In recent years, crowdsourcing has become a popular new ways for companies and entrepreneurs to promote their business. Crowdsourcing turns over the development of ideas or products to the masses instead of leaving it in the hands of a few designers. Customers and enthusiasts can share resources, offer suggestions, and drive customer engagement. But crowdsourcing does have its risks, and the pitfalls tend to be memorable. How can your business avoid the worst-case crowdsourcing scenario?
- Anticipate the Unexpected. By its very nature, crowdsourcing means losing a certain amount of autonomy. Customers will offer unexpected feedback, make unforeseen suggestions, and go in directions you may never have anticipated. Be ready not only for the possibility of wild divergence from your expectations, but be ready to embrace new ideas, even if they’re nothing what you planned for.
- Control the Process. Most “crowdsourcing disaster” stories involve not having sufficient oversight protocols in place. Simply asking the Internet to design your new product without any boundaries or means of controlling the end product is asking for disaster. A group of dedicated pranksters can (and often will) skew your results dramatically. Your admin team should, in turn, have a team of validated checkers who will help ensure the Internet masses don’t torpedo your project.
- Have Clear Incentives. Your participants should not only know the rules of the project, but should have well-managed expectations of how their efforts will be acknowledged. Some devoted fans will participate out of sheer love of the product or brand — but providing strong incentives will increase word-of-mouth and help ensure your next project does even better than the first.
- Play to Your Strengths. Before you propose any crowdsourcing product to your customers, you should know what your brand does best, and leverage it for all it’s worth. Any contest, poll, or survey should center around that strength and help push it forward.
- Stay in Touch. It doesn’t take long for the Internet to assume a project is dead. Fall silent for weeks or even days, and you may lose fans and supporters en masse. One of the best ways to keep your customer base interested is to offer frequent updates on social media. Share your progress and let people know how it’s going! Don’t worry too much about sharing too often — the real fans won’t mind.
- Don’t Overanalyze. Your project can’t be everything to everyone. Don’t try to force it. If you end up with conflicting data or goals, just fall back on the question of where your brand strength lies. Let that be your guide.
- Don’t Trust Only Experts. This one’s pretty simple. If you’re designing something for a consumer market, don’t forget to consult actual consumers and not just marketers and salespeople.
- Don’t Ignore the Risks. The risks of crowdsourcing aren’t limited to jokesters ruining your product or creating negative publicity. You should also consider funding sources, fulfillment, and what you’ll do afterward. More than one Kickstarter project has been murdered by its own success. Think about how you’ll deal with vastly exceeded expectations, as well as unmet goals.
- Don’t Forget to Reward Participants. Whether it’s a perk, a mention, or a thank-you note or video, a simple acknowledgement goes a long way toward incentivizing your participants to help you in the future. Just be careful how you proceed from there — not every backer wants to be automatically subscribed to the newsletter for your next project.
As with any other venture, crowdsourcing carries risks. If crowdsourcing seems like the right choice for your project, plan ahead, consider the pitfalls, and go get started!