Now that the dust has settled on our International Postcard Swap for Families I thought I’d write up a post about how I did it and what I’d change next time. This is partly for my own benefit – so that when I hold another swap it’s easier for me, but also because a few of you have asked for some details about how I held the swap – maybe some of you will feel inspired to hold your own swaps (in which case, do let me know!).
What I loved about holding this swap and why I would do it again
I got such a huge kick from “meeting” families around the world, some of whom I know I will be getting to know better now that I’m a regular reader of their blogs! It really was wonderful to play a role in kids and families learning a little bit about different cultures and parts of the world. Even if it was only in a teeny-tiny way I do feel I’ve contributed to “international understanding” and that, if I’m honest makes me feel proud and happy.
Not only did my kids learn plenty of new things as a result of the swap, so did I! I’m not proud to admit that there were some countries involved in the swap which I couldn’t place on a map. But I can now! Hooray! As well as geography I learned some new technical / bloggy / organizational skills which has been an added bonus.
It feels a little unseemly to say it but my blog stats zoomed up as a result of the swap – although I know many swap participants won’t become regular readers of my blog, some have, and hosting the swap had definitely increased my readership and “visibility” in the parts of the blogosphere I inhabit.
What wasn’t so thrilling about the swap and which you need to be prepared for if you’re hosting a swap
Hosting a swap will take up a lot of your time. How much time it takes up with depend on how prepared you are, how many people are participating (you might decide in advance to cap numbers at a certain point) and what your policy is on replying to individual emails. I deliberately set up the swap so that the weekend when I was sorting out addresses was a long holiday weekend here when my husband would be around to play with the kids. Definitely warn in advance any partners that you’ll be busy with the swap and ask for their understanding and help!
After the swap I was somewhat burnt out – although I loved doing it, I really wanted an extended period away from the computer once it was all done. Next time I will certainly endeavour to have some blog posts scheduled for after the swap so that things keep ticking over whilst I spend some time recharging. Of course if your swap only involves 20 people (rather than over 230 families) you may not have to worry about this.
The nitty gritty of the swap mechanics
Preparing for the swap
Decide exactly who you want to participate in the swap. Is the swap for anyone, families only, any family (eg one with grown up kids, or only with kids under 18), children only etc. Of course you might expand the pool of people who can sign up once you’re up and running, but it will certainly save you time and energy if you’ve thought about this in advance.
Set dates for the different stages of the swap. Key dates are (1) Announcing the swap and calling for participants (2) Deadline for participants to have signed up (3) Getting swap details out to all participants and (4) Deadline for posting swap items. I chose to have all these dates quite close to each other to keep the momentum going and I would probably do this the same again, even though with an international swap there is some benefit with leaving the swap open for longer, to enable as many people from different parts of the world where internet connection is perhaps flaky to hear about the swap.
Create a button for your swap – people love being able to put buttons on their blogs and it’s a great way to further advertise your swap.
Create a blank spreadsheet in anticipation. What info you gather will depend on how you are matching up your families. I had columns for key contact, address, country, kids’ names, kids’ ages, and any extra info (eg special requests). Next time I will have another column for time zones – this way I can ensure that families in countries which span multiple time zones (eg the US, Australia) can be matched up with families from parts of their own country some distance from their home, should it be necessary to have country internal swaps.
Announce your swap anywhere you can! I announced my swap on the ning social network sites I’m a part of (Book Blogs, British Mummy Bloggers and We Teach).
I also directly asked several bloggers (especially those who I knew had an international following) if they would spread the word, either by posting about it, tweeting it or putting it on their facebook page. Just about everyone I asked was happy to do this – mostly by putting the swap link on Twitter or Facebook. If you helped me out this way – THANKS!
I asked everyone participating in the swap to spread the word however they could, even if all that meant was emailing a friend or two. I’m not a homeschooler, but I was able to get the news of the swap onto very active homeschooling sites because families who had signed up for the swap spread the news.
As this was an international swap, and I wanted to have participants from as many countries as possible I went through lots of blogs on Expat Blog to find families around the world I thought might be interested. I then personally invited them to take part in the swap – not all did, but it was certainly a useful way to increase the geographical spread of participants. And those families that didn’t want to take part were often happy to spread the news of the swap so there was quite a ripple effect.
Announcing and advertising the swap
Collecting swap addresses
Every time I had a participant sign up I immediately transferred their details to the spreadsheet. I felt this was the best way to do it as otherwise a backlog built up and things felt a bit overwhelming! Sometimes addresses come through in a format that looks strange so I think next time I’ll ask participants to be very clear about how to write their address ie what goes on a new line. I did find this useful webpage about international address formats, but it was too time consuming to check each address individually.
Distributing swap addresses
I chose to arrange this swap so that families sent 5 cards and received 5 cards from 5 different families (with the aim of getting a greater geographical spread for each family). To sort this out here’s what I did. (1) Once I had everyone’s address in the spreadsheet I sorted by country and gave each country a numerical code. (2) I then grouped countries into 5 equal sets as best I could (so for example Set A had all Western European addresses, Set B had all Asian addresses etc). (3) I then created swap groups with one address from each set. Swap group 2 sent cards to swap group 3 and received cards from swap group 1, swap group 3 sent to swap group 4 and received cards from swap group 2 and so on. Confused? Yeah… what can I say – it was rather number crunchy!
As 5 was my magic number I had to make sure that the number of families participating was divisible by 5.
Next time I’ll keep my magic number as 5 – costs for buying / creating / sending cards aren’t too high and the project size for families is a nice manageable one.
Swap follow up
Be prepared for a lot of emails after you think the swap is all organised and supposedly looking after itself. I received queries about addresses, names, international postage rates and all sorts. I was more than happy to sort out all these queries as I wanted the swap to work, but perhaps naively I hadn’t expected so much follow up work.
Have some posts prepared in advance to go live on your blog immediately after all the swap leg work. I didn’t do this and I regret it – I was simply blogged-out by the time I got all the swap addresses sent to their recipients and I also wanted to be able to spend some more time with my family so I didn’t want to blog for the week after the addresses went out. BUT I felt this was a shame as I had so many new readers of the blog it would have been a great opportunity to give them some excellent posts in the hope that they would keep coming back to my blog.
Because lots of bloggers took part I thought it was nice to round up all the blog addresses to encourage families to explore who else was in the swap. This was additional work, but I’d recommend doing it as it’s a great way for families to find other families outside their swap set.
Consider holding a small survey after the swap is done and dusted to get feedback – I used Survey Monkey and got a lot of useful feedback that will improve any future swaps I hold. It was also an easy way to collect email addresses of those families who want to be informed of any future swap I hold.
What I would do the same and what I would change
Next time I will ask swap families to consider including their own addresses on the cards they send out as many recipient families wanted to send thank you cards back to the families from whom they received cards.
Next time I will improve the geographical spread of cards by (a) warning in advance that families from “popular” countries such as the US, UK and Australia may have to be put on a waiting list, and indeed may not even make it to the main swap, depending on the number of families signing up from other countries and (b) organising my spreadsheet better, to include time zones (see above!)
Next time I will point out to families that past experience has shown swap families to be very generous. Many families included small gifts and letters as well as postcards and this made some recipient families feel a little awkward if they had not done so. I don’t want families to feel obliged to do anything more than send a postcard, but I do want participating families to feel comfortable!
Next time I will try to ensure a better match of kids’ ages – this time round it was a step to far for me, and even now I’m not sure how I would do it, but nevertheless, it’s something I’d like to improve upon next time.
I’m not sure if I will change the period of time between announcing the swap and closing it to sign ups. A longer period might enable families from more countries to sign up, but it would also increase the number of families who might have to go on a waiting list.
What might be next?
In July my blog will be one year old and as part of the celebrations I’ll be hosting an international children’s book swap – I hope you’ll be back to participate!
For another guide to holding a postcard swap take a look here, at iHanna’s Blog – her advice was very helpful when I started work on this swap.