When Jeff Howe used the term crowdsourcing for the first time in his 2006 article for Wired magazine, he did so wanting to describe a phenomenon that already existed. This fact is more interesting than the very topic we will be covering in this text, exactly because people, as the final destination we are communicating with, often create new activity patterns so quickly that we are forced to react to them retroactively, when they are widespread in everyday life, and even become trends.
While carefully explaining the crowdsourcing phenomenon, Howe uses numerous examples including the visit to the New York underground event where he talked to amateur photographers who put up their work on then relatively new iStock platform, making commissions that can by no means be considered amateurish. This is not surprising, because technology has progressed so much that now almost everyone can afford high-quality cameras, and the ability to promote one’s work is no longer an obstacle, thanks to the internet. Hobbyists, people who use their free time to do activities that are not their core business activities, become a significant creative force which could outperform individuals, experts and even companies and institutions, based on its output. The procedure in which we entrust them with a certain problem, in order to put their collective creativity to use and get measurable results in return, is crowdsourcing.
However, in order to shed additional light on this phenomenon, instead of jumping straight into listing all the things crowdsourcing is, maybe it would be more useful if we first say what it is not. Crowdsourcing is not an easier path to a goal, nor is it a shortcut which can be used to get results from an unknown person. It is not something we can trust without reservation or apply in every situation. Still, we cannot ignore it either, and here’s why.
No matter the nature and the development stage of our project, product, service or idea, we inevitably communicate with numerous publics, trying to find a clearly segmented market niche where we will find our spot and take our desired position. In order for the contact with the market to be successful, we first need to understand it, and take into account all the specific characteristics that primarily reflect the preferences of people. This is why crowdsourcing, as the reflection of synergy of their different knowledge, experiences and standpoints, can lead to better understanding, and through that, better communication strategies and answers to their needs.
Having this in mind, we can talk about four ways crowdsourcing manifests itself: crowd wisdom, crowd creation, crowd voting and crowdfunding. These are not final and they can be combined depending on our needs, and help us create approaches that will have better chance of succeeding in the final expression.
It is very interesting that crowd creation was applied even by companies which entrusted the masses with creating video commercials which were aired during the finale of the famous Super Bowl. However, it is important to note that creative expression in this case should not be viewed exclusively as the final version, but as the possibility to acquire input on which to base the approach of the professionals.
Additionally, the different approaches in which we ask a large number of individuals to offer their opinion on a certain idea, concept or product can be very valuable, especially when we need to reach the audiences whose opinion is important to us. If this practice is carried out continuously, multiple benefits occur, because we constantly succeed in adapting to the preferences of relevant groups. That is why it is not surprising that Google, as the number one search engine, bases its searches on this principle. We should also remember the whole order-based industry, where companies only include products which the masses have recognized and selected as the favorites. Crowdfunding is probably the most discussed approach, because it involves funding of ideas, projects and products by those who recognize value in them and wish to help them in their development phase, even before they enter the market. It is significant not only because it can help with raising the funds, but also because of the fact that it establishes the first contact with potential users and builds a community which will continue to support us even after the completion of the campaign.
Of course, it is necessary to plan and create a creative approach which will allow us to find the right participants, and to motivate and gather them in a place where crowdsourcing will happen. Popular social media can represent adequate channels where a carefully designed crowdsourcing campaign can be used to reach out to the users and have interactions which are far more productive than classic contests or announcements. A web page with traffic can easily become a crowdsourcing platform which will develop deeper connections with its users. There are many example and we cannot talk about a universal approach, but if we recognize the potential and assess that we wish to move in this direction, the results are almost always proportional to the invested effort. That is why crowdsourcing is a constant search for ways to unleash the full potential of the crowd and turn collective energy into results which produce multiple benefits.