"They sit in committees day after day. And they each put in a color and comes out gray. And we all have heard the saying, which is true as well as witty. That a camel is a horse that was designed by a committee." - Allan Sherman, humorist
When you think of it, crowdsourcing is a very natural phenomenon in the new world economy of the empowered consumer. With traditional organizational silos toppling and businesses getting social media religion, we should have seen crowdsourcing coming. At first glance crowdsourcing drips with social media sauce: collaboration, transparency, openness, and community. It's a tasty recipe for soliciting consumer feedback and brand ownership.
But can crowdsourcing slide into the dreaded realm of design by committee? Design by committee isn't pretty. It can mean inconsistency, banality and lack of a unifying vision from marketing leaders. OK, I may be overstating my point, but it's worth taking a look at exactly what crowdsourcing means and how it is being employed by major companies.
What is Crowdsourcing?
Jeff Howe, contributing editor at Wired, coined the term. According to a recent New York Times article (http://bit.ly/9xFe7v) it means"the act of taking a job traditionally performed by a designated agent (usually an employee) and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people in the form of an open call." The mega crowdsourcing success story is Threadless.com.
The Success of Threadless.com
Threadless is the online teeshirt producer that lets customers select which designs make the grade. Their community of artists submit their designs daily and about 12 of the most popular are released to the public for purchase. Threadless sells about 15,000 of these originally designed tee shirts each week generating $38 million in sales annually. They staunchly protect the artists' copyrights and have nurtured an online community that is the envy of the fashion world. Trust, collaboration, and partnership with the artists and the buyers is the business model, one that is projected to grow 40% this year.
Then There's HTC
But the model is not always so pure. In a recent blog post, Abe Sauer of brandchannel takes mobile phone manufacturer HTC to task for their online voting promotion (http://bit.ly/bBpH9w). "Crowdsourcing also is being used to generate new products and direction for brand identity and, at its worst, create brand collateral such as logos, taglines, etc., such is the case with HTC crowdsourcing the name of its next device." Abe states: "A brand that presents a huge, undefined group with a few directions and lets them fly off in all directions is not doing itself or its core customers any favors." Something to think about. Here's a screenshot of the HTC poll: