“Crowdsourcing” has become one of the most popular buzzwords on the internet but very few people really understand how to use it effectively or just how powerful it can be. In this post, we are going to focus on how to use crowdsourcing to get great ideas for content, i.e. ideas for blog posts, articles, ebooks, tutorials, video scripts, sales letters, product descriptions, and any other content you need for your business or organisation. We’re also going to introduce a new term, “crowdporting,” so keep reading!
What Is Crowdsourcing?
The term “crowdsourcing” was coined in 2006 by Jeff Howe in an article entitled, “The Rise of Crowdsourcing” written for Wired Magazine. If you are a history buff or just want to see how all this buzz got started, you can read Howe’s now infamous article in the Wired archives:
The current usage of the term crowdsourcing varies a great deal in scope. The most conservative definition describes when businesses put out an open call for help on something they would have otherwise hired a professional consultant to do. So, for example, a company may prevail on the public for ideas on how to improve or replace a product that isn’t selling well instead of going the traditional route of hiring a professional marketing and or design consultant for advice.
Crowdsourcing can also be defined much more broadly to include ways of seeking input from a great number of people without actually specifically asking for their help. For example, a business may eavesdrop on forums or social media, and even do keyword searches of their business name and or trademarks, to determine what people are saying about them. They may then use that information to improve their products, brand identities, and methods of conducting business. They may even covertly post a specific question on a forum or on social media to get specific information from a large number of people.
Specialised areas of crowdsourcing have emerged as well. For example, so called “crowdtesting” is used by software companies to gain input from many and work out the bugs before software is officially released on the market. “Crowdfunding” has become a popular method by which to fund various worthwhile projects without having to go the more traditional route of looking for “angel investors.” In this version of crowdsourcing, each member of the “crowd” can vote with his or her pocketbook. There’s even “crowdbirthing” for pregnant women who want to share their birthing experience with many others, even strangers! Okay, that may be a bit extreme but different strokes for different folks, right?
Perhaps we should coin a new term for using the crowdsourcing strategy in finding content ideas! “Crowdcontenting” doesn’t quite have the right ring to it. The term “crowdstorming” could be used to describe a process of collaborative brainstorming with a crowd but it looks like this term has already been used in a broader sense than we intend it. “Crowdporting” is another intriguing portmanteau word that could be used to describe importing ideas from a crowd.
From a precursory Google search, it does not appear that “crowdporting” has been used in this way!
Remember… you read it here first….. “CROWDPORTING!!!”
Is Crowdsourcing a New Idea?
Many people mistakenly believe that crowdsourcing is a modern concept. However, although the term may be new, the concept of crowdsourcing is not at all new! In fact, it is a method that has been used for at least many centuries. Businesses, governments, kings, and queens have been soliciting ideas from the masses for ages. They sometimes offered rewards for the best ideas but other times they simply offered gestures of gratitude.
For a really old example of crowdsourcing, we need to revisit some world history you may have learned in high school. In the late 1400s and early 1500s, the leading nations of the world began sending expeditions to explore unknown territories. The parties that got there first could claim the new land and all its bountiful riches for their country. Thus, the race was on with an intensity that at least matched what we saw in the space race of the 1950s and 1960s.
Equipping ancient sea captains with the very best navigational equipment was given top priority. This not only helped these expeditions get to their destinations first, it also helped to minimise the number of lost ships. Fewer lost ships meant not losing the riches obtained in the new territories on their return trip home. Besides things like gold, spices, and exotic seeds, these riches included valuable information like the new maps created during the exploration and information on the best routes to take in the future. Remember, this was long before satellites, cellphones, telegraphs, and the internet! Therefore, for this information to get back to the homeland and be used by future expeditions, the ship had to make it back safely.
In the late 1400s and 1500s, a ship’s latitudinal position could be relatively easily and accurately determined by the position of the sun at high noon on any given day of the Julian calendar. However, longitude could only be determined very roughly at the best case scenario and sometimes not at all. Not knowing the longitude caused many ships with valuable cargo to become lost at sea. It also caused competing nations to lose out on planting their flag on new lands or accurately mapping out a new territory.
All of the powerful seafaring nations of the late 1400s and early 1500s attempted to outsource this longitude problem to the leading experts of the time. However, decades went by and a solution was never found by these experts. Then, in 1567, King Philip of Spain decided to turn to the masses for help and offered a very substantial reward to anyone who could develop a reliable and economical solution to determining a ship’s longitude from any start position. Not to be outdone, the Netherlands offered an even bigger reward for a solution to the longitudinal navigational problem and other nations followed.
The eventual solution to consistently determining longitude did not come from a single person but rather from MANY people who each worked out a small but critical piece of the solution over many decades! In other words, the solution would have almost assuredly taken several more centuries if this problem had not been crowdsourced by several official governments!!
Crowdsourcing changed the world forever!!
Businesses have been crowdsourcing for a long time as well. For example, in 1936, Toyota held a contest to see who could come up with the best redesigned logo. With more than 27,000 official entries, they chose one that the public loved for multiple generations.
A Little Crowdsourcing Experiment We Did
We wanted to give you an actual real world example of how to crowdsource content ideas for a website. In this example, we “crowdported” content ideas for a paranormal website.
We asked the following question:
“What would be the first item an alien would buy?”
We posed this question on a crowdsourcing website called MyBlogU, various forums like Unexplained Mysteries, and Yahoo Answers. The answers given were quite diverse but there were also several recurring themes. Here are some examples of the responses we got:
A. Theme: Practical
- Lubricant, for its probes and stuff.
- An outfit A local outfit – to fit in and because it would be different from what the alien is used to wearing at home (if anything).
- Well, I guarantee you that both parties would be very cautious. I think we’d probably try to use universal gestures and signs that almost all cultures (at least on our planet) would understand. We’d also observe the alien and see what he/she does and how it conducts itself. We would then form a plan from there.
B. Theme: Doomsday Thoughts
- They will buy Earth and give us a 30 day eviction notice.
- A recipe book, “Just Don’t Eat Us.”
C. Theme: Zany
- A Boat I would have to say a boat. I’m not totally sure, but I don’t think too many aliens know what it’s like to speed through choppy water bouncing up and down (thanks to gravity) and getting mist in your face. I’m assuming it would be something that would give them a thrill!
- A snow globe from Roswell. Wait! They have Roswell snow globes? Shut up and take my money!
D. Theme: Negative Thoughts About Planet Earth
- Herbs and lots of them so they can survive on this god forsaken planet.
- A “return” ticket!
E. Theme: Philosophical
- If aliens showed up and properly introduced themselves, I think they wouldn’t need to buy anything; they would just be given stuff.
- A pet human Let’s face it, we walk around “owning” cats and dogs, goldfish and goldfinches. One observation of pet ownership will reveal that there is no ethical dilemma in “owning” creatures. Give that humans seem the most useful and interesting of creatures to own, and that they approve of creature ownership, I think aliens would want to own us.
As you can see from the responses above, by posing just one question, we got enough material to generate ideas for dosens of blog posts and we discovered several recurring themes. Let’s take each theme above and develop a few blog post ideas:
A. Theme: Practical
- Is lubricant Needed For Spacecrafts Traveling Through Space?
This would be a physical science post talking about pertinent scientific concepts such as friction and vacuums.
- How Can Aliens From Outer Space Blend Into the Human Population?
Using clothing as a launching off point, you could discuss several other potential “blending in” issues such as manners and gait.
- Could Humans Use Universal Hand Gestures To Communicate With Aliens?
B. Theme: Doomsday Thoughts
- What Is the Likelihood that Aliens Would Come In Peace?
You could create a poll on your homepage to ask this question and then blog about it.
- Do Human Beings Taste Like Chicken?
To lighten up the doomsday topic that aliens might eat humans, you could discuss it in a humorous way.
C. Theme: Zany
- Top 10 Earth Vacation Spots For a Visiting Alien
Using elements of the having fun riding the waves in a boat response above, you could start this fun list with a trip to the Bottomless Lakes State Park 14 miles southeast of Roswell!
- Top 10 Souvenirs Aliens Would Buy
This could be another fun one, starting with the Roswell snow globe being number one of course!
D. Theme: Negative Thoughts About Planet Earth
- Could Aliens Survive the Air Toxins On Plant Earth?
Starting with summary of the most toxic air pollutants like lead and nitrogen dioxide, you could discuss how the human body detoxifies and apply that to how an alien body may have a different way of detoxifying.
- Top 5 Things That Will Cause Aliens Turn Around and Go Back
You could make this a funny post or a serious post, everything to the neon Las Vegas Cowboy scaring them off to light pollution interfering with their landing sensors.
E. Theme: Philosophical
- How Would Different Earth Countries Greet Aliens?
This could be a really interesting post comparing the way different cultures would greet aliens from outer space, from a spacecraft landing near a remote Inuit tribal village to one landing a block from the Eiffel Tower in Paris!
- Are Pets In Charge: An Alien’s Perspective
The last response we got reminded us of a comedic routine Jerry Seinfeld has about how aliens from outer space would view the world. If they were looking down and one species was following along picking up the poop of another species, who would the aliens assume were in charge?
You could of course also go with a closer interpretation of the response given and ask, “What Kind Of Pet Would a Human Make For an Alien?”
As you can see, one simple question can generate many ideas for content you would have never thought of otherwise. Of course, you can pose more specific questions than we did and more serious questions if needed.
Other Ideas On How To Crowdsource For Content Ideas
Premium (i.e. paid) Crowdsourcing Sites
Google cannot index the pages of the private pages of a paid membership site. Therefore, if you join a paid crowdsourcing site and ask your question, the answers you get back will not be indexed by Google. Therefore, your usage of these ideas, especially if you quote some of the material verbatim, will still be viewed by Google as one of a kind original content.
If you run a retail store, the simple act of encouraging your customers to leave you anonymous written feedback in a suggestion box can be a goldmine for developing ideas for content. Interacting with these same customers on a one-on-one basis can also produce great ideas. For example, if you own a tackle shop, one of your customers may tell you about a nifty new park only fifty miles from your store, a perfect place for a rustic weekend fishing trip. You can write about this special place on your blog. This is the type of topic in fact, that can build you a loyal following of repeat blog readers! If you run a clothing store, you may pick up tips on how to display your clothing more attractively, and this in turn, may lead to a post about how varying the necklines of blouses can make them more attractive.
Virtual Suggestion Box
If you run an online business, you obviously can’t put out a tangible suggestion box. You can, however, put out a “virtual” suggestion box to capture your visitors’ thoughts and feelings. You may even want to encourage more detailed suggestions by offering a free ebook of high perceived value to those who submit a written suggestion of 200 words or more. These types of comments can also be very useful the next time you need to compose a sales letter or product description. You can pick out excellent quotes or use the suggestions as sort of an informal self-written survey on what your customers most need and want.
Comments On Your YouTube Channel
If you run an ecommerce website of any kind and you don’t already have a YouTube channel, you are truly missing out on one of the best ways to market your products and or services. More than a billion people spend hundreds of millions of hours viewing YouTube videos EVERY SINGLE DAY!!! With these mind boggling stats, the direct marketing potential of a YouTube channel is enormous, even if you only get a mere “trickle” of the YouTube traffic. Perhaps even more useful is the tremendous volume and diversity of user comments you can get from this source with only a few videos are posted. Even if you run an extremely popular blog, it is highly unlikely you’ll get as many user comments from your blog as you can get from YouTube videos! This ongoing ample supply of user comments can supply you with more than enough material to produce an engaging blog post or article every day. Setting up YouTube videos is actually one of the easiest ways to crowdsource for content ideas.
If you want to explore more staggering YouTube statistics directly from the horse’s mouth, check out this official YouTube press page:
User Comments On Your Blog
Many people upload content to their website but they keep the comments section closed because they just don’t want to be bothered with the hassle of removing spam or interacting with people. This is a BIG mistake. User comments your golden opportunity to hear what people think of your content, your products, your service, and other important miscellaneous feedback such as how you pack your product, the advertisements you post on your website, and your return policy. This is 100 percent FREE crowdsourcing and you should use it to your advantage! The comments will also add some interesting, and perhaps unexpected, perspectives to what was written. In the process of pondering these unique twists, they make excellent kernels for thoughtful and useful blog posts or articles.
Comments On Product Reviews
Even if you don’t have your website set up for product reviews, you can always check out the reviews on other websites like Amazon for the same products and or similar products. Some users get very emotional about their reviews, both positive and negative, and they’ll provide long paragraphs of emotional feedback available to anyone who takes the time to read it! This is crowdsourcing at the most visceral level! If you search through these reviews for content ideas, you’ll be able to find emotional triggers to write about and this can lead to repeat readers too.
A Prophetic Pontification
The scope and usage of crowdsourcing will continue to evolve and expand. Those businesses and organisations that learn to embrace it, and especially those that develop novel ways to use it, will have a distinct advantage over those that don’t. The wisdom contained in crowdsourcing is found in many old adages, proving it has staying power and is actually an ancient idea. One of the most famous of these adages is:
“Two heads are better than one” which can of course be extended to mean three heads are better than two and many heads are better than a few!
What About Interstellar Crowdsourcing Or Crowdporting?
To tie this all back into our aliens from outer space experiment, it is reasonable to say that the SETI at Home program is the most ambitious crowdsourcing project to ever be undertaken! Not only is computer processing time crowdsourced from thousands of people right here on Planet Earth, the answer scientists are hoping for may actually end up coming from multiple sentient beings from multiple distant worlds! This would be crowdsourcing to the nth degree! And…. wouldn’t this make for excellent crowdported content!
By the way, SETI stands for “Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence” and the SETI at Home project is organised by the Space Sciences Laboratory at the University of California at Berkeley. You can read more about it here: