Crowdsourcing and User-Generated Content

  |  August 4, 2011   |  Comments

Practical ways to create meaningful content for your brand and recognize participants within your social community.

One of the most compelling online marketing scenarios for the intersection of content, search, and social media is user-generated content (UGC). Companies often initiate social media programs to stimulate dialogue with customers and develop relationships. At the same time, useful content serves to fuel much of brand participation on social networks and media-sharing sites.

While effective for companies without a staff of writers, the continuous creation of new content presents resource challenges. Concurrently, social media programs can run a bit dry if the brand isn't engaging with the community on a regular basis. A content marketing solution for both situations can be found through crowdsourcing and user-generated content.

Crowdsourcing is the practice of presenting the community with a problem along with a plea to assist in its solution. For example, Netflix offered a prize of $1,000,000 for the best collaborative filtering algorithm to predict user ratings of films. There were 184 teams competing to beat Netflix's own algorithm for predicting ratings of movies that customers would like by 10 percent.

In the case of crowdsourcing and user-generated content, the approach is similar, except the "problem" is the creation of content around a particular topic, and there's no million-dollar prize.

User-generated content is often associated with ratings, reviews, forums, media sharing, social profiles within a niche community, and similar opportunities for consumers to publish and share. As brands participate in social communities - asking and answering questions, engaging customers, and sharing content - numerous opportunities arise to involve the community with content creation.

Crowdsourcing helps a brand create new, meaningful content and provides an opportunity for relevant recognition of participants within the brand's social community.

This tactic offers several advantages:

  • UGC is trusted.
  • Contributors have an interest in helping promote the content.
  • UGC provides more content for search engines.
  • UGC provides more information sources for prospects and customers.
  • UGC publishing allows for critical feedback about products and services.
  • UGC publishing provides tools for brand evangelists.
  • UGC facilitates brand conversations within the marketplace.

Of course, there are a few cons, too:

  • Resources are needed for oversight and moderation.
  • Ease of publishing may lead to spam.
  • Information could be false and outdated.
  • Ownership is unclear.
  • Structuring UGC publishing can be challenging.
  • There is the potential for negative information about the brand to appear.

The good news is that most of the cons can be mitigated with good communications, oversight, and process.

From a practical application standpoint, here are a few examples of crowdsourcing and repurposing content:

  • Interviews. Raising questions is one of the most basic ways to crowdsource content. The method to employ depends on the desired outcome. Asking the community for suggestions of whom to interview and what questions to ask is a great way to get people involved. Interviewing industry thought leaders provides the brand's audience with unique content and creates a positive association between the "brandividual" and the company.
  • Social Q&A. Yahoo Answers, LinkedIn, and sites like Quora can provide very useful platforms to present questions and attract answers from a variety of people. Of course, your intent needs to be clear and permission for reuse should be obtained before republishing. Those familiar with the Q&A communities can word questions to attract replies from specific influentials who might not otherwise respond to a content participation pitch via email.
  • Contests resulting in content. Examples of contests in which consumers produce their own videos and share images abound on the social web. Search engines love any kind of content, especially text.

    Andy Beal runs a great contest for a search marketing scholarship on his Marketing Pilgrim blog. The articles written by contestants drive traffic to Andy's website and also become content on it. To top if off, the articles are compiled into an e-book.
  • Comment feedback loop. One of the most meaningful ways for a community to engage with a brand is through comments on a company blog. Asking readers to participate in a dialogue by commenting can result in content that is better than the original blog post.

    Brands can then recognize blog commenters by drawing attention to the "best of" comments through a separate blog post or in a newsletter (at our agency, we do it in the TopRank Marketing Newsletter).
  • Book authoring by community. Reaching out to industry experts to share their insights as part of a larger project can be very effective. Author Michael Miller did this with Online Marketing Heroes, of which I was a part. He interviewed 25 successful marketers; the results of those interviews became the book.

    Another example involves soliciting subject matter experts to write articles of 1,000 words or so on pre-determined topics. The brand serves as editor to compile the articles into an e-book, which can be used as fulfillment in a lead generation campaign.

Make sure that participants are aware of what you're doing. Being upfront about your intentions will help them do a better job with their contributions and may even incentivize them to help promote the final outcome.

One can overrely on a community for content creation, so don't overdo it. Also, as a tool for recognition, participant involvement must be relevant and focused on a quality outcome versus quantity. Genuine recognition inspires better work and motivates participants to share future crowdsourced content more enthusiastically.

As you look at the social networks, communities, prospects, and customers that make up your brand's ecosystem, think about where you would start with crowdsourcing. You may find not only that the effort helps your brand create content, but also that the exercise of involving your community results in added social engagement and search optimization assets.

Lee will be sharing tips about content marketing optimization at SES San Francisco, which takes place Aug. 15-19, 2011.


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Lee Odden

Lee Odden is the CEO of TopRank Online Marketing, a digital marketing agency specializing in helping companies grow online business and community with an "Optimize and Socialize" approach to content marketing. Odden has consulted for hundreds of B2B clients over the past 14 years including: McKesson, Marketo, PRWeb, and StrongMail. He's been cited by The Economist, BtoB Magazine, and Advertising Age for his online marketing expertise and publishes one of the most popular marketing blogs on the web: Online Marketing Blog, ranked the No. 1 content marketing blog three times by Junta42. Odden speaks on the intersection of search and content marketing, PR, and social media at conferences internationally and is the author of "Optimize: How to Attract and Engage More Customers by Integrating SEO, Social Media and Content Marketing."

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