This article was originally published on The Guardian.

When it comes to storytelling, there’s no question that asking “the crowd” for funds, information or content itself has proven successful in many cases. The GuardianWitness platform has allowed citizens to become important news sources; AirBnB is creating its second crowdsourced video to showcase users’ passion for their cities; and Veronica Mars is on the way to the silver screen with more than $5.7 million fan dollars through Kickstarter.

Inclusive storytelling can be hugely rewarding, but understanding how to hook your audience—and how to walk away with high-quality content—can be just as difficult. With that in mind, here are a few best practices for engaging people in various aspects of storytelling, including funding and content creation.

  • Connect with people on an emotional level. This may sound obvious, but there are countless ways to frame a particular project or issue to people you’re hoping to entice—so make sure to think like a good marketer. For example, Israel Mirsky is the founder of Uncoverage, a crowd-funding platform for investigative journalism, who has decided to focus his message on the issues that are most emotionally accessible to his audience. There’s a compelling business case backing Mirsky’s efforts; namely, there’s no longer any business model to support important but resource-intensive journalism that may bring in fewer advertising dollars than simple, click-worthy headlines. It’s a powerful argument, but it’s not the one Mirsky is taking to potential contributors: “I suspect that talking about the problem with investigative journalism isn’t the right value proposition to bring to the table here. The right one is the one that individuals care about: the people and the issues that matter to them.”

    In a similar vein, a recent study by we at Latitude asked people what they would want in exchange for funding or participating in group storytelling; more people (43%) were interested in ensuring the story had a positive social message than in receiving ownership in the idea, acknowledgment, or special merchandise. (See infographic below.)

  • Cultivate trust through transparency. When asking people to submit content of their own, it’s critical to provide all the necessary context—including how, where, and by whom the content is going to be used. Many potential contributors will already have these questions on their minds, so you’ll appear more trustworthy if you’re forthcoming about this information.

    Once you’ve offered up the instructions, don’t stop there; allow your community to ask questions and run ideas by you. This will demonstrate that you value their time (since they won’t be wasting it creating something off-topic), and you’ll be more likely to end up with submissions that meet your needs.

  • Offer the right balance of incentives. This will vary considerably depending on your project and your community. When asking people to submit creative work, it’s best to balance intrinsic and extrinsic motivational drivers.

    Wil Merritt is the CEO of Zooppa, a platform that enables crowdsourcing and content development between brands and agencies and creative people. For each project, Zooppa distributes a creative brief to its global community of more than 225,000 members. Briefs promise monetary incentives—usually in a contest format—but often attract people who are passionate about the specific topic of the brief. “Even if [a brand] puts up a huge amount of money for a project, people won’t do it if it’s uninteresting to them. There has to be more to it than that,” says Merritt. On the other hand, offering a financial reward demonstrates respect for people’s time. It’s a kind of pre-requisite, even if money isn’t the primary motivator.

  • Impose constraints to rev up creativity. When asking people to perform a task (especially content creation), make sure your instructions are completely clear. While too much clarity seems like it might stifle creativity, that’s not the case. “The tighter the brief, the more creative the work is,” says Merritt. “Creative people like having certain constraints to work within—it really lets their ideas flow.”

    On the other hand, if your objective is to capture a lot of storytelling or to build up a content library, not create one specific deliverable (like a short film or a commercial), then keeping things more open-ended may be the way to go.

Interested to learn more about collaborating with “the crowd”? Latitude’s The Future of Storytelling study focused on the audience’s perspective, asking more than 1100 people around the world how they’d like to participate in storytelling, what they’d be willing to contribute, and what they’d hope to receive in return.


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Infographic by Kadley Gosselin at Latitude.