All things are going digital… Even the census records from 1940!
On April 2nd, The National Archives and Records Association (NARA) released individual records of the 1940 Census. Every 72 years, the census is released and this time it was scanned and digitized for the public to find online.
NARA and the US Census Bureau teamed up for a joint effort in the “40 Days To The 1940 Census” campaign to promote the release. I had the opportunity to interview Jennifer Smits, Public Affairs Specialist at the US Census Bureau and Hilary Parkinson, writer-editor of NARA to find out more about the campaign. The overall purpose of the campaign was to build excitement and anticipation for the historians, genealogists, and anyone interested in their family histories. Below are some of the lessons learned from the campaign that we can all takes bits and pieces from in the future.
The Census Bureau and NARA posted photographs from the 1930s and 1940s of civilians, enumerators, farmers, and The Great Depression. Slideshows and infographics were also posted as visual comparisons from the 1940 Census to the 2010 Census, as well as YouTube videos.. All of these images helped boost engagement, especially when asked to like, comment, and share. By posting daily facts, quiz questions, and slideshows about the 1940s, the curiosity and interest of the public grew with excitement because they had the opportunity to be involved participants in the campaign.
You do not need to create a new Twitter account to embrace your campaign because you can use hashtags instead. The hashtag proved to be beneficial for increasing engagement because users had a general hashtag “#1940census” to look for and use themselves.
The Census Bureau even reached out to popular genealogy shows on NBC and CBS. Tweeting to celebrities and television shows during air time was successful in spreading awareness to people, who may otherwise not have known about the census, and led them back to the campaign with the hashtag. Actress Rita Wilson even tweeted back! Twitter chats and Q&As provided an opportunity for users to share their curiosities and after the release, share what they found. These chats were also posted on Facebook to reach those audiences not on Twitter.
The US Census Bureau created their first 3 infographics ever to share the 1940 Census story. Story telling is important when sharing large amounts of data because people do not want to read large amounts of data. Infographics proved to be the best way to tell the 1940 Census story in a visually entertaining way. A visual of comparisons and differences between 1940 and 2010 were more appealing and engaging than words alone. This is especially true when posted on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr (by NARA), and Pinterest because users then had the chance to share, retweet, and pin. This created a larger sharing of the infographics that reached users on all platforms of the Internet, especially when picked up by the media. The Census Bureau has continued to create infographics for other data releases due to their success, and will continue to do so in the future.
On the US Census Bureau’s landing page for the 1940 Census, the interactive app of an old 1930′s Uncle Sam poster became a major hit for engaging the audience. To promote engagement, users were able to upload their favorite head-shots and place them in the face of Uncle Sam. This app provided an excellent source for people to personally connect with. Users had the chance to create and tell their own personal 1940s story by uploading their own photos and then sharing the updated poster across social media platforms. Aspects of personal connection helped promote the census by reaching out to people on a deeper level regarding their own family histories and stories.
When the census was released online, computers were really slow due to the amount of people trying to access the data. People grew quickly irritated and posted on Facebook and Twitter to NARA out of frustration. Social media once again pulled through because NARA was able to post on Facebook and Twitter that they were aware of the issues with the 1940 census server and were working on it as best they could. This provided an excellent way to reach out to mass groups of people in a time of need to clear the confusion and let them know what was going on. Once users viewed these posts, they were much more understanding of the issue and patiently waited instead.
A big thank you to Jennifer Smits and Hilary Parkinson! And If you’re interested in searching for your family, head to the digitized census here!