How to Use the Crowd to Drive a Content Marketing Campaign

Crowdsourcing can be a polarizing topic among marketers.

While some swear by the practice — asking customers and followers for submissions and input, as well as holding contests — others believe it encourages laziness and is an ineffective way to save money.

When crowdsourcing is done right, the effect can be astonishing. It allows customers to have a say in the future of the brand, thus increasing their loyalty.

“The need for good, engaging content is only going to accelerate for brands, and by involving the fans, brands can not only generate a lot of brand assets at low cost, but also give credit to some of their most influential influentials,” says Doug Schumacher, co-founder of Zuum, a Facebook content and strategy tool. “There will continue to be much brand-generated content, but clearly there’s a large role for the community to play as well.”

The shift to social and the large emphasis on social media in marketing has paved the way for crowdsourcing. Inbound marketing ignites conversations, and crowdsourcing can take them to a whole new level.

Define the audience and communicate clearly

As Daniel Neville of Gotta Quirk points out, in order for a crowdsourcing campaign to work, the first steps are to define the audience and be clear about the rules. If a company logo is needed, for instance, executives should advertise on design websites and reach out to artists.

“To get the most out of a crowdsourcing project, your challenge must be as clear as possible,” he says. “There must be no questions about what you are looking for and the crowd must understand what you’re asking for (without being able to interpret it in different ways).”

Schumacher concurs that targeting the right segment of a fan base for certain projects is crucial.

“It’s about understanding what types of content your fans are inclined to create and post,” he says. “If you don’t get this right, your entire effort can be pushing a rock up a hill. If you center the campaign around content they’ve already indicated they’re interested in posting, then you’ve reduced a huge potential barrier. This is accomplished by analyzing what types of content your and your competitor’s fans have posted in the past.”

In 2009, vitaminwater allowed fans to participate in product development by offering the “flavor creator lab” on Facebook. Forty thousand Facebook users tried the app, spending seven minutes on average interacting with it, according to Mashable’s Amy-Mae Elliott.

“The vitaminwater flavor creator was a three month, three step program that allowed us to have a two way conversation with our consumers,” said Senior Vice President of Marketing Matt Kahn. “We gave our fans the tools to help develop something they were passionate about — in the end, we heard loud and clear what it was that they wanted when it came to vitaminwater.”

He continued, “Crowdsourcing was a great way for us to tap directly into our consumers — we were able to get them information faster and interact with them directly.”

Create involved and engaged consumers

Another beverage company that saw a fantastic fan response from a crowdsourcing initiative was Silk Soymilk, which held a “Better for Your, Better for the Earth” contest in March 2011.

Silk asked fans to “to help the brand challenge dairy as a delicious and nutritious alternative,” writes SmartBlog’s Wil Merritt. “Silk sought 30-second videos that underscored the personal health and ecological benefits of their product, encouraging entrants to be dramatic, aspirational or funny to capture the brand’s bold personality. The campaign resulted in more than 130 commercials that featured, among others, a rapping cow and a Dirty Harry-inspired ‘Power Milkman,’ who portray Silk as a fun and plucky rival to its dairy counterpart.”

Along with getting fans involved and engaged, crowdsourcing, which often goes hand in hand with social media efforts, allows marketers to gather information from a user’s account. Vitaminwater, for example, had access to data on users’ Facebook pages, allowing it to use that information for future marketing efforts.

Even if the campaign had failed, writes Clay Dillow of Fast Company, the brand still had much to gain.

Crowdsourcing should spark or develop conversations between marketers and consumers. Marketing of any type is no longer about talking at the customer, but with them.

Schumacher says, “The best crowdsourcing work isn’t even part of a campaign, but an ongoing brand-customer relationship.”

Image courtesy of Pavla Havlíková/shutterstockDiego Cervo/shutterstockSFC/shutterstock

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