Crowd-sourcing & User-generated content

17 Jul 2010  |  Design Social Social Media Web

Firstly the difference between crowd-sourcing and user-generated content:

The term “crowd-sourcing” was originally coined by Wired Magazine in 2006, by Jeff Howe and Mark Robinson, and involves opening up tasks usually performed by company employees to a open or restricted community. User-generated content on the other hand is always publicly available, and this content forms the basis for Web 2.0,. It can also be referred to as “Conversational Media” because of the two-way dialogue involved between posts and comments.

Crowd-sourcing in marketing functions

Traditionally market and product research have been conducted in closed groups, but the large pool of individuals available through crowd-sourcing has opened up the industry to a wider community of diverse backgrounds and talents. Marketing and advertising agencies have successfully used crowd-sourcing for a variety of tasks including product research and development, promotion and advertising, and market research. Crowd-sourcing provides companies with access to a large number of ideas from individuals with outlooks perhaps more varied to those within a single company or group, as well as giving access to a huge pool of individuals with diverse expertise.

Amazon’s Mechanical Turk is one those sites which offer a number of Human Intelligence Tasks (HITs) that can be completed by individuals who are then paid for their efforts by the firm that created the task. The fees paid can range from 1 US cent for simple data entry, up to a maximum of around 11 US dollars, for more complex tasks such as copywriting or website usability testing.

Sites like Mechanical Turk often offer companies access to these skills at lower rates than their salaried employees, but this does raise the question of whether these lower-paid workers are being exploited by larger companies and the effect this has on their existing employees. There is also the issue, particularly in market research activities, as to whether the individual could be biased towards the company doing the paying, and because of this it’s recommended that very specific guidelines are set when gathering the information.

Many online advertising campaigns have also embraced the idea of crowd-sourcing, utilising the power of the masses to come up with innovative concepts.  Idea Bounty is a website used whereby agencies can post briefs, and the best ideas will take home the bounty. The benefit for the agency is that they only pay for what they want, and the creatives are not restrained by any long term commitment.

User-generated content and Web 2.0

Web 2.0 refers to the recent internet, and to use the well-known phrase: “where users no longer just browse the web, but are the web”. Time Magazine paid tribute to Web 2.0 by making their person of the year in 2006, “You”, meaning all people generating content on the web. Websites like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, owe the majority of their success to a user-centric design, which facilitates a more interactive and social way of absorbing and creating of media. Brands who want to communicate effectively in this environment must provide content that is useful, entertaining, and above all places user-experience first.

Facebook is the currently the second largest site on the net after Google, and with 400 million users, most of whom have shared very specific demographic information, it is a extremely powerful site for marketers. Facebook allows marketers to interact with consumers where they are most comfortable, in a community of their friends, where peer to peer recommendations are king.

There are many great examples of company Facebook fan pages that have had great success. Pringles have realised their target market enjoys videos with humorous content, and also engage with their users by creating status updates that prompt user discussion while maintaining an informal and casual tone. Redbull have the edge over the rest with their access to some unbelievable extreme sports video content on their Facebook fan page, and also offer Twitter feeds from their various sponsored athletes.

According to Callan Green who works in public relations and social media at Bailey Gardiner, the key pointers to a successful Facebook presence are: “know your audience, provide quality, regular content, encourage discussion and engagement, and do not take yourself too seriously.”

Twitter allows companies to actively engage with customers with the use of short status messages, and also gain market intelligence with their real-time search facility. According to Twitter the microblogging service also “shrinks the emotional distance between company and your customers” and builds these relationships through direct contact, and feedback. Old Spice recently combined Twitter and YouTube in an highly successful and innovative social media campaign, where the hunky guy from the Old Spice Ads, (who has become the new Chuck Norris) read out Twitter statuses tagged with @oldspice, dressed in only a towel. Twitter was crucial to the viral nature of the campaign, while YouTube provided the video platform.

Video is an entertaining medium that will keeps a user more engaged than reading reams of text-only content. Users are searching for video that provides instruction, value, and entertainment, and YouTube has an audience viewing over 2 million videos per day. The University of Phoenix Online is the leader in it’s field by providing compelling online testimonials to convert users into enrolled students. Home Depot is another brand effectively using a sponsored YouTube channel and this has helped establish themselves as a trusted expert in the field of home maintenance. The world’s largest video community also offers advertising opportunities such as inVideo Ads or YouTube video ads, that can be targeted to very specific user demographics.

Blogging allows companies to open dialogue and built trust within their customer base. Company blogging is the medium through which companies can communicate directly with customers, listen to what they are saying and analyse current trends. There is, however, a barrier to entry for large corporates, as with all social media, mostly due to insufficient information and fears of the risks involved. Many companies and eMarketing agencies build a network of respected bloggers in various industries, who are then paid to blog about the companies products and services.
This kind of marketing is effective as it is consumer to consumer dialogue, which is quite often regarded as being more trustworthy than standard marketing messages. Blogging networks such as PayPerPost.com build a network of diverse bloggers who companies can approach to blog on various topics for an agreed fee.

The benefits
As the web opens up to more social, collaborative media creation, the content is becoming more edgy and less restricted by corporate guidelines. Although the new methods for using this new landscape may step on the toes of the more traditional marketers, those that understand benefits of user-generated content and crowd-sourcing, will have more tools at their disposal and this may lead to a greater understanding of their customers, while at the same time offer consumers an pro-active outlet to demand better products and services.

References:
Crowd-Generated Content (CGC): What Is It? – http://allthingsv.com/tag/crowdsourcing/
Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crowdsourcing
Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User_generated_content
Click Advisor – www.clickadvisor.com/…/Whitla_Crowdsourcing_Application_in_marketing.pdf
Pay per Post – www.payperpost.com
YouTube Brands: 5 Outstanding Leaders in YouTube Marketing – http://mashable.com/2009/06/01/youtube-brands/
Killer Facebook fan pages – http://mashable.com/2009/06/16/killer-facebook-fan-pages/
Youtube Fact Sheet – http://www.youtube.com/t/fact_sheet
Twitter – http://business.twitter.com/twitter101

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