It was bound to happen. I mean, all the conditions were right. The economy fell like a sack of flour, forcing everyone to start doing a lot more with a lot less. We were suddenly faced with a large and talented unemployment pool. Meanwhile, social media took off like a rocket. Given these conditions, it’s no wonder crowdsourcing really exploded.
Crowdsourcing is a relatively new take on an old idea. The word “crowdsource” is a combination of the words “crowd” and “outsource.” Outsourcing has been around forever—the IT and sales industries are infamous for putting inexpensive call centers halfway around the world. Crowdsourcing is the same concept, except instead of hiring a specialized company to do the work in question, companies open up the job to the public at large. Anyone looking for a little extra work can take a shot at the project.
A good example of this is LG’s 2010 “Design the Future” competition. Using the popular crowdsourcing platform crowdSPRING, LG offered cash prizes (up to $20,000) to the person who submitted the best design for what the phone of the future might look like.
But wait. Doesn’t a company like LG have a Research and Development department for things like that? Sure, probably. But crowdsourcing is cheaper, and it allowed the company to tap into entirely new resources by way of Joe Public.
Examples of crowdsourcing are everywhere. Wikipedia allows anyone to make edits to encyclopedia entries, Student of Fortune crowdsources tutors for struggling students, and companies like Threadless rely on crowdsourcing to create the very products that they sell. And while your company may not be quite ready to let loose the reigns on a new product by opening up a design competition, maybe it’s time you considered crowdsourcing your marketing.
Let the Masses Market to the Masses
Crowdsourcing your marketing means encouraging your loyal fans to spread word about you to their social circles, and to have those circles extend the word to their circles, thus creating a word-of-mouth ripple effect. The most powerful and efficient crowdsourcing tool for marketers is social media. You have Facebook fans. You have Twitter followers. The trick is to get your Facebook fans to get their Facebook fans to like your page, and to get your Twitter followers to convince their Twitter followers that your tweets are worth following.
When it comes to exact crowdsourcing methods, the only true limit is imagination. The aforementioned apparel company Threadless recently held a “The Price is Liked” contest, during which the company posted an album full of t-shirt designs on its Facebook page. It encouraged people to like their favorite designs, and they sold the four designs with the most votes at a discounted price. Their Facebook fans were implicitly encouraged to get their friends to head to Threadless’ page and like a shirt so it could win the discount.
Another example: Chicago’s Goodman Theatre recently held a Facebook contest called “Downtown Dream Date,” where one Chicago couple was treated to a night on the town by the Goodman. The theatre selected 10 finalist couples and created a photo album with their photos. Throughout the contest, Goodman let its Facebook fans vote on both their favorite couples and the elements of the date itself. (That’s right, even the prize was crowdsourced.) The 10 couples encouraged their families and friends to vote for their photos and their favorite date options. Most of the people who voted also liked the page, and as a result, Goodman’s Facebook fans increased by over 30% in just four weeks.
As for Twitter, many companies do “retweet, follow, and win” campaigns where anyone who retweets a marketing message and follows the company on Twitter is eligible for a prize drawing.
Your Facebook and Twitter content is open to the world, and both programs offer some simple ways for you to engage the public in your marketing campaigns. When properly executed, crowdsourcing is an efficient, inexpensive way to amplify your company’s brand. As you start planning your first crowdsourced marketing campaign, here are some general rules of the road:
- Be prepared to let go. Crowdsourcing your marketing means you’re losing a certain amount of control over the message and how it’s spread. Keep in mind that you’re turning your efforts over to people you’ve never met. You can help shape the message, but you can’t control it. If you’re not ready for that kind of plunge, crowdsourcing may not be for you.
- Be committed. If you do this, you’re going to have to really do it. That means you’ll have to dedicate resources to promoting your crowdsourcing efforts. If you tell your fans that the picture of a surfboard that gets the most votes is the one that will go on sale next week, and one picture gets one vote and the rest get no votes, you’re risking the public perception of your brand. Make sure your crowdsourcing strategy at least has the appearance of being wildly successful.
- Offer an incentive. Participants should have the option to get some sort of great reward out of your crowdsourcing campaign. Will the winning logo become the official international logo for your company? Will you offer a cash prize to the top three ideas? Maybe the winner will get a trip around the world on your airline or free ice cream for life from your national chain. Always remember, although crowdsourcing is easy for your company, it can be a lot of work for participants. Make sure you’re rewarding them with something substantial. (This will also help ensure that the strategy has higher participation.)
- Be very clear about the rules. If people sense a loophole, they’ll take it. Before releasing your challenge to the public, make sure you’ve combed through it and addressed every conceivable detail. What are the project parameters? How will you choose a winner? When will the contest close? What are the limitations on entries? Who, exactly, can enter? How will the prize be delivered? How long will the prize be valid? What will you do with the losing entries? Who owns the rights to a crowdsourced logo? Figure out these answers and state them up front so there’s no confusion.
- Have fun. It’s what social media is all about! The more fun you have with the strategy, the more fun the participants will have. Don’t be afraid to get creative, and be sure to interact and engage with your social media public.
What are some of your favorite examples of crowdsourcing?