Making crowdsourcing work. My best practices


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crowdsourcing1a.gifI've been advising several clients on crowdsourcing initiatives recently. Some have been product development efforts, others for marketing campaigns and one even about solving a global crisis. It has been interesting as crowdsourcing stitches together so many facets of social influence marketing. And I believe that in today's world no product or marketing campaign should be launched without some form of crowdsourcing having driven it. With that in mind, I've developed a list of crowdsourcing best practices. Tell me what you think and feel free to add your own to the list. It would only be appropriate.

1. Don't set false expectations with an inspiring promise to your users only to severely limit their involvement or worse still discount their contributions. You'd be surprised how many companies succumb to this mistake. As a result, they end up disenfranchising the participants and making a mockery of their crowdsourcing initiatives. If you're serious about crowdsourcing, you have to be willing to incorporate the ideas from the participants or let them co-develop with you.

2. Be clear in the roles you want the participants to play. These include:
a. Having the participants serve as inspiration for the effort 
b. Encouraging the participants to be the creators and designers 
c. Inviting participants to serve as judges for whatever is created and 
d. Asking them to serve as marketers for the final product 

Which role do you want your participants to play? It can be more than one but you need to be explicit in what they are. Fiat Brazil is clear in what it wants from its users at each stage in the crowdsourced car design process that they launched.

3. Explore non-obvious opportunities for crowd-sourcing. There's a lot more you can do beyond the obvious notions of asking consumers to submit video ads or voting for features. In fact, if you have the courage, you can do more on the crowdsourcing front than you could have imagined. Take those risks. A good example of this is what Mountain Dew did. They asked their participants to help with the drink formula, name the flavors and also identify media properties on which they should run advertisements promoting the new drink.

4. Bring your employees to the forefront of the crowdsourcing initiative. In my book I discuss the importance of developing social voices - people who are authentic, conversational and real talking on behalf of your company. That applies here too. 

Anytime you run a crowd-sourcing initiative, it is important to connect the employees who are normally tasked with the jobs that are being crowdsourced with the participants. This is for three reasons. Firstly, the employees have valuable insights to share and can guide the process to better solutions. Secondly, the employees will be more accepting of the feedback if they are a part of the process start to finish. And thirdly, it'll show the participants that the brand is a more human one with real people trying to solve the very same problems. That will further encourage consumers to participate. Netflix should have done this. 

5. Provide real badges for the participants who's ideas are used. We've gotten accustomed to badges as reward mechanisms. We all yearn for them and showcase our badges everywhere. One important incentive to encourage people to participate in a crowdsourcing initiative is to allow for meaningful badges. For example, with the famous Tahoe crowdsourced advertisements from a few years ago imagine if the advertisements that appeared on TV actually included the names of the people who created the ads. Or with the FIAT example imagine if every engine listed the names of the people who had contributed to its design.

6. Build momentum by making the initiative part crowdsourcing, part education and part competitive game like. Many of us grew up playing lego and to this day are amateur designers and builders. We're also inquisitive people. Tap into that by educating (in fun and light ways) participants about the product that they are designing. And not only provide them with ways to contribute but with ways to share their ideas with each other, participate in game type experiences around the core crowdsourcing initiative and gain points for every idea that's used.

7. Plan for multiple activation and reactivation strategies over the lifespan of the effort. You're asking a lot of your participants with a crowdsourcing effort and if your participants are like me, they may get lazy. Plan to activate and reactivate them many times over. Pepsi with its Refresh Everything effort does this cleverly by asking people to submit new ideas for funding every month and then encouraging them to get others to vote for their ideas. The participants activate others as a result.

8. Allow for multiple levels of participation at every stage. Not everyone is a budding designer or engineer. Some of us want to participate but don't have the skills. Make sure there's room in the initiative for people like us. Levi with its Project Runway Challenge, did this extremely well. Fashion students from around the world competed in the design competition while less talented folks (like me!) got to vote on the submissions and help the judge the winners.

9. Make everyone a winner if its a competition. Now I know that's practically impossible. You do need to have some extremely attractive prizes as they're the ones that will lure people to compete. But provide a little something for everyone who gives their time. Even small token prizes can make people happy. They're also a way of saying thank you to them for submitting their ideas.

10. Allow for team and social influence. It is easy to forget but we like to compete in teams as much as we do as individuals. It makes for more entertainment. If you invite people to participate in the crowdsourcing initiative as teams, you'll get a greater response. People will bring others into the process and they'll cajole each other to do what it takes to win. TIAA-CREF with its Raise the Rate contest does this nicely.

For more on crowdsourcing take a look at this Denuology blog post and scan my Digital Book World Keynote. In it I explain how the entire book publishing process needs to be more collaborative. And here's a great wikipedia page listing some of the best crowdsourcing initiatives out there.


Follow me on Twitter (@shivsingh) for more insights on digital strategy and social media.

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