An Im-Pozible-y Cool Project
Before the December break in 2012, Prof Deb Verhoeven (who is awesome and in my mind like an academic version of Sheryl Sandberg) asked me for a chat about a project she was working on. It turned out to be an innovative project to trial crowdfunding research in Australia, in collaboration with Pozible, the Australian Kickstarter counterpart . In development over about 2 years and with Pozible already in the market, her project was now coming together.
This end of year time is always so conducive to brainstorming, and we spent an enjoyable lunch thinking about what kind of projects could/might be succesful, what people would definitely not sponsor (eg academics flying to conferences in exotic locations…), what kind of social media and digital presence would be needed to be successful, and whether anyone would dare to take the plunge.
Well some very brave souls did, the project launched on 8 May and it has been quite the ride. Before I go any further, I'd like you all to go take a look at Research My World! Some of the projects have already reached their goals, but some are still looking for support to hit the mark by tomorrow!! (DO IT NOW!!!)
I've been so excited to be involved in this. It is a prime example of how technology
is reshaping the academic world, providing new affordances. This gives us an opportunity to look critically and objectively at longstanding traditions and processes, and assess how new options may augment or change those. My role in the project (frustratingly curtailed by extended illness ) was to think about the role of social media in the campaigns and to provide support to participants where needed. I wasn't alone in this, @beckplant and Deb herself also provided social media support as did Associate Prof Stuart Palmer, on top of his role as data capture and visualization expert extraordinaire.
The Pozible people too were awesome, and made two of their experts (@rickchenn and @mattbenetti) available to the researchers (and us as their support team) to provide information on crowdfunding and tips from successful projects. All of these are bundled in Pozible's freely downloadable handbook. They also provided ongoing support. The main takeaways for me were:
- Be personal
- Be transparent
- Tell a story
This project was so multifaceted, that social media was truly only a small part of it. There was ethics, finances, project size, reputation, and so much more to consider. I am sure all of us will be publishing our findings and experiences in many formats. However, Deb has given me the ok to share with you here some of the social media tips I gave our academic participants a few weeks before the start of their campaign. I divided these into three phases, as Pozible do too:
- before your campaign
- during your campaign
- and after your campaign.
I'll cover them here in two blog posts. Please remember, at the time these were just suggestions. I'll be talking to the researchers to find out what REALLY worked, and where I was just plain wrong
Crowdfunding research: some social media actions to take before your campaign starts
1. Check your online profile
People will care about your project, but they want to build a relationship with a person. Take a look at these examples:
Wikipedia's drive for donations was more successful when they associated it with founder Jimmy Wales, detailed in The Science Behind Wikipedia's Jimmy Appeal.
And a person who embodies this personal connection with the crowd is of course musician Amanda Palmer whose TED Talk 'The Art of Asking' is just epic.
Do a Google search for yourself (yep, just Google yourself) and check for the following:
- Your avatar (profile picture), name and bio. Are they consistent or at least recognizably the same person across your networks?
- Do you look like a fun, interesting and trustworthy scientist?
- Can you influence what those sites in the search results say about you? Your university staff page may be harder to manage then something like About.Me (http://about.me/Joyce.seitzinger) or Vizify.
- Can you bump up the pages you have control of and want to use? Getting more clicks, having more comments, more followers, will all lead to those sites being displayed higher in search rankings and having more traction once your campaign kicks off.
2. The name of your project
What will grab people’s attention? Try to go for a catchy name, not too long, that can work in a Twitter username, as a hashtag or as a domain name. And once you've thought of one, Google it to make sure no one else is using it. Not only can this cause confusion, but sometimes it can be embarrassing. One of our projects hit on a great name straight away: Mighty Maggots. You can follow them at @mightymaggots.
3. Pick your networks but pick a few, not all!
A few general guidelines first:
- Plan which networks you will use and begin growing your audience by widening the community you participate in.
- When choosing, consider where your community lives, physically and online. For example people interested in photography, prime targets for the Retake Melbourne photography project, live on Instagram and Flickr. More specifically, Melbourne Instagrammers live at the hashtag #igersmelbourne.
- Don't go overboard though and also consider where you already have existing profiles and networks, or tools you already know. Crowdfunding is hard enough without learning lots of new platforms, or trying to use 5 or 6 at the same time.
- Start becoming more active in your chosen networks by increasing your participation in conversations, in webinars and following more people.
- Worried about what to share and want to avoid the breakfast updates? Easy. We all read about our respective fields all the time. Just take the next step and curate what you read. Scoop.It, Pearltrees, Pinterest are all tools that facilitate easy curation but link back to the main networks like Twitter and Facebook. The act of curation will give you content to share with your community and make you a valuable node to them.
- Your camera is a ninja weapon – many social networks are moving to visual interfaces, as you can see in The Rise of Visual Social Media.
- Plan a timeline now. In the midst of your campaign it may get hectic. Try and map out different events or contributions you will make now, perhaps set them up somewhere in draft, ready to go.
If using Twitter…
- My suggestion is that you don't set up a separate, temporary account just for the campaign. Staying authentic and using your personal account, will mean the project will feed your profile, and vice versa. It also means you don't have to manage multiple accounts, and the followers you gain will remain with you after your campaign is finished.
- Begin to think about a hashtag for your project. Twitter has some good information on hashtags.
- Don't be a n00b: know your hashtags, RT, #twitterchat etc. There are many excellent Twitter guides. The London School of Economics has been taking a lead in the use of social media in research and research impact. The LSE Twitter Guide is a great place to start.
If using Facebook…
- Orient yourself on Science pages or communities/action groups in your area and join them. One prime example of such a page is ScienceAlert which has 3.1 million followers. There are many other such pages, but in some cases it can be hard to reach the curator of such an active page. Appealing to a smaller, more specific page, may make it easier to reach your community.
- See what types of content people like to share? What is the subject line? How long is the post? Does it use video or images as media? How professional do these media look?
- You may want to start a project page and fill it with interesting curated articles, keeping in mind to use the same username/project name on different platforms.
- Or if you are wanting to conduct a campaign from your personal page, you have the option to share open posts and pics. However people use Facebook in a more personal way then Twitter, so if you don't want lots of personal friend requests, a project page may be the way to go.
If using a blog…
- The Pozible pages for your projects have an option to create updates, so you can blog there, in a sense.
- But if you also have a generic blog or project website, set up a category or tag for your project
- Platforms to look at: WordPress, Blogger or Tumblr
If using LinkedIn…
- Update your profile
- Connect to more people in your field
- Find groups/communities with similar interests
- Share articles on your personal page, and in those groups. Make sure these articles are publicly available/shareable. Ask questions. Start conversations.
If using Pinterest…
- Begin a new pin board for your project
- Repin posts from other people in related communities. They will begin to follow your pins back.
To prepare your Pozible video:
- Try and aim for 30sec-1min. [In fact this is one thing where I know I was wrong. In order to tell a story, and give enough detail, it needs to be longer.]
- Be human. This isn't a paper-based bureaucratic grant application, you are asking another human to make an effort for a project or cause you care about, so be personal.
- You may need some background music. Soundcloud is one place to find tracks you can use with a Creative Commons license. Look at http://ccmixter.org/ for more options.
4. Whichever network you target, do the following
Start being useful and interesting. You can share existing resources you have to boost your profile, like papers in your university's digital repository or slideshows you've published on Slideshare. Or you can publish some content that may not be online yet, but that you have readily available. The best thing to do of course is to publish these under a Creative Commons license, but check that your institution does allow this.
Build trust and capital in the crowd, so they will want to help you later. There is a meme called the #lazyweb. It is a term, often used in a self-deprecating way, to describe a request for information or resources from the web, without having searched for that resource yourself, or having done any of the hard yards. I had a non-ironic #lazyweb happen to me a little while ago, when a student, obviously directed by their professor to follow and interact with “edutweeps”, asked me (and about 10 other education technologists) to respond to an #edtech question. This would be fine, however this student had joined Twitter about 10 days before, had 6 followers, and 30 tweets, including the 10 direct questions she had just posted. You cannot draw on the crowd, if you haven't contributed to the crowd first.
Find the supernodes. Identify the superusers in your area. There is a concept called social media reach, which is basically how many people you can get to see your message. You may have 200 users, but someone like @stephenfry has more than 5.8 million, with all users hanging on his every tweet. Now with such ubersupernodes, it can be hard to get their cooperation. But look around your field. Who has 1000s of Twitter followers? Which blog has a massive readership? Which Facebook page does everyone follow? You will find that as you track one, it will lead you to others. Identify all of these but don't call on them yet… Once your campaign kicks off, that is the time to approach them.
And finally: a social media disclaimer
I did add a bit of a disclaimer to the social media tip sheet I prepared for our intrepid researchers, because not all crowdfunding campaigning needs to be digital. And I will reiterate it here. The digital nature of a crowdfunding campaign makes it well suited to being spread through social networks. And this post (and its follow up) contains some tips on how to spread through those networks. But it is by no means the only way to create buzz for your crowdfunding research project. We will ask the researchers about some of the ‘real-world” tips and tricks they used.