I’ve always enjoyed songs written by The Beatles and many of them seem to have themes that speak to issues business owners can relate to. For example, one of my favorites is, “With a Little Help from My Friends.”
When someone asks me to explain crowdsourcing, it’s the tune that comes to mind. That phrase embodies the idea of crowdsourcing for me.
Crowdsourcing as a concept has been around for many years, yet I am still surprised by how many business owners are unfamiliar with it and its potential benefits. The idea is that you can tap into the collective public at-large to complete business related tasks that you would have ordinarily outsourced or done yourself.
The tasks can be completed at a price that is much more affordable than through the traditional methods. It’s mass collaboration enabled by Web 2.0 technologies to accomplish your business goals. A call goes out to the online community of problem solvers, aka the crowd. The crowd submits solutions, evaluates them and recommends the best one.
You then own the best solution to the problem.
From designing online ad campaigns to creating brochures and logos to evaluating new products for market, people outside your company can be an additional resource for you and in return may only want recognition and only occasionally a financial incentive. In many instances, people who participate in providing crowdsourcing solutions and assistance want to build personal or professional reputations, enhance their own portfolio of business, or want the personal satisfaction of helping others.
This all sounds great, right? As with anything else, there is a downside. Crowds are not employees. You can’t control or order them about. They really seek gratification in the form of recognition, validation, freedom and satisfaction. To give that kind of compensation takes time, patience, transparency and honesty.
This could be a significant shift in management style or organizational culture for some firms.
One of the most widely publicized crowdsourcing contests occurred when Netflix put out a call for a better way to recommend movies to subscribers than the software they presently had. The prize was $1,000,000 for the winning team or individual.
Forty-thousand groups from 186 countries competed for the prize which was awarded to BelKor, a group of seven people who worked for 3 years to come up with the solution.
Not all crowdsourcing contests enjoy such notoriety or involve such sums of money. Most are very ordinary and don’t always require monetary payments. For instance, Google Maps or OpenStreetMap relied heavily on crowdsourcing for its data.
If you would like to learn more about crowdsourcing, I recommend visiting http://www.crowdsourcing.org/. You will find many sites with diverse interests.
One of the most interesting topics of late is crowdfunding. This is a method primarily for start-ups seeking help in funding their small businesses.
It allows individuals or groups to invest small amounts in businesses and limit personal risk. The small business accesses capital to start or grow a business.
Current economic conditions have sparked additional interest in crowdsourcing as a way to reduce expenses, leverage talent outside the company walls, and help others build a credible reputation in their field of expertise. It has been one way small businesses have been able to get by with a little help from their friends.
Suzanne Barnett is the District Director for the Southern District of the Georgia Small Business Development Center Network. You may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.