Although crowdsourcers believe deeply in the insights that can arise from collaboration in a group, we're also always on the lookout for individual experts. We love people who are passionate, knowledgeable, and engaged. We imagine the twinkle in their eye as they launch into their favorite topic, overflowing in an online community with opinion and insight. We love nothing more than to help them thrive in a crowd that can truly appreciate their abilities.
Most crowds will have participant experts or leaders emerge from within the community. They may be members who are capable of answering difficult questions, providing support, demonstrating accepted community behavior and, over time, they will gain a well-deserved reputation. They may be an industry specialist with many years of experience, or perhaps they're an enthusiast who has excelled in their hobby time. To encourage these experts to stay embedded for the long term in a crowdsourcing community requires positive experiences for both the general community and the expert.
So, what's the best way to integrate and recognize these extraordinary participants within an ongoing community? In my experience, proactive community management is essential. For example, assigning special roles to these members (think of a "Review Panelist," or "Brand Ambassador,") is an effective way to give them a measure of difference and social capital. While this designation does ask more of them, at the same time it also accords special privileges within the community. This style of engaged moderation from a participant improves the output from a community, especially when the moderator is a respected leader in the group. It should come as no surprise: communities just work better when knowledgeable leadership is interested and encourages authentic conversations. For additional insight into the various roles participants can play in a community, this academic paper defines a number of potential Social Roles in online spaces.
But the story of expertise in crowds doesn't end here. There's also a place in communities for knowledgeable experts from interested or sponsoring organizations. These sponsor experts can provide qualitatively different information and useful feedback to community members. With most crowdsourcing communities, there's a sponsor organization that's helping to craft a purpose for the community. This sponsor organization will often have specific goals or outputs in mind. With expert sponsor representatives supporting the community, their knowledgeable feedback can enrich and help frame the crowd's output throughout the process. For example, at specific points of an idea iteration journey in a crowdsourced innovation community, these experts can advise on aspects such as issues of industry legality, partnership feasibility, whole product potential, and business strategy fit.
So ... without quashing seemingly-radical ideas too early in the iteration process ... rather than letting a crowd build up too much steam for a participant's idea that is simply not possible to bring to market, these experts can provide guidance and advice to ensure a crowd's emergent ideas aren't given false hope and ultimate disappointment. Experts can help members understand the community goals, periodically assess the feasibility of submissions, and provide an additional degree of legitimacy to any project. Industry experts are usually delighted to collaborate directly with participant enthusiasts or hobbyists, and will inevitably help active community members grow in knowledge and experience. The potential roles for sponsor experts are many, including the ideas in this examination of the importance of Shepherding the Crowd in creative crowd labour communities.
It really is this simple: crowds need experts as much as experts need crowds.