Social media is part of our reality. It is estimated that in India alone, the current number of 2 million Indians on social networking sites will grow by a factor of 36 in the next three years. Social media outreach can be a powerful tool, if used prudently, and we decided apply it to the task of encouraging Wikipedia participation in India.
The India Program started a pilot in March to using social media for outreach – and the initial indicators are encouraging. The seed for this was sown when we tried to stay in touch with the hundreds of people who had attended various outreach sessions across the country since January 2012. We sent them email or talk page messages offering help, but got only a handful of responses. But when we asked them if they’d like to join a Facebook group, the response was tremendous – and the “You Can Edit Wikipedia” page on Facebook now has 400 members.
Historically, “physical” outreach has been the primary mode of Wikipedia outreach, but it requires more time and effort on the part of existing editors, such as when they go to colleges or meetups and tell interested people about Wikipedia. Social media outreach requires significantly lower volunteer time and effort, and offers much more flexibility.
After talking to existing editors who were active in outreach or on social media as well as observing community Facebook groups, we identified tips on how this initiative could be best conducted. This was fleshed out into a 20 point guide, intended to provide structure in what can be a chaotic environment.
It suggests to get new editors to complete 5 basic tasks: create a user page, correct a spelling mistake, add a reference, improve content and leave a talk page message. All this is done using articles about a “fun” topic, based on existing policies but explaining them in simple terms.
So, what are the learnings reflected in this guide? Earlier, for most community Facebook groups, members would post links to articles they edited or images they added without an explanation or a call to action. Members were informing things but weren’t asking questions. Similarly, there was very little interaction between experienced and new editors. The activity on the group was irregular.