Are you part of a community making information available and accessible to others? It could be a national association for the healthcare industry, a Reddit group for gaming geeks or even the anonymous pages of Wikipedia. The key: you and a group of people are coming together to be productive and hopefully offer something to whatever at-large community you care about.
We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about who keeps a community growing and thriving: active members, volunteers, ambassadors. How do we attract and keep these top-notch community members? I would argue they’re already there, lurking amid general conversations or waiting for a new project or initiative to spark their interest, creativity, or passion.
How can you find and engage the community members who will pull together and crowdsource useful information? It doesn’t matter if you want to increase your discussions on one industry topic, help another organization with its education initiatives, or hope to affect some massive change on a global scale - we all need to start small.
Start with one event, one article or even one tiny question, like “Can you transcribe this for me?”
The Opportunity for Anyone to Help the Smithsonian
The Smithsonian started The Transcription Center in 2013, with one goal: to transcribe as many historical documents as possible, in order to improve digital documentation and accessibility. Volunteers sign up for individual projects ranging from photocopied plant specimens, personal diaries and details on space exploration. These volunteers are reading through and translating old documents individually, but their collective efforts make a big difference.
The Transcription Center has coordinated 5,883 volunteers to transcribe more than 150,000 pages from over 1,000 projects to date. A transcription volunteer can sign up to work on a project anonymously, or create a profile in the Transcription Center’s system. The best part? It’s all virtual - no matter where you are in the world, you can sign up to transcribe with the Smithsonian.
Crowdsourcing may be a trendy term, but it holds weight here - collecting individuals’ work is filled with potential for spreading knowledge, solving problems and accomplishing big goals. Now, more than ever, people are able to crowdsource their skills online for the greater good - it’s a collective volunteering effort. There are hordes of communities made up of volunteers ready to spread the good word - whatever those words may be.
Building Community with Your Own Volunteers
This transcription project started as a way to resolve a common issue in the digital world: we can scan as many documents as we want, but what if we can’t decipher them? But the project has gained momentum and grown into its own thriving volunteer community.
The Smithsonian’s project coordinator, Meghan Ferriter, detailed how collaborative groups have popped up on Facebook, Tumblr and within the online comment sections of many Smithsonian transcription projects. Ferriter delightfully refers to these amateur transcribers as “Volun-peers”, and uses volunteering best practices of recognizing and rewarding transcribers, including exclusive chats with curators and collections managers.
The Collective Power of Every Community Volunteer
Between public information hubs like Wikipedia and national institutions like The Smithsonian, it’s clear community gets stuff done. So what can we, the everyday volunteers, accomplish on a smaller scale?
The Transcription Center’s volunteers may have been motivated by a multitude of extenuating factors (an interest in bugs or the moon, a desire to contribute to the Smithsonian, etc.), but you have a distinct advantage in your community - people are already coming together for a common interest. That’s a strong starting start! Take the preexisting desire to connect and help your community members band together even more.
Here are some quick tips to help community volunteers help you:
- Easy place to sign up. Don’t make it complicated for your volunteers to get involved. Keep sign-up front and center on your community, and make sure you’re detailing all aspects of the opportunity. Not everyone wants to spend their time transcribing old insect ledgers, which leads us to the next tip.
- Variety of tasks. How can your community be better? Circle back to discussions and resources your community keeps talking about or asking for - can you crowdsource some guest blogs? Should you be offering more in-person meet-ups? Organize potential opportunities and reach out.
- Intrinsic motivators. Transcribers for the Smithsonian aren’t getting paid or waiting on free gift cards for their work - the transcription is an inherent reward, as they see their progress for better digital documentation and learn more about a subject they’re interested in.
- A place to applaud and complain. Hopefully your community is already a space filled with honest, trustworthy conversation. But that doesn’t develop overnight - the Smithsonian transcribers started reaching out to one another and conversing in one place because they could all relate to one another, for support, camaraderie, and new ideas.
The advantage these online communities have - and what works for your community conversations and volunteer efforts already - often is their organic starts. They sprung up from common interests and pre-existing volunteering programs. Think about it: the entire vision for Duolingo started as a way for people to quickly and easily learn a new language, but it’s evolved. Now the platform is a community of volunteers translating articles on a global scale, while providing free, accessible language education. Your community can grow and evolve in new ways, too.
How will your online community create a surge in crowdsourcing?