Saturday, November 27th, 2021

Crowdsourcing – Tapping into the Business Collective

By Mhairi Petrovic on Oct 12 2011 • Filed under Outsmarting Social Media

Crowdsourcing (Photo)One of the biggest challenges small businesses face is finding the time and resources to do it all. As entrepreneurs we all wear different hats, juggle ever expanding responsibilities and this can be a huge challenge. Crowdsourcing is one way to alleviate your burden by having other people assume some of those responsibilities or tasks.

What Is Crowdsourcing?

Crowdsourcing according to Wikipedia is ‘the act of outsourcing tasks, traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, to an undefined, large group of people or community (a "crowd"), through an open call.’ Interestingly, Wikipedia itself is a great example of crowdsourcing online – all of the content is input and administered by people like you and me across the globe who have insights and knowledge they want to share. But I digress.

The proliferation of the Internet and social media brings the ability to tap into the collective knowledge more easily and this has been the catalyst that has really amped crowdsourcing’s viability from a small business perspective over the last five years.

Two Approaches to Crowdsourcing

There are two approaches to online crowdsourcing for business.

1. Formal Crowdsourcing

This is organised, structured crowdsourcing where service providers are connected with potential projects and opportunities through a facilitator like Vancouver’s Hire the World. Similar to outsourcing, crowdsourcing takes the activity of farming out specific tasks or requirement and taps into the online population for both the fulfillment and in more and more cases the feedback on decision making.

E-Lance has long been in the business of facilitating the outsourcing of work online. If you need a logo, for example, and have limited resources it is a great place to start to find the right design for you. Over the years however, online outsourcing has evolved to encompass the crowd as participators throughout the fulfillment process.

2. Informal Crowdsourcing

This is something that you might have done without even realising or thinking much about it. Have you ever asked a question on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn and received answers? More than likely you have. Congratulations, you just crowdsourced.

Let me give you an example of informal crowdsourcing. Our website recently had some issues. We found out about it as a result of a post on our Facebook page from a follower who had been trying to access one of our blog posts but try as he might he couldn’t get the post to load. We tried to recreate the issue internally but couldn’t so we put the word out on Facebook and immediately our “crowd” went into action. Within about 10 minutes, thanks to feedback from followers, we were able to isolate the problem to MAC users (one follower on Twitter even suggested that there was an issue with some specific code on our site) and to quickly and easily rectify the issue at no cost and with little effort. We were able to fix the problem in a matter of minutes and get the website up and running again, all thanks to crowdsourcing and the Out-Smarts crowd.

Which crowdsourcing approach you take will depend on the challenges you are facing and the task at hand. Crowdsourcing can be used for everything from something as simple as getting directions to the best Italian coffee house in Gastown for an important meeting, to researching your market, getting feedback from clients, learning about new technologies, getting design, admin or other work done to asking your clients for feedback on your products and services. The only limitation might be your imagination.

The Risks of Crowdsourcing

With crowdsourcing, the possibilities are endless but as with every approach there are risks that should be taken into account. In order to identify these, I crowdsourced by asking a question on Quora and LinkedIn (you can click to read the responses). Luca Hammer on Quora (thanks Luca!) pointed out that you shouldn’t use crowdsourcing for sensitive tasks, should be able to define the task appropriately so that response meets your expectations and that you don’t always know who you are working with and whether they are trustworthy. To this I would add that you should always verify for yourself any information and feedback that you get when using crowdsourcing as a research tool and always do some due diligence to protect yourself from the risks when tapping into the collective.

The Internet connects billions of people worldwide, each individual has skills or knowledge but in isolation their knowledge can only impact their direct circles. With enhanced communication capabilities and social hubs that connect people, being able to source the collective to get work done, to make decisions and to be more productive becomes possible through crowdsourcing.

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