Opinion

Why crowdsourcing can solve the 'always-on' conundrum

Reckitt Benckiser's US CMO said recently in an interview to Forbes: "When you are on Facebook, your competitive set is actually not the Unilevers or the Procters of the world, but your uncle's vacation, your sister's new baby and all these great events that make [up] people's lives."

"So you need to get much better at breaking through that clutter. When you touch people, they care. When they care, they share."

I could not agree more. To touch people online, brands need compelling, relevant content and stories that speak to people's interest, not ads. Marketers often estimate that any given brand needs to issue about 200 pieces of content per year to be able to sustain an "always-on" conversation, as opposed to the handful of pieces of creative work that was required by traditional media. 

This situation is even more complicated by the still ongoing, intense debate on "social ROI". As such, brands are cautiously shifting their media and production budgets to digital, making that content even more scarce, and slow building. 

Traditional content production solutions - which were designed to produce a great piece of creative work every six months at costs per unit usually running in the six digits - are struggling to deliver the specific type of content that digital channels command, with the scale and economics required. 

Mindset shift

Firstly, social content is not advertising. The narrative, format, tone of voice and role of the brand needs to be completely rethought to work in an environment driven by conversations, engagement and the ability to skip your message at will. This requires different skillsets, and more importantly a shift in mindset from selling to engaging. A marketing director is not an editorial director. 

Secondly, you need a way to produce a high volume of such content, consistently to feed your social channels, without breaking the bank. Brands and agencies so far have been exploring building digital content factories (such as Oreo's) or curating external content (such as Evian's The Source), which partially solve the issue.

The freshness and variety of participants involved in crowdsourcing provides most value in a digital conversation context. The diversity of submissions provides many "digital-native" flavours that can resonate in different local markets and are especially relevant for social activation to keep the brand "always-on".

In a recent regional campaign, Coca-Cola saw local markets adopting 100% of the crowdsourced creative content versus 47% on average. And some of the content, once tested through Millward Brown's LinkScore methodology, performed in the top 10% of all historical creative pieces. Along similar lines, Schick Titanium has seen some amateur-created videos outperform professional content on YouTube pre-rolls. 

Content produced by consumers often resonates better with other consumers, especially on earned media KPIs. In a Facebook campaign to support the launch of the Nokia N9, crowdsourced videos outperformed traditionally produced videos: +108% on video plays, +50% on social click-through rates, and double the number of interactions.

Scale-up

From a scalability standpoint, crowdsourcing content with a creative community typically delivers dozens (if not hundreds) of pieces of brand-inspired, story-rich, genuine content, some of which has strong production values. With a few content generation campaigns every year, a brand will collect enough material to sustain the conversation for the full year, especially in the holes between main campaigns.

Furthermore, this approach make the economics fly as most costs involved into crowdsourcing are fixed costs (running the competition, offering a prize pool to winners etc.). Coca-Cola estimates that producing digital content that way generates cost efficiencies of 92% compared to if the same content had to be produced through traditional ways.

Einstein famously said: "You can't solve a problem on the same level you created it". By unleashing a collective creative power, crowdsourcing is a catalyst to turn the social content challenge into an opportunity. Brands are recognising it and as such are assembling around them a content ecosystem that includes social media platforms, digital content aggregators, crowdsourcing communities and seeding platforms.

Like all ecosystems, it needs connections to make it work together. Media and creative agencies have a huge opportunity to be the ones orchestrating such ecosystem, bringing their brand stewardship, marketing discipline and creative expertise to the fore. This would cement their relevance in today’s socially connected media landscape.