The Power of Crowdsourcing – More than Problem Solving

Yes, without a doubt, crowdsourcing has successfully solved countless organizational problems that likely may not have been solved through traditional research and design/development processes. Traditional thinking required specialized problem solvers working in small teams to analyze, develop corrective actions, implement said actions, and evaluate the outcomes to determine if organizational flaws or product failures were resolved. Times have changed, especially for large multi-national corporations, with an increased trend towards utilizing social media platforms, or processes, to engage with innovative thinkers outside of the confines of an organization’s internal network.

An organization should be proud of the talent used within its borders. However, an organization should not be so prideful that when presented with a problem that is extremely complex and not being solved promptly internally that the organization displays a reluctance to venture beyond members of the organization to help solve the complex issue at hand. Crowdsourcing, when used with a smart foundation of basic standardization and vetting those contributing to the problem solving process, can yield significant results. These results not only help in solving a complex problem, but they can also generate new avenues of creativity from consumer-collaborators or consumer-product innovators that open up new avenues of market growth for an organization.

Three examples of consumer based collaboration and innovation can be seen in the past actions of Anheuser-Busch, Coca-Cola, and Nokia.

Anheuser-Busch utilized internal brewmasters and over twenty-five consumer-collaborators to develop a new beer, Black-Crown. One example from Coca-Cola took a slightly different position. Rather than original product generation, Coca-Cola allowed consumer-collaborators, through social media platforms, to provide ideas and creative suggestions for new marketing campaigns. The ideas were widely used in developing Coca-Cola’s recent Happiness campaign series in the form of short-story films and television commercials. Nokia’s IdeaProject is one of the largest consumer-collaborator/product-innovation crowdsourcing platforms currently focused on product development and improvement. IdeaProject spans over 210 nations that draws on the input from consumers and product innovators to develop new ideas about specific kinds of products members of the IdeaProject desire from Nokia.

Crowdsourcing is not only a benefit multi-national corporations or big business can enjoy. There are wide ranging academic benefits as well. Academic research communities regularly open up problem solving to a wide variety of individuals throughout the world. The very notion of academic research being peer-reviewed is, depending on size, a mini-crowdsource experience. Specific problems within the medical and scientific communities have also benefited from bringing together subject-matter experts on a massive scale. Beyond the medical and scientific communities’ uses, academia – even in small project work – can enjoy the benefits of openness when developing new processes or research techniques. Skill levels may differ in these environments, but the benefits that come from the willingness to accept all input, regardless of the source initially, can be massive. One fine example was a recent crowdsourcing project that served to recover ancient medieval manuscripts that had been used as book binding. The Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas Austin helped build the crowdsourcing platform that successfully reconstructed countless medieval manuscripts. The project stemmed from the ancient practice of taking the parchment of handwritten books that were no longer being utilized. The words and statements on the parchment would then be utilized as book binding as the processes of binding texts became more prevalent. Fast forward a few hundred years, and technology helped to identify 94 of the 116 fragments. Through the use of a group on Flickr, the image sharing website, the group at the University of Texas Austin was able to identify a majority of the fragments by location, date, and time period. Additionally, some fragments were reconstructed.

Beyond the clear commercial and academic possibilities, crowdsourcing can, and has, taken on a different phrase used by entrepreneurs and innovators trying to get their creations from ideas to production and markets.

Instead of crowdsourcing, crowd-funding has served as a financing catalyst that has helped launch countless wonderful creative ideas and turned them into actual things, products, or services. Similar in theory as crowdsourcing, using multiple individuals outside of a traditional environment, crowd-funding is a funding process that is dependent on multiple donations or contributions from individuals or even businesses contributing toward a specific financial goal.

Largely the product of inventors or product developers, crowd-funding has been successfully used to assist families with mounting medical bills due to catastrophic injuries. Some of the most successful crowd-funding options have been for charity organizations that ask members to donate to specific causes or the specific funds of targeted individuals in need. TheChive, a website dedicated to most things internet and represented by the motto Keep Calm and Chive On, has an expansive charity organization (ChiveCharities) that has – on multiple occasions – raised over $80,000 for specific individuals in need.

To make crowd-funding successful, individuals using the platform need to follow five simple suggestions – courtesy of a recent HuffingtonPost blog, on which I have expounded. When followed, these steps can help maximize contributions and build brand loyalty and positive image reputation with contributors.

First, and it may seem obvious, but organizations must have a plan. It is not just as simple as establishing an account on Kickstarter or GoFundMe, rather organizational leaders must conduct some strategic planning and make early tactical decisions. Second, the organization must have a great product+great brand. For charities, this is clearly built in by performing something for the greater good of someone else. For inventors, this means developing a product and marketing it in such a way that tells potential consumers why they need this product before they themselves have figured it out. The second element of this step is having a positive brand, or building one that represents a value conscious organization working for the betterment of society, through a product or charity. Third, in the initial stages of development, going along with the strategic planning portion of step one, organizational leaders must contact venture capitals, investors, and angels that would be willing to step up and make initial funding available. Usually without a sizable initial contribution set, many crowd-funding attempts fail to gather enough steam to succeed due to a lack of buy-in from significant supporters. The fourth step is that the organization must connect with contributors initially and – more importantly – incentivize contributors and praise them for their efforts. Giving thanks is not enough, the organization may need to provide recognition through social media, free products, goods, or services, or something else that a contributor can spotlight and be proud of showing-off. TheChive accomplishes this by having multiple products sent to contributors and with special, targeted, recognition of regular contributors. TheChive has also successfully built a brand that highlights keeping a level head and enjoying life regardless of the challenges that may develop. Lastly though, step five suggests setting realistic expectations. No contributor wants to feel disappointed that his or her donation did not help the organization make its financial goal. Keep one’s financial goals in a level that is reachable. Perhaps the first attempt should not be focused on raising all possible funds necessary, perhaps focus rather on a smaller – more targeted – financial figure. These five simple steps, initially shared in a HuffingtonPost blog from 18 March of this year, and expanded on here, provide a stable foundation to get any crowd-funding program started.

Whether solving a problem, researching product development, or contributing towards the financial goal(s) of an organization/charity – crowdsourcing/funding can serve to improve society and product effectiveness by maximizing input with targeted application.

Until next week, take care and enjoy!

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