Community-Sourcing “100 Toys” — an Explosion in Online Engagement (Part I)

This summer, in my position as Digital Marketing Content Coordinator at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, I had the opportunity to take part in an amazing project called “100 Toys (& Their Stories) that Define Our Childhood.” The project was intended to be small and experimental, but turned into a popular social campaign that spread like wildfire across the web, gathering over 600 stories, 24,000 votes, and countless comments on a variety of news and social media platforms. Probably the most interesting result of “100 Toys” was that people of all demographics were engaged in voting, storytelling, and online discussions.

100 Toys was inspired by the British Museum’s successful program, “A History of the World in 100 Objects,” but with a community-sourcing twist.  Museum curators chose 100 objects from our 120,000-object collection that they felt best represented the last 100 years of childhood, and that’s where our authoritative input ended. From there, we encouraged online visitors to vote for their favorite toy and, most importantly, to share their memories about that toy.  This focus on memory-sharing underscored the museum’s commitment to promote intergenerational, family learning.

After five weeks of voting and three weeks of case preparation, the top 20 toys were announced through the unveiling of an on-site display case, with GI Joe, Transformers, Barbie, and LEGO rounding out the top picks. With this announcement came a shocking level of interest from the press — from NPR to Yahoo and Fox News, and countless radio and newscasts in between, our small community-curation project had hit the big time. 100 Toys was mentioned on the Facebook walls, blogs, and sites of numerous organizations, with comments often reaching the hundreds. One lesson we learned? Everyone, everyone, has an opinion about their favorite toy.

This is really what’s at the heart of the 100 Toys engagement explosion: nostalgia, passion, and an incredible urge to share that special story about a memorable toy. When we started, we didn’t know how effectively we could solicit stories when simple voting was an option (and so elemental to the process.) Writing out a story takes effort. Clicking the “vote” button does not. In spite of this, we had stories rolling in so quickly that we couldn’t monitor them quickly enough. (Thank goodness for interns!)

It wasn’t just the quantity of stories that surprised us — it was the quality and diversity of the contributions. We received stories from grandmothers, young moms, teenagers, and parents sharing stories for their young children, along with incredibly moving stories from older men, on everything from GI Joe to dinosaur toys to Yo-Yos. And they were coming from all over. Fort Wayne, Indiana, we expected — but when stories from Maine, Florida, California, and then Germany started flowing in we were pretty shocked. We even had submissions from a class of students in Queensland, Australia!

What made 100 Toys so compelling was watching our little idea capture the attention of not just the local community, but also the entire country and beyond. Intergenerational memory-sharing is a fundamental element to our work at The Children’s Museum, and it was inspiring to see this type of engagement spurred so successfully through the use of social media. The trick now is finding the next engaging topic that can rouse the opinions of thousands of people as much as a favorite toy.

Be on the lookout for Part II, where I’ll dive into how 100 Toys applies to the concepts of Community-Sourcing and Open Authority, and what elements we’re hoping to replicate as we consider our next attempt at successful online engagement.

Photo by: cc by-sa 3.0 The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, Photo by Black Market

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