One of the hotter memes in online media today is the crowdsourcing trend. Sparked by recent cause marketing (Pepsi) and product development successes (Cisco), everyone wants to talk about crowdsourcing as the new ethos of the social web. But the crowd is not always trustworthy as research shows (see this post for crowdsourcing negatives), creating a need for strong community management skills so an organization can realize productive results.
Crowdsourcing in its own right has become a buzz word that’s dangerously close to meaning nothing. That being said, like a community smart crowdsourcing efforts should have a well defined purpose, such as finding an alternative energy source. Whether that’s ending hunger or developing new products, smart crowdsourcing seeks to achieve a goal, not just create a splash.Without a common purpose, the crowd is rudderless.
One of my biggest issues with Pepsi Refresh, while it’s a brilliant ad campaign, is its lack of stated purpose. There’s no theory of change. Instead, you get, “Pepsi is giving away millions to fund great ideas.” The end result is a free for all of organizations trying to get the dollars, in a carnival-like popularity contest (here’s a post on tips to win contests like Refresh).
With a stated purpose, community managers can guide the crowd towards a common mission. Crowdsource participants understand what they are there for, yet feel comfortable participating, wither out of brand loyalty, the desire to be recognized or to win a final prize.
Just to clarify, community management is not crowd control. We all know how well control works in social communities. A crowdsourcing effort provides a welcoming environment that enables people to participate freely.
Given those parameters, community managers offer guidance to a community so that it may achieve its common purpose or ultimate objective. In that sense, the manager is much more of a horse whisperer, coaxing the wild crowd towards a useful end.
This means crowdsourcing requires additional time and resource investments beyond traditional social media. Sometimes that investment can be minimal, such as asking for community ideas like an informal focus group. But in other instances such as the aforementioned Cisco case study, crowdsourcing can take an incredible amount of work.
1) Have a well stated purpose for the crowdsourcing effort so that all participants know why they are participating.
2) Know the possible negatives the a crowd can bring to the table, and allocate resources to effectively guide the community towards the desired end-result.