We all know how important publicity is, especially for a new company without brand recognition.

London Blogger Katie

But in the current media climate – do you know how to get it? Ah yes, bloggers are a sure fire way to get good targeted eyeballs. But have you tried approaching them?

RAAK built a social media ready SEO enhanced website for fashion brand WHERE (Full disclosure: Their designer Laura Villasenin is my partner). It’s a new fashion brand that needs all the exposure – awareness and word of mouth – it can get.

But we knew we wanted it to be featured in one of the huge fashion blogs. They can drive massive amounts of traffic, increase your Google Pagerank, and a blog recommendation carries a lot of weight.

A blog like Stylebubble would be perfect. But Susie of Stylebubble is a very busy lady these days.

But then we read Brian Solis’s piece on the so called magic middle bloggers:

The best communications strategies will encompass not only authorities in new and traditional media but also those voices in the “Magic Middle” of the attention curve, because they help carry information and discussions among your customers directly, in a true peer-to-peer approach. The Magic Middle is defined as the bloggers who have from 20-1,000 other people linking to them. It is this group that enables PR people to reach The Long Tail, and its effects on the bottom line are measurable.

Brian made the point that the star bloggers of this world – are so busy, so famous – that they are no longer approachable. And even if they feature your product its often a once off. This is because they are also hard to build a relationship with. And building a relationship with a blogger can take you so much further. Especially if it’s a blogger on the up.

So we went for a magic middle blogger – and it worked big time.

Now I have to confess that RAAK actually did very little in this instance than provide some good advice. Laura did the rest herself. Here is how she got blogger relations spot on:

  1. She did her research and found an up and coming fashion blogger – Katie that writes What Katie Wore.
  2. Katie’s blog is popular, she routinely gets 20 plus comments on each post – times that by at least 100 to get an idea of how many visitors she gets to a post. But she’s not in the league of Fashion Toast (yet).

  3. She followed Katies’s blog and Twitter account – and listened.
  4. She liked what Katie did, and thought her sense of style was a good fit with her designs. she found out they lived around the corner from each other. Match!

  5. She contacted Katie herself. There was no agent involved.
  6. Bloggers don’t want to be approached by marketing and PR types that are far removed from a brand. They want the real deal. If you’re a fashion company the designer is as good as it gets. If you’re a company like Hewlett Packard that make electronics goods, and you’re blogging about photocopiers – it’s probably the photocopier product manager that you want to speak to. Why? Bloggers want knowledgeable people that are close to a product or service. They wan’t a marketese free environment. This is supposed to be a conversation remember.

  7. Laura had a good product which she sent to Katie to check out.
  8. A nice face and a great personality might get you far, but if your product is a lemon, don’t waste your time. This is word of mouth media, and the recommender’s (In this case Katie) reputation is on the line.

  9. She had a website that could cater for the inevitable traffic rise that a blog would send, and we tried to maximise the viral effect – a social home base.
  10. The site had WordPress’s Super Cache installed, just in case it was hit my a Tsunami of crazed shoppers. And we installed Tweetmemes Tweet this button. Ride the social wave.

And hey presto, look at the result!

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Last week we wrote about a little media revolution that took place on Twitter in the UK. Trafigura, Jan Moir and Ian-the-Transport-for-London-worker all got a taste of digital mob justice.

Two of the incidents were started in the mainstream press, but another by a lone ranger. This fire starter turned out to be armed and dangerous. Well versed in the language of communications guerrilla tactics you mean?

Well yes, Jonathan Macdonald is a former commercial manager of Ministry of Sound, and founder of this fluid world, a marketing company. Full CV on LinkedIn.

But it turns out he also had a ready-made army following his not-so-narrowcasting. And he had the power of righteous indignation on his side.

Jonathan’s blog entry on the incident.

RAAK wanted to find out why he chose to take action, and how he got the message out.

RAAK: You blog and Tweet? How many Twitter followers do you have? And how many people read your blog?

I have around 1300 followers on twitter and around 100k readers per month on my blog.

RAAK: At what point did you decide to act? Why?

I decided to get my camera out when the guard started shouting in the guys face. I did this because I cannot stand bullying and aggressive behaviour toward other human beings. I like blogging on things that I see.

RAAK: Did you you consciously think that action might be taken by the TFL and the mayor of London, or did you just want to expose this injustice? How premeditated were your actions and what did you want to achieve?

I had no idea what TFL and the Mayor would do – if anything. Its totally separate to anything in my control. All I did was blog and tweet it – the rest was done by the crowd.

RAAK: What information did you want to capture and get to achieve your goal?

The goal was to record what was happening. I am not a reporter searching for a story. Citizen journalism is different to trying to get a ‘scoop’.

RAAK: What camera did you use to record the incident? Did you ever have any camera training?

I have no training. I used a Canon pocket camera but I also use an iPhone 3 to record. The reason I didn’t use my iPhone was that my battery was dead.

RAAK: How long after the incident did you blog about it and upload the video? What else did you do to promote your blog post and video?

I blogged it about 5 hours later. All I then did was tweet it and email a few friends who may have been interested.

RAAK: What blogging platform do you use and why?

I use WordPress. I love it as its easy and free.

RAAK: How did the message spread? What in your view were the key tools and things that made a difference? What did you learn from this?

The key reason it spread was due to the level of injustice. Nothing more. I have blogged thousands of other things that virtually nobody has ever seen or talked about – let alone twitted into the general public eye.

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I spent this afternoon dragging the Guardian’s ABC Newspaper figures onto a spreadsheet, and I made this quick graph. Not surprising really: circulation is down consistently in the last decade.

And since 1956, daily circulation has gone down nearly 30%. That represents quite a drop considering the size of the UK population during the 1951 census (around 48 million), against over 60 million today.

UK Daily Newspaper Circulation

I also graphed recent (1992-2008) UK television reach figures on the Barb site. Graph below. We have had a proliferation of channels, yet TV’s reach is down.

Barb TV stats - UK TV watching in decline

Barb TV stats - UK TV watching in decline

And from the US, this recent graphical illustration of the decline in magazines.

Proof That Social Media is Killing Print Magazines
Infographic by CartridgeSAVE.co.uk

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It’s been a momentous week in which 3 incidents have shown how the UK has really woken up to the power of social media.


The week kicked off on Tuesday morning with London law firm Cater-Ruck attempting to silence the UK Guardian from reporting a question in parliament. The Guardian led the next day with a story that was nothing less than a red rag to a raging bull:

“The Guardian has been prevented from reporting parliamentary proceedings on legal grounds which appear to call into question privileges guaranteeing free speech established under the 1688 Bill of Rights.

Today’s published Commons order papers contain a question to be answered by a minister later this week. The Guardian is prevented from identifying the MP who has asked the question, what the question is, which minister might answer it, or where the question is to be found.

The Guardian is also forbidden from telling its readers why the paper is prevented – for the first time in memory – from reporting parliament. Legal obstacles, which cannot be identified, involve proceedings, which cannot be mentioned, on behalf of a client who must remain secret.

The only fact the Guardian can report is that the case involves the London solicitors Carter-Ruck, who specialise in suing the media for clients, who include individuals or global corporations.”

Guardian editor Alan Rusbriger is social media savvy.

The Guardian knew full well and anticipated that this paragraph is just the kind of challenge the Twitter hoards adore. Us against the rich bastard lawyers. The formula works thus:

  • Tell us there is a secret.
  • Tell us it’s significant.
  • Leave enough of a hint on where to find it.

What happened next is now media history.

Suffice to say that by lunch time the next day Carter-Ruck had given up on their quest for the continuance of the injunction, while both they and the firm which they sought to protect – Trafigura – became Twitter trending topics.

The Minton report, an internal report by the Trafigura (which itself had found its way to Wikileaks), which they also had sought to repress, was discovered, found and retweeted far and wide.

Alan Rusbridger on Trafigura

Alan Rusbridger on Trafigura

For Jeff Jarvis, always good with conjuring up a memorable one-liner, the take away was summed up in a Tweet:

@jeffjarvis: New rule in new age:The harder one tries to hide a fact, the more light others will shed on it. http://bit.ly/qXDoi

Tube incident

Two days later. Another two social media uprisings.

“A TfL (that’s Transport for London for any of you who have not had the unabated pleasure of using its services) employee is filmed swearing at and threatening an elderly passenger on the London Underground.

The film is posted online and picked up by Twitter members. It emerges that the employee in question is called Ian (and he doesn’t protect his Facebook profile, stupidly) and comes to the attention of the Mayor of London. He asks TfL to investigate and TfL apparently suspends the employee.”

Tube incident

Tube incident

The camera operator who Tweets at jmacdonald also recounted what happened on his blog.

About 30 seconds later the doors opened again and he removed his arm.

I watched as he calmly relayed his experience to the staff member (who was called Ian by the way).

Ian didn’t think it was a problem – in fact, he was furious that the guy had mentioned it at all, especially as the guy was standing close to the track.

After a while, Ian started shouting at the guy to “stand back there is a fucking train approaching“.

Savvy jmacdonald pans upward to record where & when the incident took place.

Jan Moir

On the same day Jan Moir writes a hurtful article about the death of Steven Gately in the Daily Mail, intimating that his gay lifestyle was to blame. Twitter denizens mobilise again. By today more than 22,000 have complained to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), more complaints than it has received in 5 years.

On Friday advertisers including Marks & Spencer demanded that their advertising be removed from the webpage on which Moir’s piece was published, although Mail Online had already taken the decision to remove banner ads.

Moir, who has won a British Press Award, made a statement defending her column late on Friday, saying it was not her intention to offend, blaming a “heavily orchestrated internet campaign” for the furore and adding that it was “mischievous in the extreme to suggest that my article has homophobic and bigoted undertones”.

Presumably comedian Stephen Fry – who has one of the larger Twitter followings in the UK – and who came out strongly criticising Moir is seen as one of the fire starters.

Stephen Fry on Jan Moir

Stephen Fry on Jan Moir

Paul Bradshaw, online journalism lecturer and blogger, has set out to try to understand how “orchestrated” this “campaign” has really been. And he has asked for others to help him establish that, including the online crowdsourcing investigative site – Help me investigate. One of the comments he has received to his call reads:

“I’m an admin on the fb group alongside Stella. I can confirm there was nothing orchestrated about the facebook campaign – it happened pretty much as others have outlined above. I don’t think any of us expected quite so many people to join in such a small space of time! What has been particularly amazing to me are the spin off activities that have resulted from people posting on the wall. For example, there is a petition to BA to stop handing out free copies of the Daily Mail – which arose (as far as I can tell) as a direct result of people talking on the original FB group. There are a number of other linked groups and activities – difficult to keep up with them all! This is grassroots organisation facilitated by a social networking site, nothing more sinister than that.

PS: I don’t use Twitter and neither does Stella as far as I know.”

It’s alive!

It’s all very exciting. With each of these incidents, the public’s awareness of using social media to mobilise is growing. And so is the sophistication of their use of social media tools.

Social media is far more significant far sooner than I ever anticipated. It’s mobocracy – and I like it.

Interestingly enough, two of the incidents were started by reports (or suggestions) in the press. The other one by a member of the public, who blogs, Tweets and is handy with a cam.

One tweet I saw this week said:

@dannyrogers2001: #Trafigura the perfect modern media case study. Social media influential but ‘old’ media (Guardian) drives agenda.

That is wishful thinking. It’s more of a symbiosis me thinks. ‘Old’ media sets out a stall for many agendas on a daily basis. But so does social media. And in an ever-increasing fashion.

But it’s ultimately the people who decide which agenda goes stellar.

These days, everybody in the marketing and advertising industry is talking about giving people ‘experiences’, rather than shouting at them with advertising messages. Or at least the smart segment of ‘everybody’ is talking about it.

It requires the kind of thinking that starts from the ‘audience’, not from the brand. What do they get out of it?
Seems obvious to me. When I’ve had to come up with a brief-specific idea, I’ve always used 2 criteria to test ideas. Will it keep people entertained? Or is it useful; will it make people’s lives easier and/or can they learn something from it?

Anyway, the shift in focus means that recently, there’s been some interesting examples of ‘experience advertising’. Either online, where it can go viral. Or in real life, where it gives people a fun, exciting,… experience.

A much talked about example of the first is the Puma Index, a fun idea in these drab economic times that links the stock market to some PUMA-wearing models. If the index goes down, their clothes come off. Pretty clever, but a bit boring when the indexes go up.

A good example of the second category, real-life, is the piano stairs campaign that Volkswagen did in Stockholm. Overnight, the steps of a tube station’s exit were turned into piano keys, which made people take the stairs rather than the elevator.

At first it wasn’t 100% clear as to why VW would do this, but it turns out it’s all part of the Fun Theory ‘campaign’, a website dedicated to the idea that fun is the easiest way to change behaviour. Financed by Volkswagen, I presume. As BBH Labs’ Mel Exon puts it

“(I’m) wondering whether brands should stop marketing themselves and start marketing the good stuff they believe in.”

Or, rather than creating new content, brands should start attaching themselves to existing niche content content curators. Sort of like sponsoring, indeed. There’s an interesting discussion going on about content curation Rohit Bhargava’s blog.

And I just wanted to point out a 3rd example, which combines a transmedia approach with good old excitement anticipation. It’s an Uruguyan campaign for Axe, called ‘Day & Night‘, where guys were asked to send an SMS, after the watershed of 9PM, to receive the missing body parts of a ‘naughty’ print ad. A smart, playful way of making your target audience think about you all day long.


And if you want more: 2 days ago @GuyKawasaki tweeted about this BoredPanda blogpost that lists 33 creative ambient ads. Some great work in there from all over the world. Still semi-shouting, but I must admit more than one of those examples grabbed my attention.

Proof once more that people are becoming media channels in their own right. We’re working on a blogpost about why content is now the king it’s always promised to be, so more about later.

Just the other day I noticed that Yahoo! had plonked their logo next to Flickr’s. Yahoo!, in case you didn’t know, bought Flickr a couple of years back.

Why have the Yahoo! logo next to Flickr’s? It certainly does not enhance the Flickr brand, although I suppose it might give Yahoo! a little leg up.

Curious, I went to have a look at the Yahoo! front page to see whether it still resembled a portal. And, oh goodness me! It does.

What follows is a post I wrote in 2002 and updated in 2004. Now updated for 2009.

Does the portal concept still make sense on the Internet?

Let’s restate what a portal was supposed to be: a website that offers structured pathways into the web (as opposed to dynamically generated as with search), offering a wide range of services and content. Almost all you need really. A one-stop shop.

These portals will be the gateway through which most internet users would pass to the rest of the web. But to support the business model – sell media space – the real aim is to keep as much traffic within the portal and monetise it via ads. And if this can’t be done, to sell the links themselves.

When companies like Yahoo! and Lycos had their IPO’s, the market agreed that portals were a good idea.

But in the long run, for companies like Yahoo!, Lycos and MSN being internet portals has caused endless problems. They have been at sixes and sevens, trying to be all things to all people, fighting with their own internal subdivions over the use of an overarching brand, style, link hierarchies and placement and consistent navigation. All this strife as a direct result of being “portals”.

Yahoo! tries to be social

Picture by TJtalks

They have been slowly haemorrhaging users and not growing their reach, except in key services like instant messaging and email where they got an early head start and had good solid products. But they are losing ground to the MySpaces (2009 update: Facebook) and Googles of this world.

Portals are tied to an old fashioned view of the media.

A view that does not get that with the internet, power shifts away from large top down media companies. Away from companies that were set up to produce fairly general content to be consumed by large groups of consumers.

What they missed of course is that in reality we are moving deeper into a world where every person can become a producer and not just a consumer of media. This is a concept that companies like Google got from the start. (These days its often called social media.)

If you accept this vision of the changing media world – a world where it becomes easier and easier for anyone to create a website, post a comment, and upload a video – then it follows that on the Internet there will be a great number of websites. (Jeff Jarvis says we’re moving from an economy where we needed to manage scarcity to one where we need to manage abundance – in media at least.)

Yes, it’s true that entry points to the web are potentially very valuable. If you control these entry points you become the gatekeeper to this fragmented media landscape. Which is exactly why Netscape – the company that blasted the first hot air into the first net bubble – was thought to be so valuable. It was thought that through ownership of an internet browser, one could become the gatekeeper to the web’s content.

Following the same logic, the concept of the internet portal did make sense. That is, if the internet worked liked other media did.

Yes, until search engines evolved into qualitative rank listings, the media space and the links on a portal were significant. But the ever-expanding web universe and  the introduction of Google’s PageRank system changed the landscape dramatically. Google ranks a page according to how many pages link to it. Thus if web users link to your page, Google reckons it merits a higher value.

Web users won’t recommend a jack-of all-trades website by linking to it. It destroys their credibility if they recommend bad stuff.

And no single portal could possibly list and link to all the websites a single user would like to use. Users’ needs are too specific, various and constantly shifting. And thus websites – large or small – tend to link to the best services/ pages directly. Why send people to a general page first if you can deliver the right page right now? So it’s clear PageRank loves specialisation.

Search engines’ indexing hierarchy (I did not know the term SERPs back then) favour and therefore create a web where there are lots of specialised “champion” websites.

The result of all this is that search engines have become category winner selection engines. (Jeff Jarvis calls this ‘do what you do best and link to the rest’.) Users have come to know that, when used well, a search engine gives them access to the best web content and services. Once you follow this logic you can see how the old style portal concept is really dead.

(Just this week I read an Ofcom study that says that young people routinely trust search engines to give them the best links:

Among children aged 12-15 who use the internet, almost all have experience of using search engine websites (94%).

There is no clear consensus among search engine users, but 12-15s are more likely to respond that results are ranked on their usefulness or relevance (37%) or their truthfulness (32%) than they are to respond that websites pay money to be at the top of the list (14%). )

(More proof: SEOMoz – the search engine optimisation site – recently wrote an article on a web design trend – the Single Purpose home page.)

See it as an opportunity. Develop your sub-brand well and it will soar even when you’re not linking to it from your front page – like Yahoo! Pipes. If it does not work well, pull it. It’s instant feedback. Google did this with Google Video, while portals like Lycos were flogging dead horses for years via their homepage.

It gets worse.

What compounds this problem for the portals even more is that users are increasingly becoming so used to the mechanics of search and are increasingly using search as a way of navigation. For instance, when I want to look up information on Uganda’s dictator Idi Amin on Wikipedia, I just search for “wikipedia idi amin” via Google and click on the first link Google serves up. I’m there. Why bother entering the Wikipedia address into the browser and then searching Wikipedia for Idi?

Search as navigation is becoming an unstoppable force.

Search as a form of navigation

The portals are squeezed on two sides. They are not specialist sites – the sites that tend to be recommended by search engines – and users don’t need portals to point them to these sites.

Time for a bit of futurology: users will navigate the web in two ways. By searching keywords like “web mail” and by searching for brands like “Yahoo! Mail” (and sub-brands and sub-sub-brands). In other words, when you search for something and you don’t have a brand in mind, you will just do a normal keyword search.

If you do have a brand in mind, you will Google/ navigate directly to the sub-brand you know and trust it to work well. (I for instance use Yahoo! Mail and I Google “mail yahoo” to directly go to mail.yahoo.com.) I never go to Yahoo first and then to Mail.

[Gallery not found]
The Yahoo! portal

And it’s already happening. I checked Nielsen Netratings’s stats and the majority of Yahoo! Mail users do exactly that and never ever see the Yahoo! front page. Even though Yahoo! tries to persuade us all the time to go and have a look. Many BBC Online users go to BBC News only and skip the portal front page.

But even Yahoo! has been realising that users come to it for specific good products and not primarily because they are Yahoo! the portal. That is why Yahoo has bought a huge and dynamic one-trick-pony, Flickr, but won’t be changing Flickr’s name. It would be stupid to change its name because a recognizable brand is paramount if you want users to find (search for) a service.

Nor have they been adding links from the Yahoo! home page to Flickr. It does not need to. Flickr is a top ranked website already thank you very much. (They have now – but it’s more a badge of honour and brand association than anything else.)

There you have it- The so-called Yahoo! home page is actually just a glorified site map. Why put your site map on your home page?!

The Yahoo! users increasingly go directly to the services Yahoo! offer, bypassing the front page. And you can bet your bottom dollar the successful Yahoo! channels and services are a success because they are good, not because they are featured on the Yahoo! homepage. Yahoo! should do them a favour and give them their own names and branding so that they can thrive.

People have been wondering why Google does not link to its other products from its home page. It’s exactly this reason.

We recently wrote about PR and ad agencies hiring creative technologists. Well below is a (part) picture of the NYTimes jobs page.

Ruby on Rails, Sys admin, Web developers, Software developers, Platform Engineers – not a scribe in sight. The Times they are a changing.

What to expect from the Times? My guess? A different kind of content. Interactive multi-media, applications, distributed widgets, but also platforms. An ad platform. And perhaps some platforms that allow their users to share news.

Have we all been imbibing the cool aid? Are the likes of Wikipedia really crowd-powered?

In a recent well-argued article in Forbes – The Myth of Crowdsourcing – Dan Woods claims crowds don’t innovate, individuals do.

Crowds and uniquely talented individuals

“There is no crowd in crowdsourcing. There are only virtuosos, usually uniquely talented, highly trained people who have worked for decades in a field. Frequently, these innovators have been funded through failure after failure. From their fervent brains spring new ideas. The crowd has nothing to do with it. The crowd solves nothing, creates nothing.”

He goes on to point that what are often called crowdsourcing platforms really are virtuoso search platforms.

Apparently Dan Woods accosted Wikipedia-founder Jimmy Wales at a conference last year and asked him about how articles were created.

“He said that the vast majority are the product of a motivated individual. After articles are created, they are curated–corrected, improved and extended–by many different people.”

I agree with Dan Woods to an extent. Just like much of the sharing on social platforms is actually just egotistical self publishing, crowds are often driven by a few talented individuals. I have discovered brilliant individual photographers on Flickr, but you do have to wade through quite a bit of mediocrity first.

The LA Times’s experiment with a Wikitorial – an attempt to have a user-created and contributed editorial on the Iraq War – is proof of how the crowd can get it wrong.

“On Friday, the paper introduced an online feature it called a wikitorial, asking Web site readers to improve a 1,000-word editorial, “War and Consequences”, on the Iraq war.

Readers were invited to insert information, make changes or come to different conclusions.”

It did not last.

“A Los Angeles Times experiment in opinion journalism lasted just two days before the paper was forced to shut it down Sunday morning after some readers repeatedly posted obscene photos.”

Want to see something not very cool that sounds awful? Then look at MTV’s Amplichoir below. It’s part of a marketing campaign and billed as the world’s biggest crowdsourced choir. Users are incentivised to take part via a competition prize.

It screams fake, sounds horrid and its pastel coloured iPod-esque backgrounds look contrived. Mr. Woods I’m sure would agree that this proves his point. It does not work because there is no talented individual(s) to make something of it.

But my agreement with Mr. Woods only goes this far.

YouTube is full of bad user-submitted videos – and the odd good one , but as a whole it is collective effort. Most quality Wikipedia articles may be driven by an individual user, but the whole is a “crowdsourced” phenomenon.

And both YouTube and Wikipedia have been increasing mechanisms that make collaboration and reaction to others’ contributions possible. This allows us to feed off, incorporate and build on ideas.

Curveball! Kutimans splicing together of YouTube videos into fantastic new ones, is that not evidence of a crowd of virtuoso’s being used and orchestrated by a virtuoso?

Where the crowd’s contributions stop and the virtuoso’s starts is not always so clear cut.

Creation vs Evaluation

There are of course two kinds of ways to tap into collective intelligence. And perhaps that’s where Mr. Woods confusion arises.

The one – like Wikipedia and like Flickr is where people – yes individuals – create.

But there is another form. i.e. to evaluate existing ideas and creations – and this often happens anonymously.

It’s when we look at the power of collective evaluation – like with voting mechanisms, market prediction systems or systems like Google’s Pagerank (effectively a voting mechanism that counts links to predict web page importance), that we can see a more pure form of collective intelligence in action. Google does an amazing job of finding good websites based on our links.

In other words, where we use collective methods for large scale evaluation and not ‘just’ for ideation or creation we have more pure examples of ‘crowd’ intelligence. But even these lines are blurring.

Digg and the Starbucks and Dell idea platforms allow users to submit ideas, and others to vote on them. Eat your heart out Mr. Woods.

First, can I just say that I really don’t like the term crowdsourcing.

Why? Crowd to me sounds like just more jargon – a bit like oft used tribes. And Source? Well, this a sibling of that other contentious word – outsourcing. Many of the most successful platforms in this area – like Wikipedia – are not commercial in nature at all. “Crowdsourcing” is so much more than just a management strategy to cut costs.

We know “crowdsourcing” is powerful (our logo came via a “crowd”), but how do you fully harness this power? How do you decide what functionality to have to maximise contributions?

We have just been asked to help conceptualise and build a “crowdsourcing” platform. A platform for collective ideas generation. It should produce better creative ‘concepts’ and get the right people to execute them. Importantly – unlike similar solutions out there – it is different in that it would not be open to everybody.

So I’ve been looking at many online examples to see what’s out there in the ‘wild’. That’s important because as an MIT’s Sloan management review study – Decisions 2.0: The Power of Collective Intelligence – acknowledges: practise is still some way ahead of the theory.

Of all these platforms, the ones that have impressed me most for the purpose of what we are building are – in no particular order:

CrowdSpring – Focused on design (graphic, web, product), it already has a big community of designers and people requesting designs. The requester or buyer can interact directly with creatives and picks the winner. Anybody can be a buyer or a creative, and portfolios are public. A whole set of metrics are visibly published so buyers and designers can make decisions based on reputation. This reputation dashboard also serves to regulate behaviour.

Eyeka, a French platform, is a social network for creatives. It also allows brands to run design competitions. Each competition gets its own URL so the creative process and the selection of a winner becomes a marketing exercise in itself. The community picks the winners through a voting system. Anybody can join Eyeka.

InnoCentive is one of the most talked about collective platforms. Here seekers post sophisticated challenges they want solved – like a computational problem. The challenges are public and so are the profiles of the solvers. All challenges have monetary incentives. Anybody can join InnoCentive.

And then there’s the Dell and Starbucks Idea platforms built on top of Saleforce.com platforms. These two have been discussed in many good social media books, from Forrester’s Groundswell to Jeff JarvisWhat would Google do, and many more. For a reason. They are very active and work. Anybody can post an idea and others can comment or vote on it.

There are also some much smaller networks. London is the home of Radar Music Videos, a small social network for video directors, which also allows commercial briefs to be posted. You have to pay a small membership fee to access briefs and post videos. The network seems quite active, but alas it does not have that many briefs.

It is worth noting that there are many platforms out there that look like they are on their last legs, virtual tumble weed is blowing across interfaces barren of users.

I don’t need any convincing about the power of digital media to harness sharing of all kinds of things. So what did I learn?

Incentive is the key issue. People’s motivations as to why they take part in these things will determine the platform’s functionality, its mechanisms. As the above mentioned MIT study says:

“An application that taps into collective intelligence for improved decision making may be simple in concept, but it can be extremely difficult to implement. As with many systems, the devil is definitely in the details.”

The devilish details

The so-called devil’s in the detail. So what are some of these details?

How much control do you exert?

Jeff Jarvis says give up control, the users will take control and run with it – more often than not in a good way.

But do you give your ‘crowd’ the ability to choose winners (for example)? What if you don’t agree? If you manage to build a platform where a number of people have contributed to a creative approach, do you split the rewards between them? How? Do you let them decide? Should brands be able to interact with the community directly? These are just some questions we will have to face shortly.

Diversity vs expertise

You have to get the balance right. If your collective is not open, how do you choose participants? If it’s a small group of experts, how good will they be at evaluation (studies show diverse and large groups are better at evaluation – and I will blog about that tomorrow)? If your members don’t like each other, are they likely to stay?


What motivates people varies wildly – the MIT report explains:

“Incentives such as cash rewards, prizes and other promotions can be effective in stimulating individuals to participate in activities like prediction markets, for which explicit rewards seem to matter greatly. With other applications — for example, submitting T-shirt designs to the Threadless Web site — cash rewards seem to matter less than recognition. Value-driven incentives can also be important. As the open-source movement, Wikipedia and other similar efforts have shown, participation in a community, the desire to transfer knowledge or share experiences, and a sense of civic duty can be powerful motivators.”

Another problem is keeping people engaged over time. And if your users are primarily incentive-driven and there’s too many competing for a limited pool of cash, then what?

So how do you measure success?

Well it obviously depends on the goal of your platform. But there is one important way to measure success. Is it being used?

“Engagement should not to be taken lightly. Indeed, for a large fraction of Decisions 2.0 projects that have flopped, the primary cause of failure appears to be a lack of engagement. Participants expect to be treated in a certain way and, more often than not, they also want the organizers of the application to be engaged as well.”

With a little uncommon sense, a little theory and many examples of what has worked and what not, you should have as solid a start as you can hope for.

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Google Wave is a pretty complex and ambitious communications tool. If Twitter, which is such a simple tool and yet is so hard to explain, then Google Wave is a nightmare. And it’s compounded by the fact that I and most of us don’t have an invite yet!

Twitter is like riding a bike – you can explain the action, but not the motion.

Well, I suspect the other 96.5 % of what Google Wave is will only become apparent after we have used it.

And like Evan Williams found with Twitter, not even Google knows how it will end up being used, or indeed whether it will take off. Having said that here is a another video by the makers of Google Wave on its action.