According to Jeff Howe, who dubbed the term in 2006, crowdsourcing represents « the act of a company or institution taking a function once performed by employees and outsourcing it to an undefined (and generally large) network of people in the form of an open call« . In other words: use the web to reach lots of people willing to do something for you. Crowdsourcing has been a buzzword for years now, and it’s often misused : The crucial point of Howe’s definition lies in « a function once performed by employees« , meaning that solliciting a crowd to get fresh insights and new ideas from outside is actually not crowdsourcing… but that’s an endless debate. The point is that companies discover genuine advantages in « crowd-sourcing », one of them is the value of authentic bottom-up feedback from markets.
Two French academics (Jean-Fabrice Lebraty and Katia Lobre) recently published a paper which shows how crowdsourcing generates : companies get innovative and authentic input from engaged people:
A crowd is a huge pool of people with diverse backgrounds, interests and interpretations. This does not only generate more and better ideas, but it also allows to think outside of the corporate box. Organizations seek both innovative technologies and a novel approach to their daily business. « These solutions don’t necessarily appear as innovative to the markets, but they are totally new to the organization« , the authors conclude.
After their reluctance to let consumers reinterpret their brands, companies now seek to unleash their identity (in a controlled way) and use this creative input to constantly refine their brand messages. This has another advantage: transform active consumers into ambassadors who create and share their personal perceptions. « The authentic brand needs a strong link [with the consumer]. This will involve him in the construction of the brand and its image« , the authors say, somehow paraphrasing the process of co-creation.
The determining part is the selection process. If you seek innovation, you’ll look for the gold nugget in the whole set of ideas. Only the well-informed experts within your company will detect the market potential of a particular « crowd-sourced » idea, valuable contributions are eye-openers and inspirational contributions. If you seek authenticity, however, you’ll look for the general impression, for the insights that the crowd conveys about your brand and its products. The paper suggests that this process might be to the the crowd too… But other techniques can perform this kind of analysis : semantic (language) and semiotic (signs and images) analysis are two effective ways to analyse contributions.