I like to consider product marketing pitches, recruitment outreach, or employee engagement emails each a different flavor of a “business stories”. Most business communication tasks require a compelling narrative to influence and build a relationship with an audience. Traditionally, these stories are conceived of and crafted by a single person or team. However, in the past two decades, the internet has connected storytellers to the subjects of their stories, introducing new voices and mediums to storytelling. To “crowdsource” a story means to solicit content from a group, and at its best, crowdsourcing brings more creativity, authenticity and perspective to your communications. But it’s no small challenge to harness the narrative power of groups.

About two and a half years ago, Zoomforth developed a feature designed to help talent acquisition teams crowdsource recruitment messaging and content, and better include their employees in their recruiting pitches. In short, a recruiter could create a question that was associated with a unique link, and then send that link to employees. Employees could then record a video answer, which the recruiter would get in their media library. Over nearly three years, we’ve seen the feature used for its original purpose, along with a number of other fascinating and creative applications we couldn’t have planned, from political campaigns inviting citizens to advocate for certain positions with video testimonials, to startups soliciting best examples from their top performers for sales training. Below I’m sharing a few of the most resounding lessons that we’ve used to inform our latest product release (here’s an example of this feature), and that should inform any efforts to include your team in your storytelling.

1. Give people an opportunity to be interesting

Crowdsourcing’s value is rooted in its unpredictability. You trust that the people you’re asking to participate can share something compelling, but you can’t know what that is – otherwise you’d have already produced it. So you need to offer your subjects the freedom to share what they think is interesting. Just as a journalist writing a profile piece can’t know which of her questions will elicit the most compelling response from her subject, you can’t know what questions will excite any given respondent. So if you’re looking to gather opinions, profiles, or testimonials ask a number of questions and trust that an excited and authentic response to a question you didn’t need is much better content than a scripted and lackluster response to a question you did want answered.

2. Provide incentives

People won’t respond to a question just because you asked them. They need a reason. Often the best incentives are intrinsic, and you’ll get responses simply because people are excited to help the organization. To reinforce these incentives, it’s important to lead by example (make sure if you’re asking for content, you’re showing that you or other leaders are comfortable providing content). But you can also experiment with monetary incentives ($100 prize for the best response) or social incentives (the more people or leaders you get to participate initially, the more others want to participate).

3. Acknowledge priorities and make it easy

Employees are often very excited to be a part of a story, or to provide something of value if there’s a clear explanation of why it’s important. But nobody has a job title: “Employee Generated Content Provider”. That is to say: sharing content is almost never an employee’s top priority, regardless of how excited they are about the idea. So you need to make it easy to do. Sometimes that’s as simple as reminding somebody a handful of times so they don’t have to keep track of it. It’s also important to simplify the technology and process, and encourage participation more than perfection. For example, you might want to get a video testimonial, but if someone is interested in providing content but uncomfortable recording video, get excited about seeing what they write… and then, maybe later, ask them to record what they’ve said. Finally, make sure people know what will be done with the content.

4. Set the right expectations

Too often we see companies expect the wrong things from crowdsourcing and user generated content, and therefore inhibit its effectiveness. For example, you [probably] won’t get a cinematography award for a video recorded on someone’s iPhone. The value of a simple user generated video rests in the authenticity it can convey; video highlights all the nuanced emotive cues that can get lost in photos or text. And you only need about 5 seconds of seeing a person speak to observe those powerful emotions. Many viewers today have a preference for content that’s feels more authentic, and if those are the viewers you’re trying to speak to, user generated content is a hugely effective medium. However, if you need something more polished, like a 2 minute longform video narrative, find a production company. Neither is right or wrong, and neither can accomplish what the other can.

Whether you’re recruiting, marketing, inspiring employees, or mobilizing supporters, the subjects of your stories are often the best people to tell your story. And as new media like photos, videos, and digital stories continue to bridge communication divides, crowdsourcing becomes ever a more valuable resource.

We’ve spent months applying our learnings in crowdsourcing and content collection to our new product, and now we’re ready to see what stories you tell.

Excited yet? Take Prompts for a spin. Email sales@zoomforth.com for a free trial.

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Written by Chris Murphy
CEO, Zoomforth

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