Crowdsourcing, a social media term, is the act of pooling together several people's knowledge and contributions to solve problems. For small businesses, crowdsourcing can answer questions like where the next location should be opened or how to fix their customer service shortcomings, in an efficient and cost-effective way.
Due to the volume and breadth of information available, crowdsourcing is an ideal way for companies to gather business intelligence quickly and easily.
It’s not a focus group
Focus groups typically bring together a select number of people in one location for a set period of time. Crowdsourcing is open-ended and solicits feedback from a broad base of geographically dispersed participants.
Likewise, as opposed to relying on traditional recording devices and checklists, crowdsourcing aggregates feedback through customized web databases that enable users to slice and dice data in new ways. Not only do you have access to information, but you can interpret, analyze and apply this data however you choose.
For example, bulbstorm.com allows companies to leverage crowdsourcing in a protected environment to test new product concepts and market receptivity. These kinds of services are cost-effective and can help entrepreneurs to gather market research and consumer feedback in a way that can be stored and later analyzed.
One of the most noted cases of successful crowdsourcing is Michael Dell’s Idea Storm. Dell asked his crowdsourcing market, "What product do you really want us to create?" The overwhelming response was to create a laptop that had the option of having either no operating system or the Linux operating system. Dell listened to its market and got significant results: Reports state that Dell has sold more than 40,000 laptops installed with the Linux-based Ubuntu OS.
It gets work done
A stable player in global marketplace crowdsourcing is the website oDesk. This five-year-old company, according to CEO, Gary Swart, is, “changing how the world works.” oDesk connects buyers that are searching for a variety of services, like web development or virtual assistance, with providers.
Similar to eLance.com or Guru.com oDesk implemented a few key components to corner crowdsourcing market. When a buyer uses oDesk to find a provider, he can then see the work be completed in realtime with a series of timed screen shots of the provider’s computer desktop (the provider is aware that this is happening and can selectively remove screenshots that they may not want the buyer to see).
This way, you only pay for the actual work done on your project. Additionally, because oDesk requires buyers to create an account that’s funded by a working credit or debit card, providers don’t have to worry about not getting paid.
If you prefer to work with U.S.-based providers, oDesk has a stable of talented, near-shore business professionals that are ready to help you address various business needs. Swart says that the oDesk platform is, “Great for businesses because they get to see what’s going on and exactly the work that’s being done for their company and it’s a win for providers because payment for their hard work is guaranteed.”
Crowdsourcing success depends on the quality and quantity of participation. If you use crowdsourcing to gather data, the best way to maximize participation is to have a firm grasp on the desired outcome and to reward people for contributing. If the desired outcome is to get as much information about a particular topic as possible, then you should reward the participants who deliver quality information about that topic and penalize those who don’t.
If you decide to use crowdsourcing to get work completed, it’s important that you deliver a job description that is interesting, open and informative. Have you ever sorted through resumes and were appalled by the way some completely fail to interest you? Look at your job description with the same eye. Is it compelling? Does it draw the right candidates and clearly discourage those with, say, insufficient experience or an inability to meet your deadline? Are you selling yourself to the best talent out there or just throwing your doors open to whoever is desperate enough to apply?
Now that entrepreneurs are looking to do more with less, crowdsourcing is an option to keep costs low and results high.