If you were planning a camping trip and wanted to get advice about the best kind of outdoor gear to bring, would you rather ask just one friend or a large number of friends for their thoughts? Maybe you have that one buddy who’s the ultimate camping guru, but in general, people like hearing the wisdom of multiple people in order to get a better overall answer to their original question.
This phenomenon is called the wisdom of the crowd, and it has become a prevalent element of many social media sites. The basic idea is that while there may be some inaccuracies or superfluous information when you listen to the voices of many people, a large enough sampling will cancel out the extraneous noise and come up with a fairly accurate unified voice. Think about a site like Wikipedia—anybody can edit their pages, but because so many people police the site, incorrect information tends to be corrected quickly and the information on the site tends to be reliable.
So how does this work with social media sites, and how can you harness wisdom of the crowds sites to promote your business?
What Wisdom of the Crowds Sites Are About
One of the major reasons print journalism has been suffering for the last decade is because the Internet makes for a fast news cycle, and it’s hard for a small staff of journalists at a brick-and-mortar location to keep up. It can even be difficult for online newspapers to keep up if they don’t have a huge staff—which is where the wisdom of the crowds comes into play.
A number of popular sites, like Reddit and Digg, allow their users to share stories and vote on posts so that the news and web content that’s most important (or entertaining) to an Internet audience rises to the surface. Some sites, like Newsvine and Mahalo, even let users create the original content that makes up their pages. All wisdom of the crowds sites give their users a highly interactive experience—users become a voice in the newsroom rather than just a passive observer.
What Businesses Can They Benefit?
Wisdom of the crowds sites are largely overlooked by marketers in favor of social media behemoths like Facebook and Twitter. That’s too bad, considering that crowds sites offer businesses the opportunity to connect with a niche market that’s in a good position to help them grow their brand. Crowds sites like Reddit are particularly popular with a younger, tech-savvy audience. These are the people who tend to adopt new trends and products first, inspiring others to adopt trends as well.
If your business targets a younger, computer-savvy audience and you have products that photograph well or could be turned into interesting discussion points, you may benefit from interacting with other users on crowds sites. Some subjects that do particularly well on these sites include:
- Video games
Best Practices/How to Use These Sites
The most important thing to remember about wisdom of the crowds sites is that they’re not your typical advertising platform. The users of these sites don’t want to be talked at, and if you try to post a blatant advertisement, you’re likely to get torn apart in the comments—or your content will be removed completely. To get the best results on crowds sites, keep these best practices in mind.
Be part of the conversation. This is a point that I always make when I write about using any social media sites for marketing, and it bears repeating here. Your target audience will be more receptive to your message if they feel like they are a part of it. Engage with site users by posing questions and adding comments to the links and photos that others share.
Focus on content—not just one product. Let’s say you have a bike shop but all you ever post on crowds sites are photos of bikes that you have in your shop. That might be useful for a few people, but most users will quickly lose interest. But if you instead posted links to articles like “Best Biking Trails in the US” or “New Year’s Cycling Resolutions,” you’ll gain a wider audience and encourage more people to learn about your business.
Think about what kind of information your audience wants. Many wisdom of the crowds sites are based on the premise that if a bunch of people have a query, a bunch of other people can come together to provide a good answer. If you own a business and are an expert in your particular field, these sites offer a great platform for you to share some of your expertise. Reddit even lets users collaborate on AMA (ask me anything) interviews, where a bunch of users pose questions to an expert or person who works in an interesting field. By becoming a trusted voice in your field, you’ll help familiarize site leaders with your business.
Find out what topics are trending. Crowds sites aren’t only useful for posting links and writing comments. Most major crowds sites will let you track particular tags or search terms so that you can see what other people are talking about. For example, if you run a discount video game website, you might want to track video game tags so that you can see what particular products Internet users are talking about.
Individual Social Networks in This Category
Newsvine. Newsvine states that its mission is to “galvanize people around the news,” and it’s essentially an online newspaper that anyone can write for, share links with, and comment on. The site also posts syndicated news stories and highlights their most popular contributors as “Featured Writers,” allowing it to become a respected news source.
Digg. This news aggregator focuses specifically on an Internet audience, and as a result they tend to place an emphasis on technology, science, politics, and other topics that are trending online. Users can thumb up stories they like, and the format lends itself particularly well to mobile devices.
Mahalo. Mahalo’s goal is to post high-quality answers to common search engine queries by relying on the collective knowledge of site users. They also post a wide range of “How To” articles on everything from formatting a hard drive to dealing with embarrassment.
Reddit. With billions of page views each month, Reddit is one of the most popular wisdom of the crowds sites out there. 6% of all Internet users visit Reddit, but there are more than twice as many men than women using the site. It’s a message board with a minimalist design that allows users to post links and photos in various categories (subreddits) and comment on others’ posts.