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Contemplating Content Crowd-Sourcing: an Interview

by February 18, 2011

Dialogue Earth’s associate director, Tom Masterman, was recently interviewed by about recent projects to crowd-source the creation of Dialogue Earth videos. In this post, the first of a two-part series, Tom talks with’s Carl Esposti about the issues of control, quality, cost and timing.

Carl Esposti: Why did Dialogue Earth consider crowdsourcing a video project?

Tom Masterman: Just the other day, I realized that crowdsourcing now pervades most aspects of the business strategy for our start-up nonprofit, Dialogue Earth. Given some personal experiences producing corporate videos, I truly wanted to avoid the unfortunate situation where you develop something in-house (or with a single contractor or agency) that you and the executive team love, but that falls flat with your target viewers. Since our goal is to communicate science in ways easily understood by a variety of audiences, it seemed worthwhile to test how the crowd would explain our key points.

CE: How did Dialogue Earth first venture into crowdsourcing?

TM: Our first experience with crowdsourcing was working with CrowdFlower to leverage their workforce to determine the sentiment of tweets. We’re currently ramping up a crowdsourced sentiment analysis process to support Pulse, our effort to understand public opinion on issues related to the environment as expressed in the social media – such as the mood on Twitter about weather conditions or gas prices.

In terms of using the crowd to produce content, we initially ran a pilot test to crowdsource the creation of science videos. The main objective with that test was to see if crowdsourced creators could effectively communicate key science points we generated.

We’ve recently kicked off a project to leverage crowdsourcing to tell our story. We’re counting on the crowd to help us garner support, by creatively answering the question, “Why Dialogue Earth?” We’re looking forward to reviewing the entries once the competition closes in a couple weeks.

CE: What do you consider to be the critical elements of this decision-making process?

TM: The first issue we wrestled with was determining how much ownership we needed over the content and style of our video. And, by ownership, I really mean control.

At Dialogue Earth, we’re working to increase public understanding on topics of environmental importance. Given the confusion and contention that surround many of these issues, we’re adamant that our content be scientifically accurate, and free from advocacy. So, like many organizations considering crowdsourcing, we were somewhat leery of allowing individuals outside our company to produce our content.

Another element of control relates to the distribution of the videos. Once you make the content creation process a public event, while you may own the winning videos, you really can’t control where they might end up, and who might end up putting them there.

CE: Were you concerned that the crowdsourced videos would be of inferior quality?

TM: Quality was certainly a consideration. We had concerns not only around the crowd’s ability to effectively communicate our message and tone, but also with respect to production value. For us, the concern wasn’t whether or not the lighting, acting or animation would be commercial grade. Rather, we merely wanted to avoid last minute, mobile phone video that, while sometimes capable of catching fire on YouTube, generally fails to convey adequate professionalism.

But, a couple hours of sampling reels from crowdsourced video platforms like Tongal, Poptent and GeniusRocket quashed my snobbery and assuaged my fears, so to speak.

CE: Did potential cost savings through crowdsourcing influence your decision?

TM: Since quality is rarely cheap, we certainly contemplated the relative cost of crowdsourced content. Looking around at the prize money offered on most contest platforms, it seemed in the ballpark of what you’d expect to pay for a high-quality video. But, adding in management fees that generally run as much as the prize purse, it then appeared a little more pricey.

Not lost on us was the fact that, with a crowdsourced contest, we’d be able to purchase several different videos from a pool of, perhaps, a hundred submissions. But, did we need several versions of the same message? And, what if all the entries were off the mark? We had this horrific vision of publicly awarding thousands of dollars to video creators who butchered our key points and compromised our brand. (This didn’t end up being the case at all, fortunately.)

CE: What advice would you give regarding the timing elements to set up a crowdsourcing video project?

TM: Many of these online contests need to run for more than a month to garner sufficient participation. At first, I was confident that a short video like ours could be turned around in a week. But, the more I thought about it, I realized it might take weeks to find a good contractor. In just a matter of hours, we could post a creative brief online and kick off a crowdsourced competition.

CE: What can you share regarding the marketing and distribution of Dialogue Earth’s crowdsourcing videos?

TM: Each time we’ve made the decision to crowdsource videos, we’ve thought about the exposure we’d get from running a public contest, and the potential for our videos to go viral.

Our sense was that a public contest would provide good exposure for our brand; and, if we didn’t create specific incentives to distribute our videos, we would have low risk of overly aggressive, potentially damaging promotion stunts.

CE: How did you conduct the crowdsourcing process?

TM: Going into our first contest, conducted with Tongal last November, we didn’t know what to expect. We were confident the crowd could be creative, but we had concern whether they could communicate our key points while also avoiding advocacy.

We worked with Tongal to develop an overview document for their community of crowdsourced content creators that outlined specific talking points, and our general concerns. Other than a simple online discussion forum, we had minimal interaction with the contestants.

The result of the test was a handful of winning videos, each diverse in style, but that all adhered to the key science points we provided them. And, each was engaging without advocating for a particular action or policy.

For the current contest focused on telling the Dialogue Earth story, we’ve added a personal video that, essentially, talks to Tongal’s community.

CE: So what’s next for crowdsourcing and Dialogue Earth?

TM: Coming up in the next couple weeks, we’ll be wrapping up our “Why Dialogue Earth?” contest. We’ll also be launching a project focused on the topic of energy.

Our sense is that crowdsourcing is a strategy worth pursuing as we grow our company. While we’ll continue to leverage all the traditional approaches available to us, we’ve discovered that one way to connect with our target audience is to ask for their help. After all, who better to help us communicate with the crowd than “the crowd”?

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