The Impact of Coordinated Social Media Campaigns on Online Citizen Science Engagement

Smithsonian staff members recently presented a poster at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting in Washington, DC, 11-15 February, 2016. The poster, entitled “The Impact of Coordinated Social Media Campaigns on Online Citizen Science Engagement” by Lesley Parilla (Cataloging Coordinator, The Field Book Project) and Meghan Ferriter, Ph.D. (Project Coordinator, Smithsonian Transcription Center), highlighted the impact of a coordinated social media campaign on crowdsourced transcriptions of field notes.

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The poster outlined the details and outcomes of the #FWTrueLove campaign, a collaboration involving The Field Book Project, the Smithsonian Institution Archives, the Smithsonian Transcription Center, Pyenson Lab, and the Biodiversity Heritage Library. The event challenged volunteers to fully transcribe a selection of field notes by Frederick W. True, held by the Smithsonian Institution Archives and uploaded to the Smithsonian Transcription Center, by the end of the campaign period. Materials for the challenge were identified and selected with Smithsonian Curator of Fossil Marine Mammals Dr. Nick Pyenson and the Smithsonian Field Book Project, a joint initiative of the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Libraries and Smithsonian Institution Archives. The field notes are an important source of natural science data that is difficult to utilize, since they are often handwritten and fragile due to age.

The Transcription Center coordinated the multi-institutional campaign during the month of February 2015. The campaign involved blog posts, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and a targeted email to the Transcription Center’s current volunteers, all of which challenged users to completely transcribe 523 pages from F.W. True’s field notes within one week. Updates were posted on:

As a reward for the successful completion of the challenge, the Transcription Center coordinated Google Hangouts with Curator of Fossil Marine Mammals Dr. Nick Pyenson. Dr. Pyenson discussed the interdisciplinary nature of F.W. True’s scientific pursuits – plus True’s connections with Smithsonian researchers like Leonhard Stejneger and William Healey Dall.

The #FWTrueLove campaign contrasted with a typical experience by focusing on a specific set of materials. The modular design of the Transcription Center’s website, which incorporates multiple collection types, means that a typical volunteer experience is flexible and highly tailored to their individual interests. This flexible design enables volunteers to create their own online experience. This can be expanded with engagement via social media. An analysis of the event showed that coordinated social media campaigns increase volunteer interaction, transcription output, and the number of active users on the Transcription Center. However, there was a decrease in the average length of a visit during the campaign. This may be because new active users are specifically coming to spend time on the projects highlighted in the campaign. This varies from other periods of time on the site, when volunteers come to work on one project but move onto unrelated projects that catch their attention thanks to the site’s open structure. These focused campaigns that appear to work in direct opposition to the flexible nature of the Transcription Center may keep the community growing, serving to reinvigorate the volunteer community as a whole and combat the natural cycling of volunteers out of active participation.

Learn more about the results of the campaign on the AAAS website. See the posted in more detail on BHL’s Pinterest.

Lesley Parilla is a Cataloging and Bibliographic Access Librarian at the Smithsonian Libraries. Previously, she served as the Cataloging Coordinator for The Field Book Project at Smithsonian Libraries.

Meghan Ferriter is a Senior Innovation Specialist with the National Digital Initiatives division in the National and International Outreach directorate at the Library of Congress. Prior to this, she served as the Project Coordinator for the Smithsonian Transcription Center.