Crowdsourcing can be a rewarding experience that’s absolutely wonderful for building and uniting a community under a common goal. But it’s not necessarily as easy as it looks, particularly when you’re drawing on a very small audience for content. However, our campus has an abundance of community spirit (and a high level of engagement) that often more than makes up for their small size.
An opportunity fell into my lap earlier this year when an old marketing campaign was coming down and, in place of it, our EO was hoping to brighten up an all-white campus building with some photos. With a bit of discussion, the project evolved into finding ways to leverage our community’s content as a celebration of campus pride, just in time for convocation.
With a bit of legwork and support from key campus partners, our first-ever projet communautaire was a great success, having numerous photo submissions over Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, and a few through email. We wrapped the 2013 leg of the project with a printed community wall and are featuring our contributors photos via Storify; we’ll also continue to encourage hashtag use of #MomentGL into next academic year.
With a little luck (and some elbow grease), we’ll have an ongoing source of fresh images for use on our social channels through the rest of 2013, and potentially, some leads on budding student photographers.
While the crowdsourcing process can be a bit stressful for some because you never quite know what you’re going to wind up with, it can be a great way to unite a people, showcase talent, or simply get things moving on your social platforms. You just need some forethought and careful planning.
To pull it off, a few key questions that you’ll want to consider:
1. What are my goals with this project?
Simple enough, right? What do you hope to achieve by coordinating this? Is it additional recruits? Increased exposure? Just a feel-good project? Make sure that these goals align with your execution and messaging. And don’t lose track!
2. Where can people go for more info?
One of the most frequent challenges I’ve run into with people asking to promote initiatives online is the fact that they don’t have a link for more information.
It’s just not enough to post a paragraph about your objectives and to ask people to please email firstname.lastname@example.org with things they’d like to submit. At best, it looks amateur; at worst, your post will get very little engagement because it’s boring (and again, looks lame). Consider how much of a missed opportunity this is; especially considering the fact that it’s painfully simple to put together a quick Facebook event or Tumblr page.
When choosing where your homebase will housed, be strategic. Go where the majority of your users are, and try to anticipate your project’s needs. For #MomentGL, we were torn between using a Facebook Group or an Event when what we ideally needed was a hybrid of both; in the end, we chose the Event because it would show up in participant’s calendars, serving as a convenient reminder to share their photos. It was also somewhere that people who didn’t use Instagram or Twitter could post their images.
Further to that, it turned out that we needed to go even simpler in the interests of inclusivity: our professors wanted to contribute but weren’t on Facebook so we built a webpage that included instructions on how to share via email or social networks, links to each network, and now that the the initial phase is finished, features an embedded Storify feed of all images.
Overkill? Maybe, but this shift aligned with our goals. I wanted it to be a truly community project; not just for undergrads. Allowing submissions via email allowed for our less tech-savvy faculty members to participate, too.
3. Who can help me promote the project?
Don’t try to be a one-man show. Consider aligning yourself with key allies (students, alumni, administrators, and faculty members alike!) to get them on board with spreading the word before jumping in head-first.
Before we even started developing #MomentGL, we connected with the president of our student union and our colleagues in student affairs for their input and buy-in. Once we had that, we implemented an kick-off announcement and strategic reminders into campus communications (via bi-weekly student newsletters sent by student affairs; promotion through the student union, faculty/staff email listserv, and institutional Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram updates).
We also found it exceedingly helpful to reach out to key influencers on a person-to-person level to encourage participation – this is where my student team came in exceptionally well. Building community happens one person at a time, so reach out to these leaders; it’s a lot harder for people to ignore a personal invitation than a generic one.
Unless it goes viral, your results will be directly tied to the amount of effort your team dedicates to spreading the word. So get out there!
4. Is this where my community is already?
Is your community very active on YouTube but less so on Facebook or Instagram? Is there a significant cohort on Tumblr? Awesome. Go where they are. In case you hadn’t figured it out already, a key aspect of crowdsourcing is, well, the crowd. If your community isn’t comprised of vloggers or film-savvy people, don’t try to run a contest on YouTube because chances are, it’ll flop.
5. What’s their experience/ability level?
Our community has tons of spirit, but varying degrees of talent or technical ability. We wanted to ensure that #MomentGL didn’t scare anyone away on the basis of being “not good enough”; this meant that the messaging had to be extremely approachable, lighthearted, and accessible.
We intentionally described it as a project (not a competition), and a few contributors (not winners) would be chosen through a curation (not judging) process to have their photos included in the final print piece. We included a wide variety of examples for types of photos in our introductions, and were also very intentional in the variety and quality of photos were selected for the project’s website header.
Don’t get me wrong – they all fit very much within the grassroots aesthetic that we wanted, but this was strategically set so that we could be more inclusive in our selection process.
6. What’s my back-up plan?
I’m going to level with you – sometimes things don’t work out. I’ve tried content crowdsourcing to build community for other unrelated projects, and we had to fold early and move to plan B. What did I take from that?
Firstly, much of this can be avoided if you plan out your communications well in advance, tapping into your network of allies for contributers and joint promotions, and assessing the project fit with your community’s existing social presence/abilities. These are all key steps that were missed in the other projects.
Secondly, always have a plan B (particularly if the content was to be purposed for a high-profile initiative). Sometimes, this may include focusing your search for targeted contributors; other times, it may involve a complete 180. Either way, track a project’s progress carefully so that you can make an informed decision should you need to put on the brakes.
7. How am I going to close it out?
Wrap up your project gracefully. Depending on your goals, the rational answer may very well be that the initiative has run its course. If that’s the case – don’t leave people hanging! Put up a post-event site, thank your contributors, and kick your feet back with a cold one, basking in the glories of your success.
However—if there’s still interest, consider opportunities for further interaction. With #MomentGL, we wanted to encourage people to keep sharing their experiences, so we specifically asked that they do so on the printed community wall.
We’ll be entering phase 2 late this summer, when the students are back on campus.
Have you successfully crowdsourced a project? What advice can you give on how to rock it?