Friday, March 12, 2010

MEDIAPOST: Are “Crowds” Still Valuable To Brands?

Whatever happened to crowd-sourcing?

Crowd-sourcing, user-generated content, consumer-generated content; these were huge buzzwords from 2004-2008. Every brand was talking about the impact of the consumer and their ability to help convey appropriate messaging. Viral marketing was all the rage and every marketer was touting their ability to harness the power of the consumer to create cost-effective, impactful solutions. Then along came Twitter and Facebook. Social media became the darling of the moment and crowd-sourcing became a casualty of growth.

Guess what! The UGC space and crowd-sourcing are still very much alive and kicking (to quote Simple Minds), but the focus seems to have shifted from consumers creating the content to becoming a waypoint for the content as it spreads. The perceived value of the consumer has become less of an instigator and more of kinetic energy to pass the messaging along.

The promise of UGC was that it would dramatically reduce the costs associated with creating content for brands, but the agency world has not embraced that fact because it scares them. The creative agencies make a high margin on creating content for marketers and they don’t want to give that up, so why recommend platforms that are going to take away their lunch money, so to speak? The rise of Facebook and Twitter are easy scapegoats because these platforms are another place to create a presence, that needs to be managed by the agency, and used as a launching pad for messaging rather than a sourcing platform. Facebook and Twitter are social NETWORKS, and they provide a networked platform for friend-to-friend referrals rather than sourcing the development of content, but don’t overlook the value of consumers to create content as well.

Crowd-sourcing has been used to create products (i.e. Swiffer) and campaigns (i.e. Doritos) to great, positive effect. It is a fundamentally sound and very efficient tool for finding new sources of ideas and driving innovation, but innovation can be painful and not everyone believes the old idiom of “no pain, no gain”. That being said, the Internet is still very much a user-generated medium. Most content on the web, when you break it down by page views and time spent, is user generated. From blogs to comments to independent websites that aren’t corporately owned… this is user-generated!

The present strength of digital marketing lies in its balance between broadcast and word-of-mouth. Broadcast refers to the standard banners, buttons and rich media units that most publishers employ. The word-of-mouth component encompasses all of the social media efforts like sharing and referring friends, endorsing brands and become fans of your favorite products. Crowd-sourcing fits directly between the two and its day is still likely to come as more marketers are finally grasping how to use both aspects individually. The union of the two aspects in the eyes of marketers is inevitable.

Some of the ways that marketers can use crowd-sourcing include:

· Advertising; Development of campaigns, including video.

· PR; including blogger outreach to develop promotions targeting specific groups.

· R&D: researching new products and requesting immediate input or feedback on the use and effectiveness of these products.

· Testing; use your audience on Facebook and Twitter as copy testing or creative testing. These people love your brand, so why not engage them in the process?

Crowd-sourcing may not be a top ten buzzword anymore, but it’s a slowly building under-current to what online marketers are doing and doing well. It’s a fundamental of the web and something that shouldn’t be overlooked as more marketers are exploring cost-effective ways to create and distribute their messaging to targeted audiences.

How are you using crowd-sourcing to its fullest effect?

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