Community Management, Guest Posts, Social Media Strategy, Brand Communities, Crowd Sourcing

Crowdsourcing: Beyond the Basics

Guest post by Clinton Bonner, Director of Sales at Chaordix, specializing in the technology and services of managed crowds for open innovation and social research.

What is the next generation of crowdsourcing?

Crowdsourcing is evolving beyond the shiny contest model (Doritos’ “Crash the Super Bowl”) and into something more meaningful to the brands embracing it and the consumers contributing to it. There is no better ‘bang’ for your buck than a well thought out and properly executed crowdsourcing initiative.

Market research is as important to most companies as the payroll department. Yet, it seems to be a stagnant mode of gathering feedback. Surveying, physical and online focus groups and opinion polling are still the primary tactics companies depend upon for market prediction and go to market strategy. It is uni-directional, as static as a physical newspaper, and it assumes the company seeking quality answers is asking the right questions.

This is where crowdsourcing comes in.

The 3 C’s of Next Generation Crowdsourcing: Co-Creation, Constant, and Control


There are people out there that love your product. Embrace these people. There are people out there that currently hate your product because it isn’t giving them what they need. Embrace these people as well. After the socially awkward embracing is done, invite both groups in during the creative process. I’m not talking about a contest to produce a full commercial or send a manned vehicle to space. That’s last year. I mean putting in place a method that allows your consumers to contribute in a variety of ways, most often rather easily with immediate recognition of the contribution.

Some people are amazing at bold ideation, while others are better at refining and iterating something previously suggested. Some simply want to vote or rank what they find appealing, and others; well they just like to hang out to see what’s up.

The output from co-creation can be a market test and sharper go-to-market strategies, so you know what your consumers want before you take it to market. It can also be a real product – something your internal R&D lab hadn’t thought about that your consumers are clearly calling for.

Not all innovation or improvements to existing products and services are going to come from your crowd, nor should they by any means. But the communication lines do need to be in place so that when brilliance is spoken, you are listening. Effective crowdsourcing delivers exactly this and it can super-charge your social media efforts along the way.


As crowdsourcing evolves, we’ve learned that initial efforts had a defined end date, and the vast majority of energy, buzz, and brand-love dissipated over a short stretch of time. We know better now. Next generation crowdsourcing involves multiple initiatives, sometimes cross-brand, often cross-vertical, happening in parallel and offering the user a constant steam of new involvement opportunities.

Micro-tasks are a great example of this. Next-generation crowdsourcing always recognizes effort via reward, social status, and incentives that are meaningful to the user. Think frequent flyer program, but without having to go through airport security to attain the rewards. As the ability to deliver these tasks via mobile meshes with geo-location technologies and intelligent advertising, this ‘C’ of the three C’s will truly blossom and become powerful for the brands that get it right.


Crowdsourcing, much like focused social media efforts, isn’t about giving up control, even though it seems that way before you start, just ask Scott Monty of Ford. (He doesn’t know me, so please don’t actually ask…) Do you think Ford has more or less ‘control’ of their current and future brand image today versus five years ago?

Compared to before, this company is holding the reigns – albeit loosely and in new ways. They have found that crucial balance between having an open consumer rapport, yet skillfully herding the masses to participate in ways that are beneficial to the brand and the company’s bottom line. They have nimbly created a social “choose your own adventure” for their consumers, who by the way tend to grab 3 friends and bring them along for the ride.

I would argue that Ford should go leagues further, by embracing a consistent crowdsourcing approach that constantly empowers consumers (and would-be consumers) of all Ford vehicles with opportunities to co-create, relevantly share and earn legitimate rewards that drive loyalties and purchasing habits for years to come.

If you can begin a crowdsourcing initiative in 2010, and that contributor purchases a new Ford in 2013 because she has accrued a “Digital Down Payment” along the way due to her consistent and quality participation, is that not ultimate control of the consumer’s purchasing habits?

Now, take this a step further, you buy a new car once every 3 – 6 years, but how often do you buy a cup of coffee and a bagel?

Brands need to stop viewing crowdsourcing and open innovation strategies as ‘giving up creative control’ and rather understand what this really is – co-created market research that is more accurate. When adroitly coupled with ongoing social strategies, next generation crowdsourcing offers a remarkable way to help deliver happy, impassioned, and loyal consumers.

Facebook Comments


  1. says

    Great tips. Before crowdsourcing there were focus groups, which never really worked too well. The issue with focus groups is that it takes the consumer out their comfort zone, putting them in a room full of strangers and bombarding them with question after question. (nice post about why focus groups don't work: Crowdsourcing is a great alternative to focus groups due to the fact that consumers are co-creating the content vs getting asked a series of non-relevant, predetermined questions. Great post!

  2. says

    Thank you Nathan. Great point about keeping the consumer in their element and thanks for sharing the link regarding traditional focus groups. Crowdsourcing can deliver so much more when properly crafted, so your support of the notions are hugely appreciated.

  3. Bushwa says

    Great article sir. As a web designer, the mantra is test, test, test, don't take the results personal and revise. Not so different to this approach to marketing.

  4. says

    Thanks Bushwa! Great parallel thought you bring into the discussion regarding a web designer's 'philosophy' to succeed. What crowdsourcing offers is the opportunity to test much more than ever, in a myriad of traditional and new ways, and do so over a much shorter slice of time than ever before as well. The efficiencies it can bring are tremendous. Takes practice, know how, and the like, but it can be rather powerful … thx for the contribution!

  5. says

    Thanks Bushwa! Great parallel thought you bring into the discussion regarding a web designer's 'philosophy' to succeed. What crowdsourcing offers is the opportunity to test much more than ever, in a myriad of traditional and new ways, and do so over a much shorter slice of time than ever before as well. The efficiencies it can bring are tremendous. Takes practice, know how, and the like, but it can be rather powerful … thx for the contribution!

  6. Bobby Hewitt says

    Excellent points on constancy and control, with so many social tools available today the ground work for crowdsourcing is already in place. The two main hurdles companies still need to jump for it to become more useful and actually get used are 1. Perception of all ideas being leveled and equal, diminishing the power of the opinion of the highest paid executives opinion or the opinion of an “expert” and 2. The scalability of getting it going and the ability within an organization to make use of the new data stream.

  7. says

    Bobby, thanks so much for delivering some great points to chat about. For me, properly infused crowdsourcing is much like the American experiment as the founders saw it. It is about setting up a construct so all ideas have the same opportunity for success and can be fairly judged, debated and improved upon.

    I personally hold firm that some opinions, from executives to experts, in fact do deserve more sway and credibility, but this comes in the iterative phases of crowdsourcing and usually not the ideation phases. The reason for this is because a bold and seemingly brilliant idea can and does come in to a company from anywhere around the globe, the 2.0 has enabled this flattening. Sometimes, when it comes to making that 'bold & brilliant' idea actionable (and that's what we are aiming for right?) you NEED executive leadership and experts who know the ins and outs of say, a supply chain partnership, or a cross-continental manufacturing agreement, or an old standing State bi-law the crowd would probably never consider but MUST be considered to make the 'brilliant' idea actionable and therefore worthy. It's not always the case by any means, but many times the 'expert' role is essential, and I would suggest it is best served as an iteration 'catalyst', to take raw brilliance, challenge it to succeed further so the re-worked output is not just brilliant, but focused brilliance that can have an impact.

    So, I take pause and guide everyone to think about crowdsourcing as being the leveling construct that plays on the left hand side of the equation. I believe you were referring to this as well, but just wanted to share my thoughts on the notion of all ideas being 'equal'. They enter a 'free' construct that allows it to be recognized. Then the crowd (outsiders, insiders, experts, executives) can make smart decisions based on the criteria they were seeking to measure as to whether a particular idea or solution is both brilliant and actionable.

    BTW, your second point is spot on. You have to be working with a partner who can scale to the enterprise level AND you need a way to measure the data effectively so the outputs help create hyper-relevant experiences, products, and services to the end user (consumer, citizen, employee) that add huge value and drive business.

    Thanks so much for the comment, truly appreciated!

  8. says

    Clinton, I totally agree with your vision of “The American Experiment” well said. I see crowdsourcing and share-ability as not only the current web trend but also a key component in human nature. Probably the highest hurdle that I hope we can jump over for the sake of idea creation is the legal aspect of who owns the idea if it’s brought in from the outside of an organization. Copyright and patent laws are about to be shattered, at least I hope.

  9. says

    Agreed Bobby, I feel careful planning on the legal side is just a must. Protect all, be fair about it, but also the contributor has to realize this is an opportunity they most likely would not have had, and they will need to make a personal choice to submit or not. As more and more 'markets' open up and the choices as to where to contribute to grow and grow, competition will do what it does and the user will end up with the most fair shake the 'market' could bear while retaining profitability. Will be fun to watch!

  10. says

    Thanks Marc, I think there is a long way to go still too, and that involves the ability to deliver relevance to the end user by making the crowdsourced data actionable like never before.

  11. says

    Hi Christian, glad you enjoyed the post and I'll check out the article you shared now too. I see many parallels between smart SM and thoughtful crowdsourcing and as I argued for above, the proper blending of the two can provide so much more than the 2 can as separate entities. Thanks and I do believe that was THE first time I've been 'quoted' … so I appreciate it!

  12. autom says

    by far one of the best observations on how crowdsourcing can and should be applied to marketing strategy – well done Clinton! autom

  13. says

    I think there's a misunderstanding that “control” is more important than “order”. If you can control the constraints of a system, you can influence the order within that system. In crowdsourced systems – or in self-organizing systems – control of the community from the top down by administrative decree won't work — but controlling the captology of the system just might.

  14. says

    Great nuanced point there Glenn. From my experience, so many are hesitant to relinquish 'control', so my choice of that word was to demonstrate that the actual meaning has shifted or at least that new ways now exist to exert 'control' … If the output was what you desired, and you employed certain tactics to drive those outputs, does that not equate to some form of purposeful control?

    BTW, want to state I agree with you that an autocratic top-down approach is a non workable approach in a crowdsourcing construct. You do indeed need order, a clear path(s) to contribution, but the self selection of the individual is ESSENTIAL. They must choose what they care to work on, submit, iterate on and not be forced because the outputs will likely suffer dearly.

    The individual will gravitate towards the work they wish to do and in a space they are passionate about. Setting the construct in place to do this correctly (multiple initiatives, varied ways to contribute) while on the surface seems like a completely NON-controlled environment, is in itself a form of 'control'.

    I think you made a really great point Glenn and for those who want more on Captology (the study of computers as persuasive technologies) here is a GREAT place to dive in

    Thanks so much Glenn, good stuff!

  15. says

    Excellent points. I think the one question about who holds the brand may be missed though. The brand is held with the crowd – customers have their own perception from their experiential viewpoint. Prospects have theirs based on their interpretation from numerous external influences. Companies are losing more and more control of their brand to the crowd and their ability to deal with this and not fight it will be where success lies.
    At Ideavibes, we are working on those conversations that are happening and helping companies respond in a way that reflects how they want their brand promise to be perceived. Despite what pr thinks – these conversations cannot be controlled or managed and we have all seen what happens when the crowd believe they are trying to be handled. Success with the crowd lies in authenticity.

    Interesting discussion.


  16. says

    Would disagree a bit Paul. Controlling the conversation has never worked in the long run, because truth escapes eventually. The 2.0 has allowed 'truths' to escape literally instantaneously. I think we both agree with that. Where I diverge is the sense or the notion that companies are losing more and more control over their brand.

    When in the history of man could so many millions be reached, in so many parallel conversations? The answer is of course, never before now. A brand can not control what an individual shares in detail with their peers and they NEVER could, but now, that brand can shape the landscape as to where these conversations are taking place, and guide the consumer through a variety of ways to interact with the brand, that are albeit fun and rewarding, but ultimately giving the brand the desired outputs they were seeking when they set up the 'construct'.

    I've said it below in other comments that it is a new type of 'control' and it is gained in wholly new manners than pseudo-control gripped by an autocratic fist (which will eventually fail) … but I will defend the notion that today, more than ever in the history of man, companies have far more 'control' over their brand than ever before. How they shape these playing fields, how they infuse the brand into existing playing fields, and how confident they are to let the conversations be truly authentic are some of the key challenges they will face.

    All this data and the ability to take these conversations and make them actionable enhancements or innovations that affects consumer behavior is ultimately, control.

    I suspected when I brought the 'C' world up on a Soc. Med. focused blog I would be challenged on it, and I'm glad that I am, thanks so much Paul for your contribution to the discussion.

  17. says

    Hi Scott, means a lot you stopped in and shared and I do hold Ford in a very special light. I have been overly impressed with the 180 your company has been able to perform and the brand 'love' you have been able to re-establish.

    Checking out the 'Your Ideas' now and thanks again for sharing !

  18. CorporateSocialNetworkSoftware says

    This is excellent information. Crowdsourcing is still new to many but it is incredibly powerful and I think it is going to be the backbone of most marketing strategies over the next 12 – 18 months.

  19. says

    It is rather possible. Your point is spot on regarding it being the 'backbone' because it plugs so easily into soc. med. efforts, while allowing the companies to gather such relevant and focused data on the brand. That flexibility calls for some smarts to operate it all, but when applied correctly, it truly can be the 'backbone' of most mktg strategies … well said.

  20. says

    To describe crowdsourcing as new is an understatement but I would consider it to be a key part of understanding how people interact and engage online today. Some commenters talk about it being the backbone of marketing strategies for the next 12-18 months, backbone is right, the timeframe is wrong – I think these techniques will quickly form the status quo as they reflect the way that consumers expect to (and do) interact online.

    Organisations (not just commercial ones but public sector too) must adapt their world view and figure out how to harness the power of this. Some, like Ford for example, are further ahead with their thinking than others.

    Based in Bristol, England we applied our Crowd-sourced Market Insight tool to the UK General election earlier this year ( with fantastic results. And we're currently looking at ways to work with local government to bring this technology and these technique to bear on a more participatory democratic system. Fortunately, being based in Bristol is a huge benefit as Bristol City Council is one of the most progressive in the country, if not the world in this area.

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