Utilizing Your Audience

Stewart Tongue
Interactivity is a concept that gets tossed around these days the way "extreme" or "radical" did in the past. It means many different things to many people at this point, but to the ones you are about to meet in this article, interactivity is synonymous with success and profitability. They each use a form of interactivity that brings in new business, retains existing customers, gains market penetration — and best of all, "crowdsourcing" involves having someone else do much of the work for you.

On adult sites, interactivity is often confined to elements of page design, things like snazzy looking pull-down menus and pop-up consoles. Recently, many other aspects of quality website creation and management have become far more interactive for surfers and affiliates alike. Crowdsourcing is similar to the idea of outsourcing work to paid contractors, but differs in the way the work is assigned and paid for by the buyer.

Traditionally, if a website owner wanted to get new thumbs made for his website, text for scene descriptions or any other aspect of his site done for him, he would contact a professional and contract them to perform the work at an agreed price. Crowdsourcing changes that dynamic in many different ways.

For example, let's say you own a website with 50 exclusive scenes and wanted to choose the best image from each scene to use as a thumbnail on your tour. Posting a poll question or contest in your members area and asking members to tag their favorite image from a particular scene would get that work done for you, and it would get it done for free. It becomes a way to interactively include the viewpoint of your paying subscribers in the way the site evolves, and a way to avoid paying someone to select thumbs for you. In essence, the work is done cheaper, faster and better because your members don't see it as work; to them, it's part of the entertainment value of the site itself.

As the owner of and, Sam Phillips is one of the few people who has a clear perspective from both the designer's and program owner's points of view.

"When we were ready to launch VideoSecrets, we knew we needed to make it different from all of the other DVD download sites, and we also knew we wanted to have a large text component as part of the project," Phillips told XBIZ. "The idea of asking our members to write their own 'expert reviews' of movies they watched allowed us to greatly expand the text of the site and to help them to feel more included and emotionally invested in the site, which helps with retention. There are some real dangers too, of course, especially with text, because so many words are forbidden by engines and often it's a matter of context, rather than something you can block out with a scripted word filter."

Phillips' point is one that should be heeded: crowdsourcing will never truly replace the need to hire a professional designer, writer, or coder for certain tasks, but it does give site owners another option worth considering if the task is the right kind of fit for the masses. As a rule of thumb, any crowdsourced work needs to be moderated and edited by a professional — but the time and expense of editing bulk work is often far less than the time and expense of creating it from scratch. Prohibited words, libelous or trademark-infringing content and other significant concerns do need to be guarded against, but the energy needed to safely crowdsource a task is often less than what would be needed to do the work yourself.

When considering crowdsourcing, is it possible to have these principles applied to a B2B aspect of your company? While text on a consumer site is seen by search engines, paying customers and visitors, the internal text of an affiliate program for things like gallery descriptions is only seen by paid affiliate webmasters. The idea of having your paying members allowed to enter short text into a gallery text box of a members area page, and then using that same text to generate your own free hosted gallery (FHG) text is one well worth considering.

In many regards, the entire affiliate marketing system is a way of crowdsourcing the promotional part of your business. Affiliate programs have made FHGs and similar content available to webmasters, but often the results are somewhat mixed because the sponsor is counting on the affiliate to create a sellable design using the content provided. If an affiliate grabs clips from your site and posts them on his site in a horrible-looking interface with broken links and your company name in a nice big banner, this actually can do more damage to your brand than the traffic is worth, because surfers start to associate his junky site with your brand name.

Recently, completely redesigned their entire affiliate system interface. Along with improvements to their data tracking and backend, they also created what they call their "Video Wall" promotional tool.

"It's a new way to display multiple Flash-embedded movies that each interactively begin to play during mouse-over and allow surfers to click through to any one of thousands of niche specific pages," said Clement, the owner of VideosZ.

Crowdsourcing impacts the product in two important ways. As Clement explained, "We tested it out extensively in beta, and what makes it so effective is two things: First, it requires direct choice through interaction from the surfer in order for the Wall to come alive. Second it allows a tremendous amount of creativity on the part of our affiliates when creating their own unique Video Wall with a series of simple drag-and-drop-type interface selections."

Each webmaster is able to select the size of their Video Wall, the interface appearance of the Wall itself, each movie to be displayed within it, specific click-through destinations and a slew of other well-crafted options that make it a seamlessly embedded and unique promotional tool. However, for VideosZ's benefit, all of those selections are made by webmasters from a preset list of choices.

Another increasingly common form of crowdsourcing is the idea of creating a white-label version of an entire site so that affiliates can re-brand the content as their own. One of the leaders in this area is video-on-demand marketer

"We allow our webmasters to create their own version in the webmaster affiliate area, and it can be done literally in minutes," said Kristin Wynters, Marketing & Sales Coordinator of Yappo. "When they create the white label, they have to upload their header or logo."

Because of the way Yappo uses its enormous database of user data, they are able to leverage countless hours of their own members' manpower to the benefit of their affiliates.

"We have an extensive backend system which tells us the ratings that users give and how often," Wynters said. "Based on this information, we are able to display our top movies and studios on Yappo, but more importantly, we also are able to make promotional materials, including galleries, banners, and custom white labels for our affiliates that are more focused and better targeted to convert their traffic."