Outreach and marketing for crowdsourcing tasks

Written by Mia RidgeJune 27, 2024Comments: 0

Imagine you’ve set up a shiny new crowdsourcing project. How do you let people who might potentially want to volunteer online know about it?

Here’s how we did it for one of our final crowdsourcing projects on Living with Machines. We called it the ‘language of mechanisation‘ internally, but you might have seen them as ‘How did the word ‘coach’ / ‘trolley’ / ‘car’ change over time and place?’ or ‘Bicycle or motorcycle?’.

We had a bit of a head start with this one as we’d already done several tasks, and worked in the open during the alpha stage of designing these tasks, so some volunteers already knew about them. Others found it via the Zooniverse page that lists active, approved projects. (It’s definitely worth becoming an approved project, if you can, as you learn a lot from volunteer feedback).

We also promoted the new tasks via the British Library’s LibCrowds newsletter (over 500 subscribers; ( example newsletter 1] and example newsletter 2). and on social media (which was mostly Twitter, at the time) from the @LibCrowds and @LivingWMachines accounts.

Sample messages on Twitter included:

‘When and how did language change as cars went from horse-drawn to trolley-cars and railway carriages to the cars we know today? Read the text carefully to tell one from the other…’. 

‘Think you can tell whether a ‘bike’ was a #bicycle or a #motorcyle in just a few lines of text? How about a ‘car’ – is it a motorcar, a tram or trolleycar, a railway carriage or even the basket under a hot air balloon? Help us trace changes in language’.

Building on best practice for engaging volunteers, posts included screenshots of the Zooniverse task interface, providing a preview of the task type and source material, while historical images of the machines being studied gave a sense of period and context.

Screenshot of a tweet with part of a screenshot of the Zooniverse task interface, and historical black and white photos of a horse-drawn carriage on a street with an early locomotive on a viaduct above the street; and an early motor car
Screenshot of a tweet saying: ‘A new language task is live on @the_zooniverse – and it’s a doozy!’. Three images are attached – a screenshot preview of the Zooniverse task interface, a horse-drawn carriage on a street with an early locomotive on a viaduct above the street; and an early motor car. Image source: https://twitter.com/LivingwMachines/status/1632478792982593536 (accessed 25 April 2024).

We regularly checked the forum for new questions, and sought to bring in other members of the wider project team where their expertise could enrich a conversation.

Tutorials and help text encouraged volunteers to ask questions about the task on the ‘Talk’ pages, and to post when they noticed something interesting or had a question about the content of an article. This gave us a great sense of what people found interesting, what they were learning as they did the tasks, and helped surface some interesting stories from historical newspapers.

As you can see, it helped to have already-established channels to reach potential volunteers, including our social media accounts and newsletter. If you’re just getting started, here’s some guidance to finding and working with communities and volunteers.

Our Funder and Partners