Crowdsourcing is the process of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people, and especially from an online community, rather than from traditional employees or suppliers. Toy giant Lego, for example, encourages its vast fan base to pitch new product ideas through an online platform, while Procter & Gamble has used external “innovation tournaments” to find new ways of cutting corporate energy waste.
In fact, the power of the crowd now shapes many business decisions, as businesses cannot afford to ignore the underlying sentiments from these social interactions. Businesses need to accept this fact and embrace crowdsourcing as a viable research and business practice. Here are some tips on how businesses, can use crowdsourcing to their advantage.
1. Create a forum to connect
There are many crowdsourcing sites like Kickstarter.com and Indiegogo.com that allow fans to give financial support in exchange for incentives, so people can complete their projects. There are many other businesses that incorporate the idea of getting input from the masses through this kind of forums into their business model.
Businesses could work together with their “crowd” to develop a forum where they can discuss ideas and share content. Biologists at the University of Washington used crowds of external contributors to map the structure of an AIDS-related virus that had stumped academic and industry experts for more than 15 years. This not only helps business gauge the engagement of their larger target audience firsthand, but it also allows them to create a shadow workforce who help in shaping business decisions.
2. Make Social Media your friend
Business firms can tap into the crowd using social media channels to seek feedback on their offerings and generate ideas for new products or services. Threadless is a Chicago-based organization that sells graphic t-shirts which are designed and voted upon by members of an online social media (facebook, twitter) community. Those who submit winning designs are rewarded a prize valued at $2,500, and the design is then printed and made available for purchase. In fact, even without actively reaching out to the crowd, listening to what the crowd says about the company and its products on social channels could provide even more insight on how to offer better products, how to serve customers better and how to differentiate themselves from competitors.
3. Let the community be your workforce
A big reason for the success of open-source scripting languages like PHP is the strong community of enthusiasts who are a part of popular forums, contribute to product improvements and help others troubleshoot. It’s all about the community. There is no reason why businesses cannot emulate this model to develop a strong community of enthusiasts that centers around their products.
“Crowdsourcing is a call-out to the world to come up with ideas,” said Stephen Benson, global vice president of co-creation at market research and technology firm Vision Critical. Vision Critical takes a monitored “co-creation” approach to idea submission. The company recently released a service called IdeaHub, which allows businesses with an innovation challenge to receive high-quality insights that have been vetted and evaluated by members of its community.
4. Incentivize Crowdsourcing Efforts
Organizations that tap into crowdsourcing need to understand what motivates people to work together. While it is obvious that the “crowd” does not get paid, the organization needs to offer some kind of incentive. This can assume many forms, from hosting webinars and summits, social media shout-outs and other public recognition, and even good old swag. Just make sure that contributors are recognized so they can clearly see their value. “The power of the crowd is the ability to draw from the collective memory, expertise and experience of many people at the same time,” said Jessica Greenwalt, founding member and lead designer of crowdsourced medical diagnosis platform, CrowdMed. CrowdMed, a company where patients with difficult-to-diagnose ailments post their symptoms online, offering cash rewards to people in exchange for correct assessments.