‘Crowdsourcing’ on the roll

 

Crowd

Since Jeff Howe first coined the term in a 2006 Wired article, “crowdsourcing” has garnered extensive media buzz and investment dollars. It has earned praise from those who view it as a digital version of the Industrial Revolution, criticism from some who fear it will cheapen their craft and skepticism from those who don’t fully understand the mechanics. Frankly, all of these viewpoints have merit.
I’ve spent the better part of a decade in crowdsourcing – including five years as the CEO of uTest, an angel investor in the crowdsourced computer-aided design firm, GrabCAD – and have consulted for several crowd-driven firms and reviewed dozens of crowd-based business plans for venture capitalists. During that time, I’ve developed my own insights into what makes crowdsourcing work best. As we celebrate uTest’s fifth birthday, we felt it was a good opportunity to reflect on some of those hard-earned crowdsourcing lessons:
FIND THE RIGHT FIT. Whether you’re considering launching a crowdsourcing business or finding a way to implement crowdsourcing into your existing organization, it’s critically important to consider the best way to structure your crowd to achieve the best results. There are various factors that must be examined: Is your crowd performing on-site or remotely? Will your crowd compete in single-winner contests or multi-winner projects? Are the projects one-off contests or do they recur? What incentives can be put in place to ensure engagement and success from the community? In my experience, spaces that enable multiple winners to perform remote work on a recurring basis are a better fit for building high-growth, sustainable crowdsourcing businesses.
CROWDSOURCING IS NOT ENOUGH. Tell a prospect or potential customer that you’re a crowdsourcing company and, if you’re lucky, you might capture their interest (or perhaps just a polite “ah, cool”). But most of the time they’ll just tune you out. Why? Because your prospective customers don’t care about how you do something; they care about what you’re doing and, more importantly, how it will benefit them. No one will write you a check for being a crowdsourcing company (well, maybe some VCs will) – people care most about how you can solve their problems.
ENGAGE YOUR COMMUNITY. Understand that you have two sets of “customers” – your clients and your community. You must provide service above and beyond to both sets of constituents. Properly training and communicating is a necessary step. But proactively delighting your community is as important as delighting your customers. Providing your crowd of testers with opportunities to grow – including networking events, awards and career advice – is vital to the overall nurturing of your community.
INCENTIVIZE YOUR COMMUNITY. Members of a community care primarily about three forms of currency: money, reputation and their skill set. If you want the best workers in your space to join your community and stay, you must create a path for their growth in these areas. Higher pay is important, but what about enabling members to share their knowledge with the rest of the community as mentors? The one thing you cannot afford is for your valuable members to outgrow you.
SUPPLY FOLLOWS DEMAND. While building and serving a vibrant community is critically important, these things are not replacements for an effective demand generation engine, whether it’s created through sales or marketing efforts.
Ultimately, creating new efficiencies for your customers while celebrating and improving the lives of your community is the only way to create lasting value for all stakeholders. It’s harder than most entrepreneurs think, but for those who crack the code in their space, the rewards are great.
(Doron Reuveni is the CEO and co-founder of uTest.)

© 2013 Harvard Business School Publishing Corp. Distributed by the New York Times Syndicate

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