10 Tips for Crowdsourcing Creative Content

The need for fresh streams of content (articles, photos, infographics, and video) is at an all-time high, and the demand isn’t slowing down anytime soon. Continued channel fragmentation and the near prerequisite to have a digital, social, and mobile engagement component included in every campaign launched these days mean you simply must find ways to produce high-quality multi-format content more efficiently than ever imagined.

Many have heard about or even tested creative crowdsourcing at some point because of the impact crowdsourcing techniques have had on industries like fundraising, graphic art development, new product development, and even scientific problem solving. But digital publishing and video content production, in particular, can be very tricky in that the creative process requires both artistic and technical expertise that needs to be carefully managed. The good news is there are a ton of resources you can access that can help you confidently use creative crowdsourcing techniques with great effect for future content projects of all types. As one of the few content marketing agencies that uses crowdsourcing expertly, we decided to put together this list of 10 key tips that will help you make sure your future crowdsourced projects go off without a hitch.

Tip #1 – Map it all out.

It can’t be said strongly enough: start with a plan. The best campaigns always have a strategic plan behind them that links creative objectives to a desired outcome via an intelligent distribution plan. Whether your video will be used for TV broadcast, social media, or a corporate conference, knowing where your video is going to connect with your audience will help you determine how best to get the final execution suited for the job. After all, you can’t get from Point A to Point B without knowing where Point B is. The most successful video submission pools in crowdsourced video projects have begun with crystal clear objectives. The projects that produce less than stellar results are almost always linked back to a lack of clear communication or a cloudy vision of success.

Our recommendation is to start by internally defining your primary objective with measurable KPIs, so your team is on the same page; you should have a clear understanding of what success means before proceeding. Whether your goal is to ignite interest in a new product, generate buzz and social engagement, re-position your brand, stimulate a new way of thinking, etc. — identifying what exactly it is that you want to achieve will make a huge difference in your outcome. Videos can, of course, serve multiple purposes, but it’s best to define what the primary purpose is before deciding which crowdsourcing platform is best suited to your needs.

Tip #2 - Choose the right crowdsourcing agency/platform.

There are a lot of options available these days to employ creative crowdsourcing on digital publishing projects. Resources (e.g. time, money, and management expertise) will play a primary role in narrowing your options. You can choose to develop your very own crowd of creative content producers through Facebook or a subscription to a content production platform, but finding dependable talent and assuring any decent level of participation can be a major obstacle if you are not accustomed to community recruitment and management. If you have a cutting edge digital or large ad agency, you can ask them to develop a crowdsourced plan of attack, but if it is not a core competency of the agency, it can easily lead to frustration for both you and your agency partner – plus it will be an expensive proposition that defeats, at least, some of the natural benefits of the process, namely cost savings.

Most companies who want a combination of cost efficiency and success in creative content crowdsourcing will opt to use a dedicated crowdsourcing company. Choosing which one of the few video crowdsourcing companies is right for your project depends on things like: the type of video you are looking to create, how involved in the creative process you would like to be, specific creative process preferences, cost considerations, and acceptable quality of submissions you are hoping to receive. We have found that the ideal mix of services is provided when you work with an agency with great familiarity with the crowdsourcing model and can provide the strategy, project management, and creative experience that will ensure success the first time out.

Tip #3 - Know your audience.

It seems that the goal of most brands is to cast a wide net, but try to resist the urge to say that “everyone” is your target demographic. More often than not there is a specific purchaser, or small group of personas, that are most likely to buy your product/service, and it’s best to speak to them as your primary target and everyone else secondarily. One great way to do this is to envision your “ideal” target audience member, as if they were a singular person, and create content that appeals to that person. Stay true to your specific audience, and the “everyone else” part will come naturally.

It’s not only important to know who your audience is, but you should also be aware of things like what they like, where they spend their time, and who they trust. You should first look into what they’re already talking about socially. An easy way to gather that information is to check out fan posts on your social channels — Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, and everything in between — and you will start to see a common theme run through them that reveals a little more about how your audience engages with your brand. Identifying these themes and recurring topics can assist in telling you what needs to be addressed. By seeing how your brand fits into their lives, you can create content that they will actually want to view and engage with.

You should also understand how influencers interact with your customer base. Gain insight into what they like, who they follow, whose advice they listen to, or whose reviews they require before making a purchase decision. Once you determine who your audience trusts, you can leverage these influencers by working with them to integrate your message into their videos, blog posts, and interviews.

Tip #4 - Clearly communicate your objective.

As with most things in life, you have to ask for what you want. Start by being clear with the agency you’re working with, so they can determine what type of assignment is best suited for your project. Make your problem clear to that team, then make sure your agency is making your problem clear to the group of creatives that will be working on your art.

The easiest way to do this is to simply ask a question. This gives the creators the ability to tell a story that they have particular experience with, resulting in more authentic and genuine content. The question serves as a central point around which the content will focus, meaning that you will have a consistent series of stories, photos, or videos that address exactly what you need them to. Another benefit to using this method is that all your content moving forward will all have a common theme, possibly even a common format, which will allow you to easily use them in a multi-format campaign (e.g. a blog post that leads to an article series, that has beautiful lifestyle photography, a infographic, and a video), all working together to extend the life of your core message.

In addition to your objective, be sure to clearly communicate any and all creative ideas you and your team came up with to your content marketing agency, as your creative brief is truly the catalyst to a successful project. Which brings us to our next tip…

Tip #5 - Be both specific and broad in your creative brief.

The creative brief is a vital tool in any creative content development project (especially those involving crowdsourcing), and is crucial to garnering the end results you are seeking. It is the basis for everything the writers, photographers, designers, and videographers do, so be sure to include as much as possible about what it is that you want, while still being open-minded to new ideas. Do you want your content to have viral appeal? A humorous vibe? A aspirational and stylish vibe? Or even the potential to be the start of a multi-series campaign?

I understand it gets a little tricky when we say to be both “specific and broad,” but hear us out. You should be specific in your direction, so the creative producers understand what exactly it is that you’re asking for, but be broad and open in your willingness to accept new ideas. After all, the power of multi-creative approaches like crowdsourcing rests in the diversity of experiences, backgrounds, and approaches to be explored. Your creative brief should cover what you want and what you don’t want while leaving a lot of room in between. Setting constraints will keep creators on the right path while still allowing them the creative freedom to do what they do best.

It is also helpful for your creative crowd to know how you plan on using their content. Will it live on your website blog, YouTube channel, or air during an international television event? Do you want it to go viral or serve as an informational tool on a new product? Taking your time with the creative brief and really thinking through the whole process will pay off in the end, and will certainly be worth the extra effort and resources.

Lastly, be sure to include specifics that you want included in each submission. Describe and include any assets — end cards, logos, product photos, etc. — and how you’d like them integrated into the submissions. If you want the content to include a call to action, be sure to explicitly include the desired audience response in your creative brief.

We know there’s a lot to remember, so let’s make this short and sweet: if the creators know what you want, they are exponentially more likely to give it to you.

Tip #6 - Participate in the process.

The best way to ensure success is for you to be active in the assignment. Encourage creators, answer questions, get involved — be a part of the process. This leads to motivated producers who will show their gratitude via creativity. By joining the conversation and engaging with the community, you can establish or reinforce your brand’s reputation, and active participation can go a long way for PR.

Being active also allows you to oversee progress, giving creators notes on how to best meet your objectives and steering them in the right direction. Creators are always looking to improve their submissions, and there is no better way to do that than with feedback directly from the brand — especially if you get the decision-makers involved. This type of involvement really encourages the crowd to produce their best work for the project. Now that’s a win-win situation if there ever was one.

Though it can be somewhat time-consuming to moderate all of the incoming content, I can guarantee you it will be worth the extra effort. You can work with creators to polish off their submissions, turning almost-there executions into highly useful marketing tools. As long as you’re consistent with what you initially asked for in your creative brief, your feedback can only improve submissions.

Tip #7 - When shooting video, maximize the effort with more than one video.

It’s simple mathematics: the more videos you buy, the less you pay per video. Leverage this to your advantage by extending your campaign or even identifying concepts for future campaigns. Sometimes the best part about a creative crowdsourcing project is getting dozens of new ideas and videos for future projects (in addition to the video you initially came for). Reaching out to a well-matched creative crowd is, in a sense, like asking your audience how they feel about you, and then having them make a video reflecting that opinion. You’ll have authentic stories and ideas coming at you left and right, and there is no better way to learn about your brand and stock up on ideas for the future.

To make sure you get the most out of the videos you do purchase, be sure to have a strategic distribution plan in place. Work with smart distribution platforms to create banners or native ads on social sites. Embed videos within your website to encourage customers to stay longer. Broadcast the videos to a wider audience during notable TV events. Release them slowly to keep content flowing on social channels. The options are endless, so make sure you know what you want so that you can get the most out of your crowdsourced project.

Tip #8 - Set an appropriate budget & pay well.

Whether you’re looking for UGC for your social media channels or a Super Bowl commercial with high production value, you should be prepared to reward the content creators involved accordingly. Creators are motivated to compete by a number of things — building their portfolio, working with a big brand, seeing their video on national television, etc. — but one thing we know for sure is that a little cash incentive is the universal language. Competing filmmakers are much more likely to bend over backwards (maybe literally) for a shot if they know they’re working toward a chance for more work in the future or best of all a program that can mean a small steady stream of income. Based on our experience, there are minimum payment ranges for specific types of content, and we see the best submissions to projects where multiple assets will be purchased. Another important thing to note is that creators play to the odds. By offering more than one project opportunity — creators see the relationship as being worth more of their time, as they are more likely to receive future work opportunites as opposed to a one-off effort.

We have done extensive research on the impact of reward systems on submission quality and participation, and the results are fairly consistent. Top creators are more interested in increasing their odds than winning a single big prize, and guaranteeing more purchases has a greater effect on encouraging them to submit. On the other hand, higher top purchase amounts have a positive effect on both the concepts and the production quality of submissions. The two payemnt strategies clearly go hand-in-hand, and top creators are most likely to come out with their best work when they have a higher likelihood of winning, and a larger prize amount is at stake.

You have the option to be more creative with your payment structure by offering other items in addition to monetary rewards. Sometimes the opportunity to have a writers work shown on a large digital publiscation or to work with someone big in the film industry is enough to compensate for a small monetary reward amount. You can also get creative in how you select the winner of the assignment. For example, if you’re going for viral buzz, consider a reward system based on the likes/shares that each piece of content racks up over a period of time.

Something rarely considered when it comes to rewards is creating an incentive for content producers to submit their work early. When crowdsourcing video assignments, it is common for creators to submit their work in the final days of the assignment, leaving little to no time for collaboration and improvement. By creating an urgency to submit, you can avoid the rush of submissions at the deadline, and instead see the videos early enough to provide feedback and perhaps even see revisions before the project closes. One way to incentivize earlier submissions is to allow creators to submit multiple versions of their video. If they know they can submit multiple drafts before handing over a final copy, they’re more likely to submit a video early in an effort to garner feedback. The motivation to win and the opportunity to revise their work can be the only incentive they need to start submitting early. The best way, and our preferred methodology is to find a way to make sure all creators who are invited to submit content get paid something for their time and creativity.

Tip #9 - Follow the rules.

As is the case when approaching anything in business, you need to be well-versed on the laws and be sure that you’re following them every step of the way. Adhering to FTC guidelines for online endorsements will ensure that FTC guidelines for online endorsements your project goes off without a hitch. These guidelines are especially important when working on influencer marketing campaigns, in which a brand pays an “influencer” – an individual that has influence over potential buyers – to endorse a product or service.

The golden rule of paid advertising is that brands are completely responsible for disclosure. The assumption is that you’re monitoring the social presence of your brand, so disclosures on paid content ultimately fall to you rather than to the paid creator or influencer. With that said, you must always be clear with disclosures. This includes explicitly stating what the influencer’s relationship is with your brand. Are they or a member of their family employed by your brand? Most importantly, did this influencer receive compensation? If so, in what form? For further information, reference this guide written by the FTC on .com disclosures and how to make effective this guide disclosures in digital advertising.

The biggest takeaway from the FTC guidelines is that you as the brand need be upfront with paid endorsements. The FTC requires that you make the disclosure obvious and label the links appropriately to convey the “importance, nature, and relevance of the information to which it leads.” You also can’t be subtle with your links, hiding the disclosures behind a “Show More” icon or tucking the references away in an irrelevant section of text.

When it comes to the FTC, the best way to avoid breaking any rules is to be honest and upfront in every aspect of your project. Read more about these laws and how they relate to your brand’s crowdsourcing or paid advertising campaign here.

Tip #10 - Make it fun!

The best advice we could give anyone looking to expand their digital publishing capacity through crowdsourcing techniques and to ensure success in your next content marketing effort is to keep it fun. People are passionate about brands they like, even more so when they feel they have a hand in their success. Creators tend to do their best work when they enjoy what they’re working on and who they’re working with, and whether or not they have a positive experience is almost entirely up to you. Be open, engaging, inspiring, and optimistic, and your creators will return the favor. Once you make loyal fans out of this crowd, their passion for your brand will spread like wildfire, and not only will you receive the pieces of content you initially wanted, but you’ll get loads of free word-of-mouth marketing.

Making a crowdsourced project fun also means letting go a little, but fear not – you can let go safely. It may sound frightening, but your openness and enthusiasm over the course of your project can go a long way for PR. Remember, the conversations are already happening – on your social channels, in consumers’ everyday lives, etc. – so be a part of them. Listen to your audience’s opinions, stories, and perceptions of your brand, and then use that information to your advantage. The beauty of handing over creative freedom is that you will undoubtedly receive engaging, authentic content that will interest people, educate people, or inspire people to respond. The possibilities are truly limitless when you put your faith in a well managed creative crowd, so enjoy the unique opportunity you’ve been given to work directly with your audience.

Armed with these ten tips, you now have everything you need to take on a creative content crowdsourcing project. Start with a plan and partner wisely to create a solid foundation for your project. Know your audience so you can create content that appeals directly to them, and use that knowledge to communicate your objective to your creators through your creative brief. Actively participate in the project by providing feedback and answering questions from creators, forming a loyal relationship and fostering brand trust. Once you’ve received all of your new content, purchase as many assets as possible, paying creators according to some standardized min-max payment structure by format type, and craft a strategic distribution plan. Know and adhere to the law throughout the entirety of your project, and don’t forget to have fun with it.

As long as you are open to new ideas and optimistic about the outcome, you are sure to hit the nail on the head with every assignment you launch. As always, when you’re ready to dive into your next (or first) crowdsourced content program, Releventure is here to help guide you through the process.