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

Sunday, February 14, 2016
Lesley Parilla, Smithsonian Libraries, Washington, DC
Background: Crowdsourced transcription is a powerful way to engage the public through citizen science.  Transcription activities help make collections more searchable for researchers and offer volunteers a chance to work directly with and gain a better understanding of museum resources. By investing more time and effort into materials on transcription platforms, volunteers develop a connection to these resources and make discoveries that entice them to continue to contribute to the project.  The transcription produced through volunteers is also of high quality and quantity.  A study of transcription by volunteers found an error rate of less than 1%. If we create a coordinated social media campaign that offers increased social interaction around a theme designed to appeal to volunteers’ motivations, there will be an increase in online communication and transcription output. Methods: We will look at the difference in interaction and transcription output on the Smithsonian Transcription Center by comparing statistics for three 2-week time frames.  Two periods will provide a baseline for typical activity, demonstrating level of output and dialogue with volunteers.  One period will cover a time of increased social media interaction in the form of a coordinated social media campaign. Results: When we compared the three periods, we saw a significant increase in pages transcribed, unique contributors, and communication on other social media platforms during the campaign period, demonstrating a community of interactions inspired by the materials to be transcribed.  During the campaign period, the number of visits to the Transcription Center increased by more than 1400, with visits on site nearly 14 minutes long.  Although this represents a drop of 3 minutes in the average length of visit on site, the number of users rose by 14%, the number of pages transcribed increased by more than 10%, and the total amount of time volunteers spent increased by 9% during the campaign.  Our most significant increase during the campaign was the number of interactions we had with volunteers.  Replies (the best indicator of volunteer interaction), which indicate responses from volunteers to the transcription center coordinator, increased 47%.  Conclusion: Coordinated social media campaigns increase volunteer interaction, transcription output, and the number of active users on the Smithsonian Transcription Center.  However, there is a demonstrable drop in the average length of a visit during the campaign.  This may be because new active users specifically come 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 open nature of the transcription center may keep the community growing and sustain the online community as a whole, as volunteers eventually cycle out of active participation.