth to the public's understanding about MLK's reputation in 1968 in Memphis and throughout the country.
We published the short film on Tuesday, April 3, 2018 — one day prior to the 50th anniversary of Dr. King's death, and the same day that our film Roads to Memphis broadcast on PBS stations nationwide and concurrently was available for free streaming online and on the PBS app. To date, that video is to date our top-performing post of 2018, with a reach of 1.47 million, more than 255,000 10-second views, and more than 47,000 engagements. PBS and 22 member stations rallied around the video, cross-posting it to their Facebook audiences, driving the video's more than 10,000 shares and over half of total reactions and 75% of comments. The Roads to Memphis broadcast had 1.8 million broadcast viewers and 54,000 streams online.
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