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 consumer's impact on a brand's ability to convey appropriate messaging. Viral marketing was all the rage, with marketers 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 their becoming a waypoint for the content as it spreads. The consumer's perceived value has become less that of an instigator and more as the kinetic energy needed to pass the messaging along.

The promise of UGC was that it would dramatically reduce the costs associated with creating content for brands. Members of the agency world have not embraced that fact, because it scares them. The creative agencies don't want to give up the high margin on creating content for marketers -- so why recommend platforms that are going to take away their lunch money, so to speak?



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 for ideas and driving innovation -- but innovation can be painful, and not everyone believes the old idiom of "no pain, no gain." That being said, 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 Web sites 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 becoming fans of your favorite products. Crowd-sourcing fits directly between the two. Its day is still likely to come, as more marketers finally grasp how to use both aspects -- broadcast and word-of-mouth -- individually and together.

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 for copy or creative testing.These people love your brand, so why not engage them in the process?

    Crowd-sourcing may not be a top-10 buzzword anymore, but it's a slowly building undercurrent to what online marketers are doing -- and doing well. As a fundamental of the Web it shouldn't be overlooked, especially as more marketers explore cost-effective ways to create and distribute their messaging to targeted audiences.

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

  • 4 comments about "Are 'Crowds' Still Valuable To Brands?".
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    1. Walter Sabo from SABO media, March 10, 2010 at 10:28 a.m.

      Yes all of that is correct and covered right here today:

    2. Rich Reader from WOMbuzz, March 10, 2010 at 12:37 p.m.

      Have you sent your agency to talk with its' collective psychoanalyst lately about its' identity crisis? It still wants to craft rather than source.

      Cory Treffiletti argues valiantly for crowd-sourcing, e.g: user-generated video PR; blogger outreach for promotions; product innovation; product feedback; Testing. He's right that all of these make sense, but most agencies aren't interested in sourcing because they are dominated by traditionalism and the mad men of creativity. They still see themselves as the only viable message craftsters. Content and source identification practices require that agencies modernize their own identities. Can we talk about how to make this transformation?

    3. Steve Noble from, March 10, 2010 at 12:58 p.m.

      Hey Cory great article! People make the difference. I produce and market video ads and that "buzz" you mention is key. I cannot tell you how many great UGC videos I have seen and worked with that are great for business advertising. There are so many creative people to tap. Good for getting the audience engaged with your products or services because UGC is real world. Authenticity is created in many ways. Perception is reality. Keep on writing!

    4. Jenna Zizzo from Bulbstorm, March 12, 2010 at 12:02 p.m.

      Great post Cory! As stated in the second paragraph, “the UGC space and crowd-sourcing are still very much alive and kicking” and here at Bulbstorm we couldn’t agree more. Our work with clients to leverage social media efforts involves encouraging user-generated content, and crowd-sourcing consumers through Facebook. For example, we work with a bicycle company that just ended a Facebook promotion through encouraging fans to design and agree to receive a tattoo that shows their passion for the brand. Users post their tattoo designs and other end-users comment and rate the tattoo. The tat with the highest rating wins a new mountain bike. (read more here:

      We also helped a national snack brand with R&D through Facebook and crowd-sourced fans asking what the next flavor should be…more info here:

      To sum it up, UGC and crowd-sourcing is definitely not going anywhere, and if brands are smart they will take advantage of it and reap the benefits within the social media landscape.

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