How to Crowdsource Your Way to Better Article Ideas, Great Sources, and More
Do you know what the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary, Microsoft’s Hacking Competition and your Sunday potluck party has in common? All of them are results of crowdsourcing. When Linda offered her new book for free last week in exchange for reviews, it was also an act of crowdsourcing.
This phenomenon has existed for hundreds years, but the Internet and cloud computing have made it extremely popular and useful. “Crowdsourcing” has become a buzzword after Jeff Howe’s article published in 2006 in Wired magazine.
There are many definitions of crowdsourcing. I am going to use the one that provides two major features differentiating it from other types of businesses:
- A crowdsourced project is performed by outsiders (not employed by the client’s company).
- The client uses an open call to choose a provider or to get the final product.
Crowdsoucing projects can be paid as well as performed by volunteers.
Today, though, I want to talk about writers as customers.
I divide crowdsourcing in four categories.
1. Distributed Knowledge
This includes resources where you can get information or advice for your article. They include,but are not limited to:
- Wikipedia and its projects (Wikisource, Wikiquote). I really like the last one. It doesn’t only provide quotes from famous people but also points out “misquotations”. I use it to find inspiration and to spice up my articles with fun or controversial remarks.
- Quora.com and Yahoo Answers, networks where you can ask questions on specific topics.
- Digital libraries. The most famous is Project Gutenberg, but Wikipedia has a huge list of similar websites. All of them are free to use.
- Translation networks. If you need information from a foreign website or an article, there are services and volunteer networks which can help you with that. Check Akuna or Lingotek, for example.
- Lawpivot.com is a network of attorneys. You can ask professionals on the forum or directly for their opinion on the topic of your article.
- CouchSurfing.org is a huge international network of enthusiasts providing free hosting and local help for tourists. I believe it is one of the best sources of “insider’ information about happenings and “hidden treasures” in any destination. If you are a travel writer, join the network and ask questions on its forums or connect with specific people. They will be happy to show you around.
- Review websites: Trip Adviser, Yelp and Glass Door. The last one can be used before you approach a potential business customer to find out about the company’s weaknesses and to offer a solution. The recipient will be impressed by your in-depth awareness of the situation.
- Help a Reporter is a place to look for free help, if you are writing an article for a newspaper or magazine. Their newsletter is distributed daily to more than 130,000 people. Post a query with a description of your needs and there is a good chance somebody would contact you with information about your topic.
2. Crowd Labor
Here you’ll find hundreds of freelance websites like Freelancer, Elance, vWorker, Amazon Mechanical Turk, etc. You probably have used gigs section of Craigslist, which also can be considered as crowdsourcing.
Many people believe that using Craigslist is the cheapest way to get anything done. I’d like to challenge this opinion and tell you about my favorite website, Fiverr.com. Its idea is very simple: everything costs $5. It has millions of users and tens of thousands of providers.
A buyer can choose a particular provider or to post the job on the gigs board. Here is the list of the projects I have ordered on Fiverr (and got them done each just for five bucks!): book covers for two e-books, book formatting, research about online privacy laws in Europe and Asia, article distribution, marketing on Twitter and Facebook, voice over for my book trail. Nine out of ten times the quality of the service was really impressive.
There are tens of Fiverr copycats (just search in Google “Fiverr alternatives”). Some of them offer gigs starting from $1. The same time I’ve seen many gigs offered for $10 or $15 that can easily be ordered on Fiverr for $5.
Crowdfunding is the fastest growing trend in crowdsourcing. More than one billion dollars has been raised by hundreds of platforms like Kickstarter, Indiegogo or RocketHub. There are lots of niche websites for musicians, video and game producers and community projects.
Unfortunately, writers don’t have many websites dedicated to raising money for their craft. The one I am aware of is British and is called Unbound. But it has a specific model: the projects successfully funded are published in-house.
At the same time, publishing/writing categories on general platforms are also very popular. In my opinion, the best bet for non-fiction writers would be Indiegogo www.indiegogo.com. Right now there are almost eight hundred writing projects posted there. Here are examples of campaigns created by small form authors:
- Manual for roller derby (at the time this post was written the author has raised $1,275).
- Send a young writer from Pennsylvania to a week long writers retreat in California ($2,077).
- Dorothy Surrenders asks for funds to to update her blog and buy a new laptop ($7,145).
For most of the readers of this blog it isn’t worth the effort unless you’re working on a book. But crowdfunding is a new craze and it would be smart to use it if you can.
Several months ago, President Obama signed JOBS Act opening doors for using crowdfunding by small businesses. Now it’s your turn to contact local companies that can be interested in pursuing this road or even looking through the list of businesses from your state to offer your content writing services for crowdfunding applications.
This is very time consuming process for many business owners (description of the campaign, updates several times a week, communication with hundreds/sometimes thousands of potential supporters, posting information in social media and on the company website). It’s a great opportunity for writers to get involved and to solve the problem.
4. Social Media and Forums.
This is a huge topic that deserves a separate post. But here are some ideas.
- Use Facebook and Twitter to find hot topics and potential customers as well as to create polls and surveys.
- Research Klout to find influencers on the topics you want to write about and look through the lists of their followers. You can find experts to conduct interviews with and clients interested in the niche.
- I’d like to specifically point out the value of LinkedIn. Besides being the largest and most efficient social network for professionals, it lets you join up to fifty groups. Use it to participate in forums, gather information and make valuable contacts. More than half of my interviews and customers come from LinkedIn groups.
- Monitor video sharing sites (YouTube, SlideShare, Vimeo, Ustream, etc.) for hot topics. Video is the new magazine, so you’d better learn how to communicate efficiently through visual work.
- Image sharing networks are great for gathering ideas and illustrations. Freephoto, 123rf, Sxc.hu, Unprofound, and Dreamstime offer free images for your content. Flickr and iStockPhoto have the largest number of contributors, so you can find an illustration on any subject there.
- Writers’ forums on websites for freelancers, blogs, Amazon and Smashwords groups, writers’ and journalists’ organizations and industry magazines can be a huge source of information and support. Some of my favorite forums are Content and Article Writers and the Freelance Writers Den.
- Copywriters can find potential partners and clients on Zooppa, “the world’s largest source of user-generated advertising.
New content is written by crowds; it must be interactive, engaging, visual and short.
You’ll benefit tremendously from employing the power of social media, crowd labor and knowledge sharing networks for your business.
But don’t be just a consumer: participate, add value by sharing your expertise, and it will enhance your life beyond monetary rewards.
Elena Mikhaylova started her career as a journalist and PR pro almost 20 years ago. Her articles have been published in five countries. Now she’s a freelancer writing about technology, cyber security, social media marketing and internet business. She’s also a proud mother of three teenagers — authors of several books which will be published this summer. You can find additional information about her at www.cyber-buzz.com, www.reflectivewords.com and www.marketing-spider.com.
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