Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Is your head in the crowds?

One of the most prevalent buzzwords in the Web 2.0 community is crowdsourcing, the portmanteau of “crowd” and “outsourcing” (seriously, what isn’t a portmanteau these days?), and simply put, it is the act of calling on the masses for help with a project, idea, design or direction. Really, crowdsourcing works for just about anything. While the concept isn’t new, with the rise in popularity of social media (one helluva crowd), its prevalence has soared, and consequently, controversy and speculation has ensued. 

So what are the benefits? Crowdsourcing allows people and businesses to access a gigantic pool of talent and intellect they would not ordinarily be able to reach. You’ve probably heard of “the wisdom of crowds,” the viewpoint that, in many situations, two heads are better than one. In this case, 2 million heads are better than whatever the size your company is. Those heads might have a unique perception, different resources or generally, just a larger collection of opinions. Crowds can serve as focus groups, freelance designers, business consultants and creative teams… and more often than not, with little or no cost associated.

And what’s even better is that anyone can take advantage of the opportunity. And they have. The New York Times recently covered a one-man operation called Trek Light Gear that has used crowdsourcing for product development, product testing, and market research. Peperami, like many forward-thinking brands, has crowdsourced TV commercials to the general public, saving huge amounts in advertising costs. Do you have a weak spot in your business model? Well if you’re on Twitter or other social media platforms, all you have to do is ask – if you have the right people in your network and the right attitude, you’ll probably succeed.

Peperami, in case you weren't familiar.

But there is a downside. Sometimes you DON’T have the right people in your network, and your questions won’t get answered – or worse – they’ll be wrong. Furthermore, if you become one of those people who get sucked into crowdsourcing, you might neglect your real social media relationships and find yourself constantly asking for more, without giving anything in return.

And we’ve all seen those people. Every other question on their Twitter stream is a question asking YOU to help THEM. They’ve become dependant on their followers to give them everything from directions to the nearest pet store to advice on their tax returns, and there’s no incentive to contribute to those sorts of pleas. If you need more players in your court, then give them a reason to participate. Efforts that will allow them to expand their portfolio, gain credibility or even win some kind of prize, turn the arrangement into less of a favor and more of a trade. And always remember, you too are part of the crowd, and it’s your responsibility to the community to contribute as well, not to mention a great way to strengthen relationships.

Basically, crowdsourcing is just one more way to capitalize on the phenomenon that is social media – as long as you keep a few manageable rules in mind. Have you used crowdsourcing in your business? Black Sheep has, and we love it. Share your experiences in the comments below. 

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