Crowdsourcing is a way to capitalize on the ideas, energy, and resources of large groups of people through efficient and timely means. Combining the words "crowd" and "outsourcing," crowdsourcing is like asking for the help of the crowd to meet an objective, instead of the more traditional route of handpicking a service provider and contracting with them to perform a task. Some people cite the creation of Wikipedia as an example of crowdsourcing, where "the crowd" contributed to the encyclopedia rather than a hired team of experts.
Since there are different types of crowdsourcing, it gives small businesses the freedom to choose a form that could work for them on a given project. David Bratvold, the founder of Daily Crowdsource, a San Diego, California-based open-format website, offers these perspectives on the most popular forms.
1. Crowdsource design
A business looking for a new design can state what it needs, how much it will pay, what the deadline is—and then turn to the crowd to get the work done. "By doing design this way, crowdsourcing actually increases the quality and decreases the price, compared to online freelancing," Bratvold explains.
Asking people to give you money for your project is another example of crowdsourcing. Bratvold says that non-profits and start-ups typically use this method to help fund their projects. Again, be clear about the amount you need to raise, your deadline, and any incentives to the crowd. If you don't raise your stated goal before the deadline—usually fewer than 60 days—the monies must be returned.
Let's say you have 1,000 photos that each needs a caption. With microtasking, you can split the work up among the crowd and get the work done quickly—sometimes seeing the results within just a few minutes. Paying for a microtask can cost as little as a few pennies for each response.
4. Open innovation
If you're having trouble settling on a business opportunity, getting the input of people from different niches is the idea behind open innovation. Bratvold says that this can be done using a dedicated web platform for feedback from outside your company or just by reaching out to employees within your own company. Put another way: open innovation is a way to get people from different sectors and with different specialties to collaborate and help you get your idea off the ground.
While crowdsourcing can often generate ideas quickly for a relatively small investment, be aware of its downsides. It is imperative to give clear instructions when addressing the crowd to avoid getting swamped with inappropriate responses that waste your time. The submitted work can vary, too, so install some form of quality control.
Crowdsourcing may not work for every business or task, but it is still another way to harness the power of the Internet to generate new ideas, relationships, and funding.