Crowdsourcing as Stewardship: Sharing Your Institution’s Story

Jen Doak is the online communications specialist at CASE.

At the 2013 CASE-NAIS conference, held Jan. 13-15 in Washington, D.C., I was lucky enough to find some room in the “Crowdsourcing as Stewardship: Sharing Your School’s Story” session. It was led by Travis Warren, president of WhippleHill Communications, and Peter Saliba, head of school at the Tilton School.

Peter and his team started with a really basic idea: He was the new guy, and he needed alumni to let him know what made the Tilton School special.

So he asked people to help him out. And they did. “From this effort we got 50 or 60 emails—a huge turnout for us,” he said. His team members then asked themselves how they could best showcase these stories for alumni, prospective students and the broader Tilton community.

The answer: The Tilton Experience.

TiltonSchool

Since the launch of the crowdsourcing project, alumni have shared stories, pictures and videos on the site, which after a quick vetting are posted in an easy-to-peruse tile format. There’s a low barrier to sharing: Users simply click on the giant “Share Your Experience” button on the page, fill in their information and push send. “Tilton previously had not had a good record of stewarding its alumni,” said Peter. “This started a groundswell.”

What’s the longer-term benefit of the site? “It’s too early to say what’s happened, but I’m achieving my goal of being a better steward,” said Peter. His team sends a follow-up note thanking people for submissions, which it hopes will turn into a long-lived stewarding relationship. There was even a person “of development interest” who posted a story, which provided an opening for Peter to reach out and begin building a relationship. 

Cool. So what are the takeaways?

Crowdsourcing sites like Kickstarter, Indiegogo and Kiva provide outlets for artists and developing-nation entrepreneurs to get funding from people who want to support them. “Crowdsourcing is a new normal,” said Travis. “Get used to it. It represents a huge opportunity for students, faculty and alumni.”

The Tilton School was successful in part because it included a personal request to alumni for help with a site that was easy to use. Interested in trying out crowdsourcing yourself? Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Post old photos and ask for volunteer sleuths. Ask your community who’s in the old photos or where your pictures were taken. “Even if you know who’s in the photo, there’s value in playing the game [to] establish a relationship,” said Travis.
  • Set a theme for your crowdsourcing initiative. Middlesex School started the Middlesex Instagram Challenge, where they asked students, faculty and staff to submit pictures of what they believe makes Middlesex special. Having a theme to frame your crowdsourcing initiative provides people with a context for their photos or stories.
  • Use the right tools. “If you have to explain to someone how to use a tool, then you’re using the wrong tool,” said Travis. For example, he found that students respond better to Instagram projects than alumni—and with students, you can even ask them for submissions during a school assembly.
  • Build crowdsourcing into your larger communications plan. You can’t just crowdsource for the sake of crowdsourcing. Show your audience that you intend to tie submissions to a goal. Make sure those goals relate to your mission statement.
  • Remember copyright and permissions issues. People who participate in crowdsourcing know their content will be public, but to be safe include permissions language somewhere on your site.

Peter has gained a new perspective from his school’s crowdsourcing project. “I would say this project has had a secondary effect in that I believe [we can try] a greater number of new ideas and approaches because we tried something new and it worked and is working.”

Has your institution tried crowdsourcing? Has it worked? Tell us about it in the comments.

3 responses to “Crowdsourcing as Stewardship: Sharing Your Institution’s Story

  1. Pingback: Using crowdsourcing to generate content | DCOM 280: Technical Communications·

  2. Good observations! I believe Tilton did contact their alumni, but Peter might be able to provide more insight (@TiltonHOS) if you’re curious.
    Thanks for sending along the MICA example, too–I imagine at places like art schools and maybe business schools, where students are encouraged to publicize and sell products, Kickstarter is a great place to begin.

  3. Thanks Jen – Tilton’s approach makes a great early case study of crowdsourcing as stewardship. Have Tilton contacted their alumni by email to let them know of this project? I imagine the number of conributors will grow steadily as more alums see the inspiration wall and are encouraged to share their own memories.
    On terminology, crowdsourcing and crowdfunding are often used interchangeably, but they are discrete terms. Tilton’s is a practical example of crowdsourcing (as is the Middlesex Instagram Challenge). Crowdfunding is different in that it involves dollars. Check out the Maryland Institute College of Art’s Kickstarter page for lots of creative and inspiring crowdfunded projects.
    http://www.kickstarter.com/pages/mica
    Thanks for the takeaway tips – crowdsourcing is much more powerful when it has a clear goal in mind, and I also like encouraging alumni to be “sleuths” with old photos. A clever, simple and powerful way to engage with your network.

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