The Virtual Village: Crowdsourcing in Parenting and Beyond

As a working parent, I often feel like I don’t have enough time to do anything as well as I’d like.  When I’m at work, I worry about not being there for my kids.  When I’m with my kids, I have the Blackberry at my side and feel constantly distracted.  Don’t call the health department, but the last time I mopped my floor was at the beginning of the summer semester (when I started graduate courses in May, I had to let the house go “a bit”).  Now as the mess piles around me and I can hear the kids fighting in the front yard, I’m at my computer thinking of strategic ways that social media can make life easier.  A survey out this week from McCann Truth Central indicates that the new generation of tech-moms are letting go of the need to be “supermoms” – they realize that it’s OK not to be there to kiss every skinned knee, to push the swing each playtime, to drink 1,000 cups of imaginary tea, to make their own organic baby food, etc.  According to the McCann survey, moms are using technology to make their lives simpler, be it with online scheduling of events, finding a babysitter, even rewarding their children’s good behavior with screen time or the latest app.  Even as a late developer, I use technology in this way. I have use shopping list applications, purchase apps to entertain my kids while I run errands, e-mail my takeout order to local restaurants, text message my babysitters, and use Facebook to keep in touch with my friends.  I’ve found that it really does take a village to raise kids – and now that village is available on my laptop or mobile phone whenever I need advice or support.  I have a fabulous group of friends and am not sure if I’d have survived my children’s early years – the breastfeeding and night wakings, the tantrums and divorce – without them.  My “friends” (on Facebook, and in the flesh) are experts at something, be it parenting, biology, cooking, event planning, or wine selection.  Some are expert listeners who help me deal with the next developmental hurdle, or just listen to my tired, burned-out raving.  This spring, I sent an evite inviting friends to help us erect a play structure in our backyard.

The village came – and even brought their own tools.

We dug and planted a garden in a friend’s sunnier backyard.

Nancy teaches Noah to hoe a row

Without this active virtual community, I wouldn’t be able to maintain the friendships I hold dear, and as a family, we would miss out on many enriching opportunities.  When it comes to my kids, I think the  more adults involved in their lives, the better.

Crowdsourcing is a buzz word in social media for good reason – with social media, we have access to crowds of experts almost 24/7.  Many non-profit leaders (and moms too!) feel bogged down and completely overwhelmed by their to-do lists.  The thought of having one more task to complete (checking Facebook/Twitter, etc.) in an already-overstuffed day makes people resist new technologies.  But, what if the technology could make your life easier? What if, by simply creating a Facebook page or sending a Tweet, you had access to hundreds (or more) of like-minded individuals who could be willing volunteers/donors?  In their book, The Networked Nonprofit, authors Beth Kanter and Allison Fine argue that we should build our organizations around the idea of abundance rather than scarcity.  Social media is one great way to access that abundance.  Sometimes, the best thing we can do for our organizations (and families) is step out of the way, allowing other people to connect and plug-in where their expertise is needed.  We can even barter for services, giving us a chance to lighten our load while someone else builds their resume (perhaps someone is trying to launch a new career in Web design and could work on a project with you) or they just find the work meaningful (who doesn’t like to see a kids’ face light up in a learning moment?).

How do we fit social media into our daily lives without further complicating matters? My takeaways from Kanter and Fine address ways to engage in social media without disengaging from the rest of your life:

  • Create a schedule.  Set a time each day to check certain social media channels (don’t try to check them all at once and don’t spend all day doing it).  Maybe you’ll decide the best times to check your e-mail is at the beginning, middle and end of each work day.  Commit to those three times, and let the rest wait.
  • Limit your time on Facebook, Pintrest and Twitter. Try not to get sucked in to browsing.  If you like to stalk your friends, build in some time after you put the kids to bed for this (and then try to explain it to your spouse).
  • Use the tools that are available to you! Set up Google alerts and receive e-mails when there is news on the keywords you give it.  Let Google keep track of the news while you move on to other tasks.
  • Choose tools carefully.  Focus on the few tools that work best for you based on your social media goals. Want a virtual community? Try building it on Facebook or Ning. Want to promote an event or make a cause more visible?  Try using Twitter, Facebook or a mobile tagging app.  Doing a few things well is better than doing many things halfheartedly.
  • Trust your sources.  Identify people (experts) you trust.  Read bloggers that you respect and look at their social circles as well.  Allow friends to forward your info on social media platforms and to shape conversations.
  • Use filters and preferences to become a better friend.  If you have so many thousand friends on Facebook that you miss the birth or death of a family member, perhaps you should filter your friends list to make sure you are getting the information you need most.
  • Crowdsource!!! Organize a bunch of people to work on one project – remotely – each helping in a small way to do something significant as a group.  Crowds can work together through social media to create original content, by submitting videos/photos for a show, voting on their favorite things as a way to encourage engagement, or donating a few dollars(which, combined, goes a long way).  Push for community-generated content that tells your story – it may be more genuine and effective as it is organic and grows from personal experience.

    It’s organic! (She’s holding a tiny lettuce seed)

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One comment on “The Virtual Village: Crowdsourcing in Parenting and Beyond

  1. Jennifer Worrell says:

    WOW! You really know your social media:) Great info. and advice!

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