Crowdsourcing is an entirely new way to approach your business and can help you to generate work, gain more manpower and computing power, come up with ideas and even fund your projects. Find out how to leverage this limitless opportunity for your business.
Crowdsourcing is a fascinating and highly modern concept that is transforming the way we do business. Crowdsourcing essentially means outsourcing but in such a way that you are using the ‘wisdom of the crowd’. In fact though, this might mean that you are using much more than just the crowd’s wisdom, you might also be using their ideas, their resources or their ability to work for you.
In this post, we will examine what crowdsourcing is in more detail and we will see how it can completely transform the way you do business – helping small companies to achieve things that would never otherwise be possible, while at the same time helping larger ones to potentially change the world.
As you're no doubt aware internet is an incredibly powerful tool for communication and one that has change the face of business, the way we communicate with friends and colleagues and how we seek out information. Almost all of us benefit from this in some way on a daily basis whether we use it to send the occasional e-mail, check where the nearest restaurant is, or in the case of webmasters like you and me - run our business and make a living.
But the power of the internet can go beyond that, and the ability to communicate with thousands or millions of people at the touch of a button is something that has applications beyond just sharing information. Every person you connect with is an opportunity to learn and to employ particular skills and the internet allows you to take amazing advantage of this fact. That's where crowdsourcing comes in - where you start to use this unprecedented connectivity to complete projects that otherwise could never be completed, and to generate ideas and solutions to problems too great for a single person or organization.
So how does this work? Well actually there are many different forms of crowdsourcing but what they all have in common is that they tap into collective intelligence of your visitors or market in order to come up with creative solutions and ideas.
An obvious example then is market research, and here you can use crowdsourcing in order to come up with an idea for your new website, or to improve the design of your existing one. You might for instance open a thread on your forum asking users what they like and don't like about your website and then make note of each of the comments that you receive in response. This way you can see what the general audience that use your site wants, you can get ideas that you wouldn't have thought of yourself, and you can let your visitors feel involved. It's free market research and it can't fail because you're asking the exact people who use your site what they want and then tailor making it for them. For a more technical way of accomplishing this you can even just have your visitors vote on suggested alterations you're thinking of making.
You can also get your visitors to help you with things you can't do on your own, which means you could get them to suggest names for your site if you're stuck until you get one you like, or recruit someone with technical skills to answer problems for you. In a way checking out Stack Overflow is a form of crowdsourcing, as is using open source code and if you open up your code to users then you'll find people are much more likely to join in with the community feel of what you’re doing and help create something truly unique.
More impressively perhaps you can also crowdsource your content by inviting users to contribute in some way and then increasing your number of visitors. The most famous example of this is of course Wikipedia, which would have been almost impossible for a single person or organization to complete on their own (some estimates say it would be over a mile thick were it published as a book).
In some ways just having a forum on your site means you're already crowdsourcing, particularly if you have a lot of questions and answers on the site. At the same time though you can come up with more ambitious and structured projects such as crowdsourcing a novel where you get each user to write the next line, or crowdsourcing a resource of some kind by getting people to recount personal stories. If you do this as well as crowdsourcing the design and technical aspects then eventually you can liberate yourself from almost all of your daily tasks and become instead a kind of director of people - and watch as your project grows beyond you and takes on a life of its own.
And then once you've got the hang of crowdsourcing design and ideas, you can move onto crowdfunding and learn how the power of the masses can help you to even find sponsorship for your big ideas.
There are also sites that allow you to crowdsource ideas and even specific skills. For instance, let’s say that your business needs to design a logo or perhaps that it needs to come up with a 3D design that it can turn into a product.
Now you have the idea and the objective, you need to get to work and make it a reality. Only problem? You don’t know anything about 3D design. Or perhaps you don’t trust your own skills.
One option that would offer a solution would be to outsource the job. That way, you would find someone capable of doing the work and you would thereby allow yourself to offload that task and avoid finding yourself in over your head. The problem is that you are now totally reliant on a single individual to do the work for you, leaving you without any say in the final product and no control over the process.
With crowdsourcing though, you instead invite the ‘crowd’ to do the work for you. You open the job up to anyone with that particular skill and then you run it as a competition wherein you will award the best creation with the ‘work’. That way, you can get a huge number of designs or attempts and pick the very best – ensuring you get exactly what you need.
Many sites offer this, such as 99Designs for instance, which offers the opportunity to have multiple designers all offer up their options for your logo, your website or any other job so that you can select your favorite.
You can also use crowdsourcing in order to source power, which can be very literal or a little more abstract. For example, you might use crowdfunding for mechanical turk. The idea comes from Amazon but it can be broadly applied to many similar types of work.
Essentially, this means that you’re relying on human work in order to perform simple tasks that nevertheless require a lot of ‘man hours’. These are tasks that can be scaled up, so for instance, you might use them to sift through photographs to look for specific key elements.
And in fact, this is precisely how crowdsourcing is often used. For instance, crowdsourcing is used by the initiative planet4.org, which is a website run by NASA that uses crowdsourcing in order to look through photos of the planet’s surface. The objective? To go through millions of photos taken by their satellites in order to find anomalies or other strange elements that aren’t expected to be there. Similarly, medical research has benefited from this same process.
In other cases, the power that is sourced from the crowd may mean literal computing power. Here, many computer can lend their processing power in order to help go through huge tasks that would otherwise take too long for a single processor. This is how bitcoin mining often works now.
Programming has long been ‘crowdsourced’ in many senses. For instance, it is common for a program to be built using a lot of freely available code such as libraries, classes and more built by other users. This spirit of sharing allows for rapid development of tools that otherwise wouldn’t be possible.
Better yet, many projects are collaborative in nature from the very start. This is true, for instance, of many of the projects that make their way onto github. A good example might be the alternative to stock Android, known as Cyanogen. Here communities get together and work to build something great, each lending their own expertise and ultimately designing something that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible.
And then there is funding…
Crowdfunding means getting the general public to fund an idea that you have and to offer the resources necessary for manufacturing and for marketing and distribution. This way, audiences can ‘vote with their wallets’ on what they want to see come to market, while those companies can get the financial backing that may have been denied to them had they gone through traditional means.
Kickstarter is one website that makes crowdfunding easy for small businesses and individuals. Essentially, it's a platform that allows anyone to promote an idea, and then lets members of the general public finance it in exchange for various rewards if they're interested enough. It's not the only one of these 'crowdfunding' sites, but it's nevertheless the most well-known and the one to generate the most impressive success stories (see: Oculus Rift or Pebble Smart Watch).
This has resulted in something of a gold-rush as entrepreneurs, inventors, coders and artists rush to the site to try and get support for their projects. It's an exciting time to start a business or launch a product because it finally feels as though anyone truly can make it.
But the reality doesn't quite live up to the dream. Sure, it's theoretically possible raise thousands of dollars through Kickstarter, but in order for that to happen you're going to have to do an awful lot of leg-work and equally be very lucky.
The best advice then is to get the best advice. To be smart with the way you promote your campaign. And to see the opportunities that others miss. The following tips will all help you to give your project the best chance of success and none of them require you to sell your soul. Read on to find out how to make your Kickstarter dream a reality. Probably.
And no, I don't mean you should use social media to promote your project once it's live. That's obvious… Rather, what I mean is that you should use social media generally - and in particular before you start to promote yourself. Likewise you should spend some time on forums before you launch and generally just making friends. Social media works best when you aren't just trying to get value out of the community, but are actually putting value in as well. That way you make friends with the people who post there, and when you mention that you're promoting something they'll be much more likely to rally round and help. Plan to launch in two months, and spend the two months prior making friends and building bridges.
Writing press releases is depressing, trust me. You can write thousands of them and get no responses, so what you need to do instead is to write to the right editors and writers for each magazine and make sure that they notice your message. Instead of sending a press release to Wired Magazine, lookup their YouTube channel and go to the about page. See who posts there and then connect with them on Google Plus so you can drop them a message in hangouts that caters specifically to them and what they write about. 1 Million times more effective.
People get so caught up in promoting their Kickstarter campaigns online often, that they end up forgetting to promote it offline - and forgetting that they probably already know plenty of people who would happily pledge if you just asked them. Ask your friends and family whether they would mind pledging because you can use this to gather 'momentum' on your project to get it noticed. Likewise,
think about the people you already know with contacts. An old boss perhaps? Or that friend from school who now writes for a magazine? Almost all of us have at least one useful contact: so use them!
Many people don't realise what they're offering precisely, or what the main selling point of their project is. It's the way you phrase your blurb though and the way you understand your key selling point that will really make your project into a success. Oculus Rift isn't a 'Virtual Reality Headset With Head Tracking and Stereoscopic 3D', it's a chance to sample what it's like to be in Tron. I know what I'd rather buy.
Finally, make sure that people feel involved in your project and almost as though they own it. Giving out promotional t-shirts and other products to backers is a great way to accomplish this. When they wear those, they will feel like the project is as much theirs as it is yours, and that's how movements start.
There are many more forms of crowdfunding and crowdsourcing and in fact, we have only really touched on some of the basics. We haven’t even discussed the huge marketing potential that both these things have for instance. Crowdsourcing and crowdfunding are both hugely beneficial when it comes to building big audiences and increasing engagement. That’s because they create communities of people who feel involved with the very creation of your brands and products: who feel a sense of ownership even. That means they will be far more invested in the outcomes and far more keen to see you succeed.
Another huge benefit is that whether you crowdsource or crowdfund, you are simultaneously validating any ideas that are generated. In other words, you aren’t investing huge amounts of money into ideas or projects that may or may not have an audience. In crowdfunding, the idea is never created unless it has the backing. The sales come upfront and all you need to present at this early stage is a working prototype.