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Friday, September 08, 2006

Do you feel lucky, punk? Rolling the dice on a content contest...Interesting route to UGC...

Just the other day, I wrote a post about user-generated content and the impact it could have on professional content providers and freelance writers (see: "Why hire talent..."). I concluded that user-generated content (UGC) made a great deal of sense as a component to many websites, but that there would always be a place for high quality, professionally written material.

Today, I ran across an article titled "How to Get People to Write Content for You" that proposed a few different ways by which webmasters could get professionals to write original articles without having to pay much, if anything.

Some of the techniques are ones with which most professional content writers are already familiar--things like trading links and exposure for content and pay-per-click advertising revenue sharing. I won't be discussing those options in this post, but will be concentrating on one of the other recommended means of turning paid writers into free sources of UGC--a contest.

The article lays out the idea:

"Chances are writers want money. Even offering $5 might be enough to entice some to write an article. However, you'll probably get more and better articles by offering someone the chance to win $250. Consider a contest. Offer the winner a $250 gift certificate. Let them know winning is dependent on the quality of the submission. People will put far more effort into something where there's a chance of winning $250 (especially if it's based on merit) than on getting $5. In return for this $250 prize, you may receive 100 articles you can use on your site indefinitely. 100 pages of quality content at $2.50 a page. Not bad considering there are Google Adsense topics where you can make that much with a single click. If you have a popular site, or promote your contest well, you may get 500 entries. Or 1000."

The fiction world has been a contest magnet for years. Would be poets and fiction writers have even ponied up entry fees in hopes of becoming a "grand prize winner." The contest world has a lot of critics in those genres and there have been several cases of seemingly fraudulent merit-based contests.

It's interesting that I haven't seen the model gain as much steam with respect to online non-fiction materials.

There are some good reasons to be wary, as a writer, of entering a content contest.

If you don't know the person running the show, you have no idea of whether the game is "rigged" or not. The webmaster may have already promised the prize to his neighbor or friend (who will then kick it back). The contest manager may not even get that squirrelly. He or she might just claim to have dispersed the goodies while actually keeping all the dough.

The statistical odds aren't in your favor. If there are 1,000 entries and you represent just one of the 1,000, that isn't the world's best bet. I know that wouldn't dissuade the kind of people who plunk down cash for lottery tickets, but it should be a reason not to play if you think you can sell your content elsewhere for a reasonable sum.

Thinking about the subjective nature of content quality should knock some sense into those who are certain they have a great chance to win because their work is so darn good. If you are thinking, "I'd bite. It won't be 1,000 to 1 against me because I know I produce such great material. I have a serious shot at winning," you might want to think again. Quality might win out in the bigger picture, but individual assessments of writing can vary tremendously.

So, would you roll the dice? As you can probably guess, I wouldn't. The only exception would be a circumstance in which I had already sold a piece with non-exclusive rights and the contest was accepting previously-published materials. The primary rationale for running a content contest, however, would be the acquisition of original material. As such, I doubt we'll ever see too many content contests with terms like that.

However, if enough people tell me that they would be interested in joining a content contest, I have an idea.

I can pick a relatively hot topic and request 500 word articles on that subject along with full and unique rights to the material. I will keep the contest open until I have 500 entries. Then, I will pay the winner a whopping some of $1,000. I will use a panel of three paid experts to judge the entries.

Then, I will sell all of the articles at at an average of $5 each to Associated Content, pay each of my judges $200, pay out a grand to the winner, and pocket the difference. I make $900 just for announcing and publicizing the Content Done Better Content Challenge.

See what I'm getting at?

If you don't, I might have a future in the contest business ahead of me...

Have a great weekend!

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