Hacks to crowdsourcing great content for your COVID-19 digital exhibit

Get our team's favorite hacks to crowdsourcing amazing content for online exhibits.

Archivists and historians everywhere are working on archive initiatives for the historical COVID-19 pandemic. Over the last month you’ve no doubt heard that incessant, yet catchy corporate phrase, “We’re all in this together.” Well, it’s true. We are in this together and as a result our communities hold a rich source of content for future generations to study and experience. What’s the best way to capture that content? Crowdsource it!  

Okay crowdsourcing isn’t exactly a new idea, but it’s a great way to rally everyone around a shared experience, and it can speed up your content collection process, too.

Need a quick reminder of the definition for crowdsourcing? For purposes of this post the best way to explain it is this. To collect content from a group of people motivated by a shared experience and get them to upload their stories by way of photos, videos, journals, audio recordings, and more.

For anyone working on COVID-19 collections at historical societies, universities, libraries, or other organizations, our master storytellers hereat Pass It Down would like to share with you our favorite hacks to crowdsourcing great content for your archives and exhibits.


1)  Establish a clear objective. Define one at the onset. Make it clear and motivating for you and your audience and be able to describe what success looks like when it’s finished. Museums have documented everything from CLOSED signs hanging in windows to ghost town cities. Yogi Berra once said, “If you don't know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.”  

2)  Determine your target audience. Said another way, who is the who you’re talking to? Identify your most valuable bulls-eye audience and tailor your message to appeal to their interests. Otherwise, your request could be lost in a cacophony of other messages.  

3)  Find a UGC platform. You don’t want a thousand more emails, right? Make it easy on your audience and yourself. Choose an online platform designed to accept and organize uploads of user generated content (UGC).  

4)  Develop a communications plan. Announce your crowdsource initiative with a call to action for your community. Communication channels can include social media posts, email blasts, private messages, phone calls, press releases, event marketing, and more. Be sure to select the best communication channels that appeal the most to your audience.  

5)  Get attention. Always use words that resonate the most with your audience. Feature a topic that will motivate lots of people in your audience to participate. COVID-19, that ought to do it. Try wrapping your message around a survey or poll if you need help getting people to participate.

6)  Collect and appreciate. Make sure your community’s content doesn’t disappear into a black hole. Transform that content into an engaging story and put it online for everyone to see and experience. Announce the completion of your exhibit using your communication channels and be sure to thank your audience.      

7)  Embrace the legalese. Have fun, but please make sure you understand intellectual-property and privacy risks when sourcing content from your audience. Choose an online platform that requires your audience to agree to terms and usage rights about how user generated content will be used. Make sure your audience knows that the content they contribute must be their own and not taken from someone else that could infringe on Intellectual Property rights. Don’t forget online privacy rights. Make sure your crowdsourcing platform is secure and has active SSL certificates to protect your audience’s private information.


And now you have our favorite hacks to crowdsourcing great content for your COVID-19 archive initiatives. Interested in seeing more?  Take a look at the incredible example that the History Center of LakeForest-Lake Bluff ‘s created called 300 Photos, 30 Days: A Candid Look at COVID-19.  

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