What Happens When Crowdsourcing and Social Media Merge
It takes a village to raise a child. This profound piece of West African wisdom has stood the test of time and geographies when it comes to childrearing.
Businesses are not very different.
While there are businesses that do well with just one great manager / owner / entrepreneur running the entire show, the vast majority of successful businesses that have been able to achieve scale and grow over the years are ones that have had the active contribution of a whole network of individuals.
Smart entrepreneurs have picked on this fact and put it to action with technology on their side in the form of crowdsourcing. From movies, to plays to 3D-printers to smart watches, crowdsourcing has proven its worth in innumerable ways.
Don't confuse crowdsourcing with crowdfunding. Crowdfunding, for all practical purposes is a sub-set of crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing is a much wider concept that entails combining the contributions of a multitude of people (crowds!) to create a totally new entity. These contributions from the crowd could be in the form of ideas, funds and word-of-mouth publicity – anything that helps build a completely new entity from scratch.
Does this 'people coming together to contribute ideas and more' remind you of something else that has revolutionized the way we live? Doesn't it sound a lot like social media?
Crowdsourcing and Social Media – siblings separated at birth?
To me, and to a bunch of brands that are benefitting from putting two and two together; crowdsourcing and social media go hand in hand. They have uncanny similarities. They share similar growth trajectories. Best of all, they reinforce each other's presence.
1. Built on People Power
Both crowdsourcing and social media owe their existence to the power of connections. When people come together to work towards a common cause, great things are born. Crowdsourcing taps into this groundswell of creativity, empathy and financial support that each one of us has, buried deep inside of us and draws it out to build new ventures and fund radical ideas.
Social media acts as a relaxed meeting ground, a soapbox for airing views, a platform to raise support. From cementing relationships to creating new careers, social media manages to create value, thanks to the zealous participation of its users – people power, in other words.
2. Common Beliefs at Their Core
For crowdsourcing to work, enough number of people with the same interests and convictions need to come together at the same place, at the same time. Crowdsourcing's short history is littered with failed projects.
Social media is all about common ground. People connect with likeminded individuals, brands and not-for-profit organizations based on the values that they share with them. The millions of fans that leading brands and prominent public figures boast of on Facebook or Twitter stand testimony to the support that their ideas enjoy from the public at large.
3. Game Changers
A brilliant business idea need not languish in the dark anymore in the absence of an angel investor or a bank loan. Crowdsourcing encourages out-of-the-box thinking by democratizing the process of starting and running a business.
Marketing was essentially a one-way process until social media made its grand entry. Gone were the days of ads that told people what to buy. Social media ushered in the age of consumers telling brands what THEY wanted to buy.
4. Great for small businesses, startups
Crowdsourcing helps the smallest spark of an idea to get the support it needs to blossom into a full-fledged reality. As an investment avenue or ideas hotbed, crowdsourcing is the perfect and easiest way for a small business to get the support it needs. Startups don't have to worry about how ambitious their concept may be, the power of the crowds makes it possible to achieve heights that were nearly impossible in the past.
Social media is the first stop for every small business and startup marketer for two reasons a. it helps them connect straight with their audience on a one on one basis b. it is free!
The gigantic marketing advantage that large, established brands used to have is moot when it comes to the creative use of social media that allows small businesses to gain similar results at zero or near zero costs. Smart social media marketing makes all the difference - humungous budgets can take the bench for now.
5. Mutually Reinforcing Forces
Social media and crowdsourcing do not operate in isolation from each other. Owing to their strong similarities, they often cross paths, with fantastic results to show for it.
Social media helps spread the word about crowdsourcing projects and reaches out to users who might be able to contribute meaningfully to a new project. It also helps build a positive image for the project and encourages action on part of the user, making the crowd sourced project more robust.
On the other hand, marketers often use crowdsourcing as a means of engaging their fans actively on social media. From crowdsourcing their opinions on a potential product idea to building contests that invites users' thoughts, social media uses crowdsourcing as an invaluable tool more often than we realize.
What Crowdsourcing & Social Media Can Pull Off Together
We agree that crowdsourcing and social media are two great developments that had the opportunity of gaining traction around the same time. We also know that individually each one of them has the power to change lives and build fortunes.
Let's take a look at what happens when crowdsourcing and social media join forces and come together as a unit for the same project.
1. New Product Ideas
It's not just the startups and small businesses that can benefit from crowdsourcing as Frito-Lay proved in its smash hit 'Do Us a Flavor' campaign.
In 2013, Frito-Lay found itself in a little bit of a mess as far as market share and growth among the Millennial segment was concerned, in the United States. They needed to win over the 18-34 year old demographic, ASAP!
Enter the 'Do Us a Flavor' campaign, where Frito-Lay created a Facebook app that allowed users to create their very own flavor combinations for Lays chips and win a cash prize of $1 million dollars in the bargain. The campaign has celebrity restaurateur Eva Longoria and celebrity chef Michael Symon as its brand ambassadors and was promoted heavily on television, outdoor media and of course Facebook. The results were unprecedented, even for a storied brand like Frito-Lays.
The campaign resulted in 3.8 million flavors submitted by users around the United States, which was over three times the original goal of 1 million flavor submissions. Over 2.7 million users installed the Lays app on their phones and the campaign added 2.2 million new Facebook fans for Frito Lays. Most tellingly, year on year sales for Frito-Lays grew by 12% instead of the targeted 3% during the campaign period.
2. Free Content Marketing
If Frito-Lays used the combination of crowdsourcing product ideas and social media for promoting its brand and growing sales, luxury brand Coach went a step ahead and asked users to CREATE their marketing campaign for them!
Luxury brands are often guilty of losing touch with their audience in their attempt to create a sense of exclusivity around their brand. Coach decided to build a connection with users in a way that they enjoy expressing themselves the most – the good old selfie.
Coach's campaign on Instagram invites users to upload selfies of themselves wearing Coach shoes on Instagram and Facebook with a hashtag #CoachFromAbove. It also built a dedicated website where users could choose to upload their selfies. The best submissions got a chance to be featured on the homepage gallery that Coach From Above boasts. No fancy prizes, no cash reward; just the thrill of being associated with their favorite luxury brand.
The resulting collection of selfies ended up as a free of cost, near professional product photo-shoot for Coach, offering new users style inspiration and a degree of credibility that a professionally shot photo-shoot can never aspire to. I mean, if an average guy on the street could make a shoe look so hot, I definitely can right? The numbers speak for themselves, with a 2% boost in average order value and 5 to 7% growth in conversions attributed to this campaign alone.
3. Promoting Independent Art
As we discussed earlier, crowdsourcing and social media are standard bearers for the small guy, the lone independent voice. And they have managed to make a real difference by promoting the arts in a way that was never possible before.
Threadless, the iconic clothing e-tailer that gave individual designers a platform to share and sell their designs is a prime example of blending art and commerce effectively. This is how simple the Threadless model is:
Once designers submit their t-shirt designs on Threadless, they canvass for support from friends, family and others who love their creativity by promoting their designs on social media. The designs that get the maximum number of votes wins the design challenge and gets added to Threadless' giant pool of unique, user-generated designs that are its calling card.
Don't think that it is just Threadless that gains from this process. The winning designer gets a fat cash prize + royalties each time their design gets reprinted on Threadless. Threadless of course makes money from apparel sales. The model has proven its worth with revenues soaring from $6 million in 2005 to over $30 million in 2012.
Independent artists don't just make money in trickles through crowdsourcing. In early 2013, the Kickstarter campaign for launching the upcoming Veronica Mars movie broke all records, by raising $2 million in just 10 hours.
Feeding the curiosity of the existing fan base for the Veronica Mars character on social media, asking for their inputs and ideas all went into building up to the mega-funding campaign on social media.
The campaign eventually raised over $5 million dollars for the Hollywood version of the much loved TV series centered on girl detective Veronica Mars.
4. Political Revolutions
Why focus on just the commercial power that crowdsourcing and social media wield? We have all been witness to a once-in-a-lifetime series of political upheavals that swept the Middle East starting 2011. Dubbed the 'Arab Spring' these revolutions changed political and social landscapes in a slew of Arab nations forever.
The coming together of revolutionary ideas with social media as the sole platform that carried these voices out to the world, the Arab Spring demonstrated the real-world impact that these two mighty forces can leave behind. From YouTube videos and blog posts to Twitter feeds that fanned the flames of change, social media in every avatar contributed to the overthrow of totalitarian governments in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. The University of Washington dug deeper into the real numbers and found the direct co-relation between social media, the voice of millions of people and political upheavals.
Catherine O'Donnell reports, "During the week before Egyptian president Hosni Mubaraks resignation, for example, the total rate of tweets from Egypt — and around the world — about political change in that country ballooned from 2,300 a day to 230,000 a day. Videos featuring protest and political commentary went viral – the top 23 videos received nearly 5.5 million views. The amount of content produced online by opposition groups, in Facebook and political blogs, increased dramatically."
A less heated, but equally exciting political development that crowdsourcing and social media brought about was the crowdsourced Constitution of Iceland.
In a 10 month long process, 25 representatives (elected from the masses of Iceland) who formed the Constitutional Advisory Council sought inputs the citizens of Iceland on how they want to be governed and what their vision for Iceland was –all via social media. Hailed as a landmark in democratic processes anywhere on the planet, tragically this constitution met its end at the hands of vested political interests when the time came to implement the newly drafted document.
However, that has not been a deterrent to others' countries, like the United Kingdom, who are currently in the process of creating their own crowdsourced constitution.
Obviously, the scope and reach of crowdsourcing and social media extends beyond the four use-cases illustrated here. From supporting cutting edge technology like the Oculus Rift to preserving history and science through the crowdfunded Tesla Museum to even doing a good deed for a bullied old lady on a school bus through the 'Let's Give Karen a Vacation' campaign, these two forces combined have the potential to do a world of good.
Question is, how creative will we be in drawing out the best from each platform?