“No matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else.”
– Bill Joy, Cofounder, Sun Microsystems
The word Crowdsourcing was coined by Jeff Howe in 2006, a portmanteau of the words ‘crowd’ and ‘outsourcing.’ It is used to describe the phenomenon using group intelligence to solve problems and complete projects. A darling of Web 2.0, more and more companies have jumped on the crowdsourcing bandwagon over the past few years, even federal government agencies with the Federal Communications Commission crowdsourcing ideas on how to improve America’s broadband infrastructure (Tellus Venture Associates).
The benefits of crowdsourcing are immense – not only does the crowdsourcing model has the potential to significantly reduce expenditure in the long term by not having to maintain permanent staff ‘on the bench,’ it also allows companies to engage staff on a per-project basis, thus benefitting from having the people with the exact skills and expertise to fit each particular project.
However, it can be a double-edged sword. The skills and expertise that are so easy (relatively) to capture by assembling a temporary, specialized workforce are also easily lost, and cooperation is often short term. ‘Crowdsourced’ projects also need to be managed carefully – when working with unknown entities, it is vital that they are managed properly to ensure the most positive outcome is reached.
There is also a lack of stability. When job security is still a large concern in today’s economy, and even the most indispensible employee is worried, we are naturally led to ask: is there such as thing as stability anymore? Employees are fast becoming a liability for some corporations. As well as take-home salary, there are taxes, training, insurance costs, and so on, and companies are being forced to consider entirely new ways of working in order to survive, including open source and crowdsourcing models.
Practical Applications and Examples
Crowdsourcing has many benefits in the business world, and not just for companies lacking in resources. It can be used for collective intelligence, voting, creation, and funding (Business Insider). There are a number of examples where large brands and small Startups are using ‘crowdsourced’ models to feature new products, solicit opinions on new features and improvements, and form groups of affinity, or professional social networks.
- The CMO Club, a social professional network of leading top marketers worldwide, is an example of a well-integrated model for collective intelligence, with ideas, research content, and online and off-line conversation leading to the improvement of quality of the marketing discipline. “I was really tired of low quality marketing conferences and ‘vendor-centric’ presentations and decided that leading marketing executives could do better”, stated Pete Krainik, Founder of The CMO Club. “The crowdsourcing of ideas and conversations, leading to action and improvement is what we are all about.”
- Many companies have used voting over the years to determine their next branding direction – whether it’s having consumers vote on a flavour of Mountain Dew or the next Doritos Super Bowl commercial. By involving the masses and tapping into a “group think” consumer mentality, companies build brand engagement, loyalty, and a stronger knowledge of what the consumer actually wants.
- Kickstarter, a crowdsourcing platform, has shown an extremely high success rate through the creation and funding aspects of crowdsourcing. It helps projects mainly within the arts industry (music, gaming, film, etc.) grow, with “more than 3.8 million people” that have pledged “over $568 million, funding more than 39,000 creative projects” since their launch in 2009. Kickstarter funded 10% of the films at Sundance in 2012, and projects all over the world have shown success because of this crowdsourcing option.
- The “Mommy Bloggers” trend has exploded over the past few years as an ideal product promotion platform. These moms blog about their life experiences, usually with other moms as their target audience. They review products, plays, restaurants….basically anything that applies to their everyday life. There are niche mom blogs covering everything from travel and social networking for parents to baby basics and dealing with teenagers. Because of the multitude of mom bloggers, brands can crowdsource from a large community and use this resource to blast product promotions, press, etc. and reach a large audience.
- Our marketing expertise group, Social2B, is an example of the crowdsourcing model on an international scale – with associates and experts based around the world, including the US, UK, as well as Russia and Eastern Europe, we leverage a bank of multilingual, multicultural experts to call upon when needed. This new way of doing business allows even the smallest of companies to harness the power of a large group of specialized talent.
- Another example of a site using crowdsourcing is LinkedIn, which provides fertile ground for thought leadership, member exchange, aggregation of expertise and ideas, and distribution of content, thus ‘crowdsourcing’ content and user feedback.
Crowdsourcing and Communication
Large corporations have always used occasional freelancers; crowdsourcing is merely an extension of this. If properly coordinated and planned with legal and human resources, the crowdsourced environment is a tremendous vehicle for communication – a way to massively increase knowledge, and by extension, the ability innovate and increase production. Yochai Benkler, of Yale University, in his book The Wealth of Networks, sums it up extremely well: “The world is becoming too fast, too complex and too networked for any company to have all the answers inside.”
Social Media and Crowdsourcing are also becoming synonymous. Many ideas, case studies, and even human resources are gathered and distributed using Social Media – from Facebook polls to Twitter contests, Social Media is the perfect platform for crowdsourcing to take place. While crowdsourcing is often used to collect data, it can also be used to accomplish actual work that needs to be done. Twitter is taking advantage of its immense influence by running a crowdsourcing program to translate Twitter into several languages, having users do this work themselves (Prescient Digital Media). Wikipedia is another quintessential example of crowdsourcing, as the users are the ones to post their research, albeit not always accurate, so one must keep in mind that the data may not always be correct when crowdsourcing. Choose which projects to use crowdsourcing for wisely, as some may lend themselves more readily to this method without as much margin for error (i.e. voting campaigns). Ultimately, as long as a project is being monitored and managed correctly, there can be many benefits to crowdsourcing, with a growing community for your company, and the advantage of a distributed workload.