Monday, February 15, 2010

Twitter Crowdsourcing

Many people contribute to one cause or piece of content. It’s as simple as that but it’s not simple as all. Even using such a simple tool like Twitter which seems to be perfectly suited for the quick crowd sourcing project without further ado crowd sourcing requires a certain kind of magic.

How do you motivate people you often barely know to participate in writing a blog post?

You could argue that in the SEO industry it shouldn’t be that difficult as everybody seeks publicity, attention and links here. Surprisingly the drive for attention seems not to be enough. People are busy as most SEO professionals have tight schedules. So only from time to time you can get a response that deserves to be called “crowd sourcing”. After all there is no crowd sourcing without a crowd. Two or three tweets are not enough to speak of crowd sourcing if you ask me.

My recent SEO FAQ post was quite successful at enticing a response.

Many people have contributed. Some of them haven’t conversed with me much in the past. So the motivation must have been beyond “I like him, so let’s help him”.

Before I tell you how to use Twitter for crowd sourcing I want to clarify why we should do it.

* Why bother?
* Do we need crowd sourced posts at all?
* Why use Twitter for that purpose?

Crowd sourcing is not only fun and strengthens your social ties it makes sense in order to promote your work. People care much more for a post they’ve contributed to than a random post by someone else. Also the attention span on Twitter is minuscule. normally a few minutes after you tweet your new post it vanishes already from people’s timeliness. In contrast you can inform your contributors about the post being published directly addressing them. On Twitter with an @mention.

You could argue that Twitter is not the best medium to crowd source in the first place due to its “only 15 minutes of fame” nature, crowd sourcing should be done via email and more advanced tools instead. That’s true to some extent but it takes much longer and much more effort to crowd source without Twitter. So at the end of the day you have to decide whether you want to spend hours or days on a post. Twitter allows you to crowd source both much faster and in a less time consuming manner.

OK, so how did I inspire my followers this time to contribute? Why didn’t they do it each time in the past just for the sake of the links and mentions?

There many a few reasons for the recent “change of mind”. You have to:

find a common cause
Just creating another SEO FAQ isn’t really interesting for most people in the industry. It’s a rather boring task. Also I wasn’t eager to write another SEO FAQ. Accidentally I’ve noticed a SEO bashing post that ranks for SEO FAQ and that motivated me, the others and even Danny Sullivan before us to debunk it and to outrank it. We’ve seen plenty of SEO bashing in the recent years and most SEO practitioners can’t do very much about it. Almost everybody gets annoyed or even downright angry by those ignorant SEO bashing but you can’t counter them by writing replies as you only add to the publicity the fake pundits seek. So most people ignore it while others add attention to the SEO bashing link baits in order not to ignore it. Here we have the option to fight that crap without actually giving it more attention than it deserves outside the industry.
The goal is to outrank the fake SEO FAQ and to spread the basic SEO wisdom via Google and other channels.

ask a broad question
I often ask questions on Twitter. Ofter there are too specific or to research intensive. This time I asked people to provide tidbits from their daily practice that they remember out of the top of the head. They didn’t have to search for answers or to peruse their bookmarks. They just had to remember their own experiences and to add them. It was more like a brainstorming.

add some humor
A common and justifies reaction to SEO bashing is being at least irritated. While at the same time the people who spread the lies and misconceptions about our industry are not worth it. They will never get it. They don’t want to. We have to win over the people who they reach. These people are often wary of SEO just for the boring theory of it. SEO is hard work and it has no glamor like web design or even a subculture web development and programming aka gawkiness. Humor is the perfect ingredient for the otherwise boring SEO topic. With humor you can overcome some of these barriers and make people otherwise oblivious of the topic listen. We had a lot of fun compiling the SEO FAQ questions and answers because most of them were in a way humorous by themselves. The informal way we communicate on Twitter made it easy to be laid back about these Q&A.

strike a cord
Probably one of the main reason for the latest crowd sourcing success was that I was able to strike a chord. Most SEO practitioners are subject to very common, almost annoying questions. Some questions get asked with an astounding frequency and lack of understanding of SEO. this way the humor and common cause of the topic got bundled be the common experience of getting asked the same questions over and over and having the explain the same issues each time anew. Thus some questions are almost running gags by themselves.

give before you take and then give again
I’ve promised links for contributions for at least 12 months by now. This time I did again. While it was not a reason by itself some people contributed also to get a link. There’s nothing wrong with some healthy selfishness. Then I offered even more. I shared the content. This time I offered other blogger, SEOs and publishers to take half of the list, the questions to be exact and to republish those providing their own answers. While giving away content is quite popular these days due to the Creative Commons alternative copyright movement it’s rare in the SEO industry due to duplicate content issues. We have overcome that just by sharing the questions and no all of it. This way all of the republishes actually remix the post. They have an original afterward and Google doesn’t filter the newer posts for duplicate content.

announce it
Sometimes I haven’t been outspoken enough about the ability to take part in the latest SEO optimist list. I’ve tweeted it once or twice asking a question, then checked the few replies if any and that’s all. This time I’ve tweeted it several times in different time zones long enough before the publication. Also I added a clear call to action and the tweets have been re-tweeted by Kevin Gibbons and the official @seoptimise Twitter account. So we reached enough people to find those wanted to participate.

So you see the magic of Twitter crowd sourcing lies in the way you motivate your peers to work together with you.

Following these steps you should be able inspire your peers as well. In case you really succeed at it make sure to tell me. I might even link those crowd sourced posts a examples here.