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Maximing Crowdsourcing Video Projects: an Interview

by February 28, 2011

Dialogue Earth’s associate director, Tom Masterman, was recently interviewed by about the decision whether or not to crowdsource the creation of video content. In the second part of this interview, Tom talks with’s Carl Esposti about the issues of time to execute, project phases, worker incentives and managing the interaction with the crowd.

Carl Esposti: So, once you give the crowdsourcing video project the green light, what challenges were you faced with?

Tom Masterman:
Once we’ve made the decision to crowdsource a project, we’ll generally experience a cocktail of emotions, from anxiety to anticipation. After all, we’ve just welcomed a crowd of people into our company.

At Dialogue Earth, we believe that, to successfully increase public understanding on often confusing and contentious topics, the core science needs to be communicated in a variety of creative styles. So, it’s essential that we cultivate the diverse voices a crowdsourced community has to offer.

As one might expect, there are plenty of moving parts to orchestrate when crowdsourcing a video project. While each project we launch has surfaced new considerations, consistent themes are beginning to surface around timing, project phases, and worker incentives and interaction.

CE: Did crowdsourcing the video project produce quicker results or did it slow the project down?

TM: In terms of project timing, the overarching struggle when crowdsourcing has been between our desire to get the videos produced as quickly as possible, and the need to provide the crowd sufficient time to produce quality work.

A one-minute video we’re requesting may only take producers 20 hours to create. But, between full-time jobs, or packed dockets of freelance jobs, these individuals may only have a handful of hours each week to work on our project.

Our sense is that a larger issue may be that, regardless of how much capacity the average worker has, they are likely to be unaware of our project, and unfamiliar with our brand. Our crowdsourcing partner Tongal does a great job in getting the word out to sites that showcase freelance video jobs and competitions. In addition, we’re actively promoting our contests throughout our social media networks.

Our plan, ultimately, is to build a library of science videos on a wide range of topics, and to be able to turn around videos in a matter or one or two weeks. To do this, we will need to establish our brand within the creative community, and set the expectation of weekly Dialogue Earth video project announcements.

Sure, adding more time to our crowdsourcing contests might drive greater participation. But, as entrepreneurs, we’ve been taught to fail fast and often. Setting up a contest where we wait two months for submissions and hope for the best seems too risky; nor does it support our goal of rapidly delivering relevant content.

CE: So, if crowdsourcing the video project adds time to the project what advice do you have on how to stay connected?

TM: If you’re able to wait six or eight weeks for a finished video product, one way to mitigate risk when crowdsourcing is by creating multiple project phases. These stages build off of each other and help you steer the process.

Beginning your project with a pitch or concept phase, where you ask the crowd to provide a sentence or short paragraph describing a potential approach to the video, provides two main benefits. First, it increases overall participation by attracting creative types who either don’t have the time, skills or resources to produce a video. Secondly, it infuses a ton of creative ideas into your project community.

In our first crowdsourcing contest, we used a two-phase approach, beginning with a round where contestants were asked to create a story concept, in 500 characters or less, for a video about ocean acidification. We ended up awarding prizes to seven stories. The video phase then required contestants to create a 90-second piece based on one of winning stories from the first round.

With topics like ocean acidification, there are going to be some people who aren’t comfortable with communicating the science, and some who aren’t inclined to come up with an engaging concept. Adding a story phase certainly helps create a community of complementary skills.

We’re working with Tongal now to explore how a storyboard phase might unfold. Again, there’s a segment of the creative community who are skilled at illustrating concepts, but don’t specialize in developing ideas from scratch, or producing finished videos. Our hope is that a storyboard phase will not only attract new participants, but will also increase the overall product quality.

CE: What can you share about how to best motivate and reward the crowd?

TM: In addition to increasing the total time of a crowdsourcing project, adding phases generally increases the overall cost. This is where decisions around worker incentives come into play. For example, announcing a $10,000 prize purse may attract some attention from the creative community. However, if that money is spilt over three rounds, you’re likely to wind up in a situation where you receive plenty of submissions in your pitch phase, but end up with little or no participation when it comes to making the videos.

We’ve talked with various crowdsourcing companies on the topic of structuring worker compensation. There’s no perfect way to do it, of course. For video contests, I’ve seen everything from winner-take-all to five winners getting paid roughly the same amount. Lately, my sense is that, if you really want to entice participants to put in a lot of time, you need to create a significant distinction between first place and all the other in-the-money places.

We’re extremely interested in better understanding what motivates the crowdsourced creativity community. For Dialogue Earth, as with most organizations, we don’t have the financial resources to run dozens of tests. Our approach is to deepen our personal connection with these individuals.

CE: So, what did you learn about your interaction with the participants and what advice do you have on how to build a meaningful connection with the creative community?

TM: For crowdsourced workers, there’s no HR orientation, building tour or team lunch for them to get acquainted with your organization. Sure, for each contest we run, we provide an overview document that includes some background on Dialogue Earth. But, what we’re aiming to do is build a relationship with the crowd over time.

One step toward getting more personal with the crowd was a short video introduction we shot for our most recent project. It wasn’t the smoothest video segment (I may have broken the world record for most eye blinks), but it gave the Tongal community a little bit more information to go on.

We fully realize that not all people are going to want to communicate with us. Many producers prefer a more distant relationship, and we respect that. However, for those who do want to better understand our mission, or ask us questions about a project, or do some back-and-forth revision work, we want to make sure we’re able to cultivate that connection.

The concept of “curating the crowd” is interesting to us. The question is, if we wanted to crank out a Dialogue Earth video project each week, would we need to make 5,000 producers aware, or would we be more successful at cultivating a close relationship with a consistent group of 50? We tend to believe that, over time, we will develop a following of content creators with whom our mission and subject matter resonate strongly.

CE: Are there any new crowdsourcing projects on the horizon for Dialogue Earth?

TM: Our next major step towards building our brand with the crowd is to launch a themed series of video contests. In the coming months, we’ll be developing the Dialogue Earth Media Challenge – a year-long event focused on explaining critical energy topics. Our plan is to create a tournament-style competition using crowdsourcing that we’re confident will attract significant participation among the creative community.

The Dialogue Earth Media Challenge will follow a consistent formula. First, our research team will develop relevant energy topics, and work with a broad group of experts – from academia, to industry, to government and nonprofits – to develop a broadly endorsed set of science points. Then, we’ll present these science points to the creative community. And, through a multiphase creative process, the crowd will generate a set of relevant, engaging and trustworthy video pieces.

We have so much more to learn about maximizing our crowdsourcing efforts, but we believe there is incredible potential, and are excited to keep our momentum going. Through consistent crowdsourcing projects, we truly expect the crowd will become an extension of our core Dialogue Earth team.

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