What is Crowdsourcing?
There are a lot of explanations, most of them rather technical. Suffice to say, crowdsourcing is to operational problem solving what cloud computing is to computational resources and memory. With one difference: crowdsourcing is in the real world, while “the cloud” is in the virtual.
An example might also be useful. SaaS (software as a service) by Oracle offers software on demand. That is, rather than the typical bottom-up computing architecture—an operating system, or OS, followed by any number of software applications like Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Photoshop—cloud computing allows users to install lightweight OS systems and import applications on demand. As a result, where applications like Photoshop gobble up memory like starving dogs, users can free up space by working in the cloud.
Crowdsourcing in the Real World
Now back to crowdsourcing. Say you almost always shop at the same supermarket. We will call it ABC Market. Up to 2007, ABC had enough profit to support a full team of marketing and branding professionals. Not so in 2010, however, even though the worst recession since the Great Depression was receding like an image in the rearview mirror.
But a guy’s gotta eat and—per square foot of floor space, grocery stores and chains get the most traffic of any commercial enterprise except big box retail stores like Target and Wal-Mart which have branched out into the grocery market.
In our imaginary world, ABC wants to take some of the grocery trade away from one of these big box retailers—except ABC is less than David next to the big box Goliath.
How could ABC do that? Interestingly enough, by making its customers work for it. And no pressure is required, because ABC’s customers like stopping the fresh vegetable man to ask for parsnips in season (after the first frost), or a friendly clerk to ask why the crispy Chow Mein noodles aren’t in the same aisle with other noodles.
Those who have the time and show some real interest in participating in food decisions are further encouraged to make out surveys—everything from the store’s visual appeal to the ideal number of potato varieties (Idaho bakers plus red, white and purple-skinned).
Thanks to crowdsourcing, ABC Market has been able to keep its staff lean and trim, and the profit from that has gone into the plant in the form of an upgraded dairy cooler, solar panels on the roof for both electricity and hot water, and a power door for the handicapped entrance.
Where Else Does Crowdsourcing Work?
Unbelievable as it may seem, or sound, crowdsourcing works well in business and politics, too. This is because most political candidates don’t have the money to pay for a first-class campaign, and because people—especially young people—delight in working for political candidates and putting the experience on their resumes.
In one case, it’s not a single candidate but an entire country: Iceland. Burdened by its 2008 banking failure and wanting to break away from classic European Union politics, Iceland in 2011 posted rough versions of its constitution asking citizens to post suggestions, additions or deletions on its Facebook page, or wall.
Suggestions were then reviewed by the 25 members of Iceland’s Constitution Council. Surprisingly enough, the proposals were not a mish-mash of insults and inexplicable responses, but offered tempered, reasonable ideas that helped make Iceland an ideal country—a shining example to other “democratic” entities around the world.
Experts say that Iceland’s undertaking is a prime example of how to use social media platforms to reach an infinite number of people and, beyond that, a goal. Twitter, for example, was used to great advantage during the China earthquake of 2008, described as the worst in 30 years. The quake killed more than 80,000 people, including thousands of children, but it might have been much worse had not some young Chinese used electronic devices to Tweet the “earthquake aura” and warn fellow citizens in advance.
The purpose of this article is two-fold. First, I want to inform you about something that you may not have known. Secondly, I want to inspire you to take action. Crowdsourcing and crowdfunding are powerful concepts. A country took the initiative to get its people involved.
How can you take this example and apply it to your business or endeavors?