Has Crowdsourced Content Jumped The Shark?

“We asked these 8 sharks for their opinion…”

Shark montage (a sharktage...?)
Like infographics and guest blogging before it, there are fears in the industry that crowdsourced content – where you ask multiple people to pass on their favourite tip/tool/etc. – may have jumped the shark, in that it has been done-to-death and fallen in quality, making it a less worthwhile content marketing tactic.

I was going to save blogging my thoughts on this until after I talked about CR 25 at BrightonSEO in April, as two of CR 25‘s posts were crowdsourced content (and one of them became one of the campaign’s most popular posts), but following Peep Laja’s tweet stating that if a “list has more than 5 items, it’s shitty curation,” plus the fact that: a) a lot of the replies he received agreed with him, and b) crowdsourced content in particular often contain tens or dozens of participants (or ‘items’), I wanted to give my thoughts…

Crowdsourced content is popular because it’s pure ego-baiting – people love to be asked their opinion on something. And by doing so, they’re likely to share it via social media. Oh and the more people you ask, the more content you get, resulting in a lengthy blog post in the 1,000s of words that’s likely to hit the long-tail like crazy. So if you ask 50 people to contribute to a post, you have 50 potential tweeters at the ready and a long blog post on your hands.

The ‘SEO echo chamber’ strikes again…

The problem with crowdsourced content is that it has been done-to-death… in the SEO/content marketing industry. I won’t link to any real-life examples as I don’t want to come across as a hater, plus I’m genuinely grateful when I’ve been given the opportunity to contribute to them myself (e.g. I recently shared my biggest link building success story of 2014 – and hell, I even did one myself a couple of years ago!), but things tend to get a little overboard when 15 SEOs are asked for their favourite link building tip, or 43 SEOs are asked for their favourite SEO software tool, or 161 SEOs are asked their favourite colour…

But do you know the trick that we’ve been missing, which I didn’t even realise until recently, which may completely change your view on crowdsourced content? Stop asking your peers and start asking your clients/customers.

Why asking clients/customers is the way forward

I don’t think I’ve seen a single SEO agency create a crowdsourced post asking for contributions from in-house Heads of SEO/Digital in particular for their contribution…

“In-house SEOs: what do you look for in an SEO agency?”
“In-house SEOs: what drives you crazy about working with SEO agencies?”
“In-house SEOs: what’s the one thing that keeps you up at night?”

The beauty here is that you’re not only getting free content created for you and potentially promoted for you (if the participants tweet about it once it’s published), but you’re getting onto your prospective clients’/customers’ radar. At the very least: they contribute, you create content based on their free contribution and that’s it. But now they know about you and your agency. What if they’re looking for a new agency when you happen to approach them? It’s basically a sneaky way to get in front of their faces without pestering them in other ways (e.g. cold-calling or hounding them over Twitter).

A crowdsourced content case study – from free content to a new client

This happened with one of our two crowdsoured posts for CR 25. We asked 8 South Wales-based IT employees (developers, engineers, consultants, etc.) what they look for in an employer, but we also asked 16 South Wales-based IT employers – from big companies with dedicated IT teams to small startups – what they look for in an employee.

CR 25 What Do You Look For In An Employee? example screenshot
For the latter in particular, we targeted a mix of current clients and prospective clients – the latter being people that Computer Recruiter would love to recruit for. Some of them were companies and startups that I knew personally but CR didn’t, so I leaned on my network a bit – which meant that I already had the relationship with them to ask them, too.

LEGO Doctor Who imageFunnily enough, when we approached one of the companies, their CTO said: “thanks for asking me to contribute… oh by the way, I’m actually after a PHP developer at the moment.” Booyah. Subsequently this company came on-board as a new client for CR. Now bearing in mind that the post didn’t go live until January 2015 but we asked him to contribute back in October 2014 and they became a client in the same month, I think this might be one of the only times I’ve ever known a marketing campaign to prove ROI before it’d even launched. Try to get your head around that… don’t worry – it hurt my head, too.

So much better than simply asking other recruiters (some of whom might’ve been their direct competitors) to contribute to a post instead.

Summarising longer posts

Another thing that worked well for the CR 25 posts is that we summarised what everyone said at the end of the posts.

CR 25 What Do You Look For In An Employee? summary screenshot
This made things a lot more interesting than simply dumping each contribution on the page and calling it a day – by taking the time to read through each contribution and tallying up the responses, we found out some interesting things…

Firstly, employers favour attitude over technical skill. Can you believe that? They’d much rather hire someone with no experience (but can be trained) and who has the right attitude, than someone who’s experienced but got a bee up their bonnet. I really, really wanted to pass this info on to an angry commenter who ranted at one of our guest bloggers saying: “I have a lot of experience, but apparently that counts against me” – no, your attitude is probably what’s working against you, mate…

Secondly, the most important thing for employees is knowing that they’re valued and that their ideas are listened to and considered. Out of our 8 respondents for that post, only one of them mentioned salary – and rather than saying “I want to be rich,” he mentioned it in the context that he wanted to support his family.

Tom Buckland’s recent post – asking SEOs for their top 3 industry peers – is another great example of this. Instead of simply putting down everyone’s contributions, he tallied up the most popular and ranked them, showing everyone with 2+ votes in an infographic. So if you’ve got a lot of responses, consider summarising the findings – you might be surprised at what you find out.

No shark-jumping today, folks…

So there we have it. No, crowdsourced content hasn’t jumped the shark – outside of the SEO industry at least. In other industries, I’d wager that it’s only just the beginning. So don’t give up on crowdsourced content just yet. In fact, embrace it. I think it has a lot of potential – so long as you ask the right people and present it in the right way.

[Image credits – SHARKS! (in no particular order): 1, 2, 3 (travelbag.co.uk), 4, 5, 6, 7, 8; LEGO Doctor Who: Brian Neudorff]


  • Cory Collins

    February 4, 2015 at 5:17 pm Reply

    Hey Steve,

    Enjoyed the post, and I really appreciated the story you submitted to this year’s link building success stories roundup. It was legitimately one of my favorites.

    This post is in fact very timely (at least for me and my colleagues) since we’ve just finished compiling and launching that post. I want to share a bit of the conversation we had about this same subject, since we just completed a large roundup.

    First, I want to say we were all aware of a prevailing attitude throughout the SEO industry that a roundup including ~50ish people = poor curation, link bait, ego bait, etc. etc.

    And to an extent we all agreed with that, to varying degrees. Not every story within the 2014 stories are the best ever, are going to change lives, or will even help readers.

    So why didn’t we cut them?

    1) We’re trying to build a community.

    We want to invite everyone to participate. We wanted everyone who wanted a chance to be involved. That’s what’s great about large roundups – it’s not just the talking heads of SEO (or x industry), it’s everyone we can reasonably get to contribute. Everyone has the same chance to be involved and share their story.

    2) They were someone’s story.

    We were pretty deliberate in how we asked for stories. We gave extremely limited guidance outside of “tell us your story, in however many words it takes.” Perhaps it’s my old journalism training coming to light, but I don’t think you should alter someone else’s story lightly. Could I have made them better with a little editorial discretion? Sure, without a doubt. But it’s a slippery slope, and I’d rather cut than have to rewrite/edit/change people’s stories. Which leads us to our next point.

    3) It’s a snapshot of the industry.

    I love larger roundups because it shows who’s who in an industry, and their opinions. Having a post that helps you understand an industry is valuable in its own right. Cutting certain contributions would have changed that fundamentally.

    4) We do pretty much a single roundup a year.

    We know roundups can get tedious and lose meaning if people half halfheartedly contribute. That’s why we try to stick to only one per year.

    So this blog comment is getting a bit long, but I wanted to drop by and say thanks again and share some of our own internal discussion about why we chose to do a large roundup rather than an extremely well-curated roundup.

    I think SEOs can get a little jaded at times. We have some great communities, but we tend to have certain camps to which we belong and various camps don’t always intermingle. And honestly? I personally would prefer to see a large roundup over ~15 authorities/people who associate with one camp versus another sharing similar opinions.

    Thanks again, and sorry to write a blog post under your blog post. Really appreciated you taking the time to share your story with us and enjoyed reading this post.


    • Steve

      February 4, 2015 at 5:29 pm Reply

      Hi Cory. Whoa… I appreciate the lenghty reply! Why’d you waste it as a comment here eh? Would’ve made a great standalone blog post… 😉

      I just want to point out that I didn’t use your post as an example to single you out or to pick on you – I just wanted to give a recent example of a case where I’d contributed to a crowdsourced post and yours was the most recent one.

      I actually took the time to read a number of the responses (I didn’t have time to read all of them… but I have it bookmarked to read through it again) and I found it all really useful. “All killer, no filler” – as they say. The fact that they’re personal stories especially is a really good idea – another one of CR 25’s most popular posts was someone’s personal story. In your case, the content is solid – and when that happens, you can’t go too far wrong. 🙂

      • Cory Collins

        February 4, 2015 at 5:36 pm Reply

        Hey Steve,

        Thanks for the kind words. Maybe a standalone blog post is in order!

        I didn’t think you were picking on us by any means. I think we’ve been talking about it internally so much that I was just sort of boiling over at this point. Sorry to rant in your comments section 🙂

        To be honest, I was also a little disappointed this year on how many people chose not to contribute because they didn’t want to participate in roundups anymore. Totally respect their opinion, but I’d hate to see all roundups die just cause they’ve been abused before.

        Anyways, thanks again for contributing Steve, really loved your story. Keep up the great work!


        • Steve

          February 5, 2015 at 7:02 am Reply

          Really? That’s really disappointing. I’m really surprised by that. I’m sorry to hear it. It’s a shame – like you say, I hope that roundup-style posts don’t die because of it.

  • Tom

    February 5, 2015 at 10:12 am Reply

    Cheers for link Steve.

    I know I was surprised with the results, Dr Pete, someone who came through I hadn’t actually heard of before. Now I’m a twitter fan and keep up to date with him. If I hadn’t have done the research I might have never known him.


    • Steve

      February 5, 2015 at 10:16 am Reply

      You’d never heard of Dr Pete before?! OMG… The dude is legendary, haha! 😛

  • Vicki

    February 8, 2015 at 3:16 am Reply

    I think jumping the shark has jumped the shark…

    In all seriousness though, I think the novelty has worn off, but I believe that harnessing the wisdom of the crowd is still a valuable resource!

  • Matt LaClear

    February 21, 2015 at 11:47 pm Reply

    I’ve been thinking a lot about the growing challenge of crowdsourced content and how it might be missing the true mark as you mentioned: the customer. Your approach means there will be free content on the “dinner table” and that you’ll be placed on a prospective client’s radar for asking the right questions at the right time. Is there a concern that prospective customers will become “suspect” if the practice becomes too widespread? Or is finding new paths to the marketplace just par for the course? Great post!

  • Marisa Lee

    May 13, 2015 at 8:00 am Reply

    Interesting read! IMO, crowdsourcing content is the web 2.0, ADHD-version of writing your college thesis. You just don’t quote folks verbatim and leave their words up in the air. You have to tie them together, highlight trends based on the responses, create a tl;dr version of it… basically, we need the original poster to PROCESS it. Otherwise, it’s just lazy writing all around.

    • Steve

      May 13, 2015 at 8:21 am Reply

      Haha, fantastic comment, Marisa! You’re exactly right. I’m not a big fan of when people dump response after response after response and that’s it. It has to actually be useful to people reading it – otherwise it’s just pointless egobaiting (i.e. hoping that the respondents will all share it/link to it).

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