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Crowds are Changing How We Do Business
April 1, 2013

Have you ever done this? You have a problem that you can’t think your way through. You’ve cudgeled your brain, asked everyone in your immediate vicinity, called your mom, dad and brother and still no luck.  So, you toss the question out on Twitter and Facebook.

Within a few hours, you are flooded with comments and tweets and hazzah! There’s the answer you were looking for.

You just crowdsourced the solution to your problem. Way to go. Very on trend.

So what does crowdsourcing look like for business? Here’s a quick rundown and some links to good articles and sites on the crowdsource phenomenon.

Crowdsourcing 1.0

The crowdsourcing trend began with websites like 99Design and iStockphoto. These sites give access to the work of thousands and but where you pay only for what you use. Designers provide work on spec in hopes they will be successful. Photographers, videographers and creatives share their work and get paid every time someone purchases their work.

Crowdsourcing began as a way to connect millions of professionals with millions of companies that need their work. Efficient and, though not without problems of quality and oversight, clearly meeting a demand in the online market.

Then it grew.

Crowdsourcing 2.0

Crowdsourcing 2.0 is more about the social side of crowdsourcing and crowdfunding. It’s not about connecting professionals with work; it’s about connecting community with cause and consumer with product.

Crowdfunding is a great example. Artists, filmmakers, social activists and authors pitch an idea on a website like Indiegogo to raise funds for a project. People can support whatever cause appeals to them.

Unlike the frustrating old days of trying to raise funds for a project from friends, your parents, co-workers, the barista at your corner café and your second cousins who you now have to spend time with, web platforms bring your project to millions of people with bits of money to throw at different projects.

Same for ideas for new products or start-ups. Kickstarter is the leading site for products and design. And Quirky is a different spin again on crowdsourcing from both the producer and consumer sides.

Why it’s cool…

It gets people involved. A million heads can be better than one when you crowdsource new design or creative ideas. Crowdsourcing 2.0 can raise cash for products, movements or business ventures.

Crowdsourcing is social too. For established brands, it can be social marketing gold. For artists, it’s a new way to engage your fans. It can bring attention to causes that might otherwise go unnoticed.

Build your community of followers? Check. Get some ideas or cash? Check. Have huge budget overruns and potential legal battles over trademark and copyright? Errrr….

Why it’s not.

When you hire a professional to do a job, you expect it will get done right. You can send the effort back with changes. There’s a process involved that allows for give and take between the designer and the business. Not so with crowdsourced work.

When you send a job off into the world for anyone to put their two nickels in, you can end up with serious legal, cost and time problems. Sometimes, free is worth just what you paid for it.

Crowdsourced funding sites also give the impression that anything can get funded. There’s no realistic expectation for the amount of effort that goes into a project before, during and after you get support. That can end up in headaches and heartaches.

So what’s a budding crowdsourcerer to do?

Be smart. As with any trend, uncommon sense goes a long way. Got a product you want to put on Kickstarter? Research the heck out of it before you dive in. If you get into it without all the information, you can get burned.

Know the social pitfalls. Sure it’s great to send your logo specs into the world but be prepared for a potential backlash (completely justified) from professionals that actually know what they are doing.

Think about the added costs that can arise from trying to crowdsource versus hire a contract professional that you can interview, connect with and share your vision with before you get started. It might be fun to get input from your followers but you want to end up with something you can use.

A healthy dose of skepticism can help you root out if a crowdsource opportunity actually is too good to be true.

What do you think about crowdsourced work? Any personal experiences to share?

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