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Crowdsourcing: What Is It?

written by: •edited by: Linda Richter•updated: 5/22/2011

There’s a hot and trendy new way of getting things done from a different perspective—crowdsourcing. What is crowdsourcing, and is it a viable alternative to your company’s needs? Many large companies are jumping on the crowdsourcing bandwagon, but what can it do for you?

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    What Is Crowdsourcing?

    What Is Crowdsourcing In its simplest form, crowdsourcing, while a hot trend, is not really all that new. Remember back to your school days when the teacher asked a bunch of different students to work on a project, come up with some game rules, or design a holiday theme for the classroom? This is a great example of crowdsourcing.

    Little Johnny, Jane, and Bill may all come from various backgrounds and have different ideas but the compilation of those ideas helped to complete the project. So too, can this be done from combining (or recruiting) people with a wide variety of ideas to reach a common goal.

    It is the mesh of these opinions and ideas that make the ideas from a crowd a success!

    From the recruiter or HR manager’s perspective, finding the right group can make or break the project at hand, or on the other hand, it can turn into the desired result—at often a fraction of the cost.

    Image Credit (FreeDigitalPhotos)

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    Examples of Crowdsourcing

    Many Hats Equals Many Ideas You too can use crowdsourcing just like Dell’s IdeaStorm. If you’re unfamiliar with IdeaStorm it’s basically an avenue for Dell to take the opinions of users of their products and combine them with their knowledgeable IT teams to improve their products—it’s really that simple.

    Another good example is one I utilized at my Ford car dealership. This dual effort combined what end users want along with some free advertising to also get people in the dealership—and purchase. I began this process when the 2011 Ford Fiesta was released, full of the SYNC system and the all new MyTouch system, both powered by Microsoft.

    Because my franchise fee to Ford enables me to have access to the emails of my customers, I sent out bulk emails asking customers to come in and look at the new MyTouch features and see if my existing customers who already had the stand alone SYNC system were indeed impressed with the MyTouch or wanted more.

    This was a profitable day for me because I was able to gain two buyers of the Ford Fiesta (free advertising and purchases) and receive comments on what they thought was missing from the MyTouch, or why they thought the stand alone SYNC was fine as is. In turn, I provided their comments to my Ford Motor Company district rep, who also thought this crowdsourcing test was a great idea.

    Image Credit (Google Images)

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    How to Crowdsource

    Surveys are Good Tools Now that you know what crowdsourcing is and what it can do, how do you implement the process, especially when it comes to recruiting the right “crowd" of people?

    First off, the biggest advantage to crowdsourcing is that it’s either free or can be rewarded through a sample product or offering of a service for participation—that means no wages and no 941 employee taxes. The exception is if you actually do pay the people who participate an amount over $600 annually, in which case you would have to issue a 1099 Miscellaneous tax form. You can alleviate the need for a 1099 form if you change your crowd of people periodically. If you offer a free product that is over $600 in cost, check with your tax professional on 1099 rules.

    Next, think about the issue at hand. Do you want to know how to improve a product, service, or a process? If so, choose some customers who have used the product, service, or process and some that haven’t. Students, retirees, and stay-at-home Moms and Dads are great choices for your group and flyers can easily be posted at colleges, senior centers, and elementary schools or daycare centers.

    Try and keep the group even on the “users" and the “non-users," and, in addition, keep the crowd small—not more than 10-20 people; especially if your business is small. Larger companies such as Dell have a vast amount of users to utilize where you may not. You may also want to consider groups of all ages or, if your product or service is geared toward one age group, then gather a group that reflects that generation.

    Image Credit (Google Images)

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    Using the “Crowd"

    Use a Whiteboard Much like product reviews we do right here on Bright Hub, you should prepare some tools including:

    • Short PowerPoint presentation on the product or service
    • Grading cards that show various features with a 1-5 rating
    • Whiteboard
    • Pencils and paper for the group
    • Comment cards
    • The actual product or service
    • Refreshments – unless of course the product is a refreshment or beverage!

    Once the group has viewed the PowerPoint presentation, allow them to see, feel, and touch the product and be sure to have a knowledgeable expert on hand to answer any questions. Set time limits; however, make sure everyone in the group has time to experience the product or service.

    Immediately after the see, feel, and touch segment, have your crowd fill out the grading cards, gather them and utilize the whiteboard to group ratings into feature categories. The whiteboard can show you what the crowd liked, didn’t like, or weren’t interested in. Have a talk/feedback session on the items you list on the whiteboard—take notes because you’ll need them later. Prior to the end of the session, allow anonymous comments to be written and dropped in a box. Finally, don’t forget a reward--often the best reward is a free sample of the product or service.

    From an HR standpoint, crowdsourcing and recruiting expenses are low—you only have to consider the wages of the HR person or recruiter who gathers the crowd and associated costs, the crowdsourcing leader, tool costs, and reward offerings.

    Image Credit (Google Images)

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    Analyze & Improve

    Analyze and Improve Once your crowdsourcing event is over, it’s time to dig in and see what users liked, didn’t like, or identify areas of changes they’d like to see. This is where the ball is often dropped in some crowdsourcing efforts—skipping the analysis.

    Have the HR department put a team in place to analyze the crowd’s comments, suggestions, and rating cards, along with notes you’ve taken to come up with a plan on what you need to change.

    From there, you may realize that your crowd thinks you’re lacking something and you may require additional staffing, other resources, or even another crowdsource event.

    If I take a final example from my Ford dealership, by analyzing customer satisfaction in my service department (offering a free oil change if ideas were submitted), I was able to streamline my service department, which meant recruiting and hiring two additional service writers so customers were not kept waiting.

    Although crowdsourcing seems easy to implement—it’s the follow-through you must not avoid in order to realize a successful improvement for your company. Why not try crowdsourcing? It’s more valuable than you think!

    Image Credit (FreeDigitalPhotos)