I didn’t get to New York for Social Media Week so I missed catching this crowdsourcery panel live, but did sit through it online. I’m a big fan of John Winsor and Michael Lebowitz as well as Faris Yakob. Three smart guys for sure. Put them at the same table with Denuo’s Seneel Radia and JWT’s Ty Montague and there’s no shortage of wisdom and experience (not to mention opinion) to go around.
In a nutshell (and I paraphrase here), Ty starts with the accurate assessment that crowdsourcing is still so new we don’t really know whether it’s a good or bad thing. Or even how best to apply it. Michael is skeptical that the technique can ever deliver the kind of product that comes out of his agency Big Spaceship since their process is all about collaboration and teamwork. Faris comes right out and questions the “wisdom of the crowd,” preferring instead the line “a person is smart, people are stupid.” And, of course, John, who just launched a company inspired by the possibilities, believes that crowdsourcing can work if the infrastructure is there and a “benevolent dictator” leads.
Frankly I agree with all of them. But for me the problem with the non-stop discussion of crowdsourcing in our industry is that we limit its application to the output of “creative.” We continually think about the technique exclusively as a way to yield a logo, or a TV spot, or a campaign of some sort. And so it remains controversial. We are either “devaluing the expertise of those who’ve spent years mastering a craft. “ Or we’re supposedly “exploiting all the wannabes who are willing to give their time and effort away for a pittance.”
But if we think of ourselves in the business not simply of creating messages (or even platforms) but of helping brands and clients build their businesses, then there are many uses of crowdsourcing. We can actually aid clients in developing new products. Think what Splenda did with its Facebook fans. We can accelerate learning by soliciting reaction to an idea from a willing community of fans. We can stimulate word of mouth marketing just by inviting people to create their own version of the ideas or spots that we conceive (think HP’s You on You). We can even produce finished work that might never be achieved otherwise. Lemonade the Movie, crowdsourced via Twitter, and the 3six5 project come to mind. While these two examples may not be for the benefit of clients or brands, they just as easily could be.
In the last year, Mullen has experimented with crowdsourcing for a number of projects. None were designed to produce the commercial that would run in place of something we could create ourselves. Instead our initiatives have served to inspire participation and co-creation from a community. We crowdfunded for Grain Foods Foundation. We created a blog to help clients and marketers understand Gen Y. We’re in the early stages of inviting Boston Bruin fans to write new “rules.” And we have some interesting ideas for our new client Victorinox Swiss Army.
The same day that John and friends shared their opinions, I met with Randy Corke of Chaordix. We talked about all the things that Chaordix was doing. They’re working with one of the UK’s top universities to reduce infant mortality in developing nations by crowdsourcing the knowledge and experience of all the doctors and nurses working in those countries. They’re showing a major US retailer how to tap into its employees to solve technical problems that will allow for better service, augmenting a small R&D group that’s overworked. They’re even crowdsourding ideas from the general public in Canada to help that country become innovative in the new digital economy. These ideas suggest possibilities far more interesting than securing an inexpensive logo or a user generated TV spot.
If you’re an agency, stop thinking about crowdsourcing for nothing other than creative (even though it can be a great tool for this, too) and consider your clients’ most important business challenges: faster development of new products; improved customers service; alternative distribution channels; new ways to give customers a chance to participate. All of these objectives could be crowdsourced, making an agency more of an asset in the process.
The big brands get it. Dell, Netflix, P & G, Heinz and others use crowdsourcing for all kinds of projects. But there are a lot of smaller or less innovative companies that haven’t yet explored the opportunities. Why not be the one who introduces them to the idea? If it’s not you, chances are it will be someone else.