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How are you involving customers to shape your content and propositions?

Author's avatar By Dave Chaffey 01 Dec, 2010
Essential Essential topic

Applying the crowdsourcing approach to improve content quality

I've written before about I like the forward-thinking approach to involving customers used by Penguin in Spinebreakers, a new site created separate from the main Penguin domain to engage teenagers.I think it's a great example of the power of digital channels to target a new audience, involve and engage them in novel ways through web, email and mobile.

In this post I'll pick out some of the success factors as I see them which I think apply to all social media and content strategy initiatives


What is crowdsourcing?

In my Digital marketing books I define crowdsourcing as:

"Utilising a network of customers or other partners to gain insights for new product or process innovations and to potentially help promote a brand".

This shows how crowdsourcing can combine insight and learning with promotion of products.

Here are the 8 success factors for a new content initiative that I took from this case study.

1. Do the customer research

As you would expect with a major initiative, Penguin commissioned research to inform their strategy and surveyed trends in teen reading habits. The research showed that:

  • Three out of four teenagers get their information about books online.
  • Seventy-five per cent wish there were more information available for them on the Internet.
  • Almost half of the teens surveyed hardly ever visit a chain bookshop.
  • Seventy per cent of participants never visit an independent bookshop.
  • Seventy per cent of participants think they"€™ll be doing even more reading online in the future.

There are many online customer focus group tools now like Ideascale and Uservoice that can help facilitate learning within a controlled environment.

2. Link the initiative to your business goals

The business benefits of a project like this are illustrated well by the 5S goals of digital marketing. The ultimate aim is to influence sale of new books, but because involving the audience is the main aim, there is a relatively soft-sell with limited links back to the Penguin catalogue site.

3. Define the proposition carefully

For Spinebreakers the range of features forming the online value proposition to engage the audience seem to have been well thought through and are communicated well on the site:

4. Involve the audience in shaping the proposition

To ensure that the site remained aligned with its target audience at every step of the development,  focus groups tested prototype designs and functionality to update the implementation.Rafferty explains

"During the website development Penguin recruited hundreds of teenagers from every area and background for focus groups and usability testing. The teenagers made every decision, choosing the URL and the nature of the brand themselves. "€œWe decided not to make any assumptions. The site is now run by three tiers of teenagers, or "€œcrews"€ as they elected to be called, who have varying levels of control over the site".

5. Use a range of media

Although text is the main media since the editors blog about their favourite books, the editors also tap into a wider network of contributors to upload content, including video review and audio clips.

6. Encourage interaction

As you'd imagine, The site has ratings, polls and forums throughout the site encouraging visitors to contribute through a variety of channels and media.

7. Define a sound content update workflow

To keep the content quality high and keep it fresh is always a challenge, but particularly so with a crowdsourced site like this.

"The core crew of 12 teenagers write all of the website copy and come into the Penguin offices every month to discuss strategy; the second crew of 70 deputy editors are based all over the country and have back"€‘end access to the site; while the third tier consists of the hundreds of teenaged bloggers who participate on the site".

8. Make content creation and editing really easy

We still talk with many marketers who are frustrated that they don't have a content management system to make posting as editing easy. It should be as easy as blogging. Penguin used Sharepoint to enable easy editing and upload of different media types.

I hope this can act as a simple checklist. Let us know what you think!


An Interview with Anna Rafferty, Managing Director of the Digital Division at Penguin Books in the Marketer and Details of implementation on Sharepoint/Moss.

Author's avatar

By Dave Chaffey

Digital strategist Dr Dave Chaffey is co-founder and Content Director of online marketing training platform and publisher Smart Insights. Dave is editor of the 100+ templates, ebooks and courses in the digital marketing resource library created by our team of 25+ digital marketing experts. Our resources are used by our Premium members in more than 100 countries to Plan, Manage and Optimize their digital marketing. Free members can access our free sample templates here. Dave is a keynote speaker, trainer and consultant who is author of 5 bestselling books on digital marketing including Digital Marketing Excellence and Digital Marketing: Strategy, Implementation and Practice. My personal site,, lists my latest Digital marketing and E-commerce books and support materials including a digital marketing glossary. In 2004 he was recognised by the Chartered Institute of Marketing as one of 50 marketing ‘gurus’ worldwide who have helped shape the future of marketing. Please connect on LinkedIn to receive updates or ask me a question.

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