Through the Internet, we all know it is possible to reach a large crowd. Many of these people have something to offer, for example, answers to questions that could help other individuals or businesses. With reaching out to the right people, you get problems solved. Presenting your problem to a crowd of people, to find a solution or to get the crowd to work together to advance your needs, is called “crowdsourcing” (crowd+outsourcing).
Crowdsourcing is a trendy word you see hyped in blogs and magazines. They often share stories of companies who have successfully used the crowd to achieve something. Most of these stories are related to well-known, global corporations or issues concerning humanity (such as finding a vaccination against AIDS or product development with FIAT). For this reason, some might get the impression that small businesses are too remote to be of interest to the crowd. In fact, the opposite is true.
There are many possibilities for small companies to use the crowd. As specialized platforms, services and features are build to tend to the needs of diverse companies alike, it becomes easier (and easier) for smaller companies to reach that crowd. Here, I’ve laid out five ways your small business can take advantage of the crowdsourcing wave.
1. Product Development, Ideas and Brainstorming
Crowdsourcing can help you determine what the public thinks of your product and ideas. You can involve potential customers in the process of developing a new product or service, showing them your aim is to meet their needs. Crowdsourcing serves your Customer Relationship Management purposes as much as it does your Marketing and Product Development.
The biggest problem for small businesses is their “crowd” is not yet developed. Since reaching a crowd is the main issue with crowdsourcing for small businesses, it is best to first start on platforms that have existing crowds – and are not yet overcrowded.
One example of such a platform is ideavibes (www.ideavibes.com), which allows you to post a project or question and have the ideavibes crowd vote on ideas, give suggestions, and spread the word about your question.
If you are searching to look at your ideas from a new angle you can use a brainstorming platform, such as Atizo (https://www.atizo.com/), where you can find inspiration for new products and solutions.
Especially in small businesses, often a situation arises where you have tedious tasks to be done but not the capacity to get them done within your company. In this case, you can use a platform (such as Amazon Mechanical Turk (www.mturk.com) or Clickworker (www.clickworker.com)) to post tasks and have the crowd work on them. Typical tasks for these kind of platforms are sorting pictures into categories, researching addresses, translating or writing small texts. Most of the tasks put out on these platforms are small, but they are posted in large numbers and crowdworkers get paid by the number they fulfill.
For tasks in which your smaller business might not have the exact specialized knowledge or skills, there are platforms where you can find the right person to get the job done.
If you need new designs for logos, flyers or business cards, post the task on a special design platform (ex.99Designs (www.99designs.com) or Design Crowd (www.designcrowd.com)). On these platforms, you set the task at a fixed price and designers can submit design suggestions. You are able to give feedback to get better results. In the end, you choose one of the suggested designs and close the deal directly on the platform.
The advantages of these platforms are that you know beforehand how much the design will cost and you can choose from a variety of suggestions. The disadvantage is, as many people try to get a design at a low budget, designs can lack in quality. To achieve better results, offer higher wages – and you will get more offers. As there are no quality measures except your own, you have to work your way through all design offers.
There are also platforms where you can find freelancers (www.freelancer.com) for diverse tasks, such as IT-projects and marketing texts. You propose a task, get offers and seal the contract directly on the platform. As you have no real chance of getting to know the people offering before sealing the contract, you should be cautious with significant projects. These outsourcing platforms are excellent for managing small tasks, with a variety of offers to choose from.
If you wish to get in contact with people on a deeper level, use a project-board such as within the professional, social media platform exploreB2B (www.exploreB2B.com). Since the network revolves around users with personal profiles who submit articles relating to their industry interests and needs, the relationship with the ‘outsourcer’ is often already established.
Should you need a particular project completed, there is a space within the platform to post a project with a suggest price range. You can work directly on the platform or distribute the project request throughout other social media sites with the goal of reaching a large crowd through networking with the right connections.
On other platforms (such as Innocentive (www.innocentive.com) or Hypios (www.hypios.com)) ‘solvers’ try to give an answer for a set price on the platform. The posted questions are challenging with the answer not at hand. Accordingly, the prices can reach fairly impressive sums. If the answer cannot be found by one person, the solvers find online projectrooms were they can work together. These provide a great opportunity for companies of all sizes to start innovating.
Crowds can also be used to fund projects. Platforms like indiegogo (www.indiegogo.com) give the opportunity to gather money from the crowd. As the crowd always needs a trigger to begin contributing, think carefully about the kind of project you want the crowd to fund and the story you will tell to get them interested enough to give money. Always a good idea are projects that help our environment, children or pets. But other ideas might get funding too – you just have to tell the story right and spread the word.
Crowdsourcing is not only for the big players. There are many opportunities for small companies to gain influence through the crowd. The point? If you have a task or a question you want to put to the crowd, there are a multitude of ways to reach the crowd; the crowd has a lot of power you can tap into for your own business.
Susanna Gebauer is one of the founders of the new professional social network exploreB2B from Berlin, Germany. exploreB2B is a content-based social platform for professionals where written content stays relevant and you meet the people who are right for you. Susanna Gebauer holds a PhD in Mathematics and has extensive professional experience in both scientific work as a researcher and as a strategic and management consultant.
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