(Courtesy Wattpad)

Wattpad’s Crowdsourced Authorship Is Getting Attention

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Sometimes referred to as the “YouTube for stories,” Wattpad, the 10-year-old Toronto-based digital-literature social-networking app for amateur writers, has helped authors snag book deals with major publishers.

One author, Anna Todd, got a combined seven figures for a book deal with Simon & Schuster and a movie deal with Paramount for “After,” her fan fiction inspired by the boy band One Direction. The 300-chapter story, which muses on One Direction as college students, has been read almost 1.5 billion times on Wattpad.

Wattpad’s secret sauce? Big data. It has a community of more than 40 million people—90 percent of whom are Gen Z and millennials. As its writers add content, readers leave comments on characters, story lines, favorite passages, and even words. Their feedback can often change the course of a story or a character’s development.

That commenting feature may soon offer brands a new tool for their marketing arsenal—but not without some reservation.

Although Chapin Clark, Executive Creative Director, Social Content, R/GA believes that feedback has a role in the creative process, he finds the Wattpad model problematic. “When the focus group and the writers’ room are one, so to speak, that’s lethal to creativity,” he says.

Still, Clark recognizes Wattpad’s potential in enabling brands to get feedback and insight on their audience. “People experience brands differently,” he continues. “Even when lots of people love a brand, they love it for different reasons. They have their own unique stories to tell about their experiences with that brand, so it’s interesting to think about how something like Wattpad could bring that to life in a way social media currently, much less TV or other legacy media, can’t.”

And even though Chapin is less sanguine about Wattpad as a platform for product development, there are other opportunities. “Its real value for marketers is as a source of ideas,” he says.

Kyle Bunch, Managing Director, Social, R/GA sees the brand and marketing possibilities on Wattpad. For one, brands could be collaborators with creatives on the platform.

Wattpad already invites brand partnerships, whether it involves a Wattpad star integrating brands into a story, having brands sponsor writing contests, or creating targeted ads. But a brand, would need to “have game,” in Bunch’s words, if it wanted to get involved.

“I’d look at a brand’s Snapchat and Instagram Stories,” he says. “If they’re good, the brand might be able to produce content on Wattpad. A smarter, more prudent strategy would be to empower creativity on the platform. Amplify it. Give money to make it and celebrate the writers’ work in a TV ad more broadly aimed at the community.”

Bunch envisions one other possibility.

“What if the bigger play is to use [Wattpad] as a commercial production shop?” asks Bunch. “You’ve got a crowdsourced creativity crowd. You come to one of their influencer shops, and they come back to tell you how they’re going to do it. What if YouTubers and Instagrammers are the in-front-of-camera talent and these authors are the new directors and auteurs?”