Crowdsourcing: Tapping into the Business Collective
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Crowdsourcing: Tapping into the Business Collective

One of the biggest challenges that small business owners face is finding the time and resources to do it all.  Each entrepreneur has to wear multiple different hats –  juggling an ever expanding list of responsibilities is an inherent part of running your own business and finding time to do it all can be a huge challenge.  Crowdsourcing is one way which can alleviate your burden; assigning other people some of those responsibilities or tasks.

What Is Crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing according to Wikipedia is: ‘the act of outsourcing tasks, traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, to an undefined, large group of people or community (a "crowd"), through an open call.’  Interestingly, Wikipedia itself is a great example of crowdsourcing online- all of the content is created and administered by individuals across the globe who have insights and knowledge they want to share but that is a topic for another article entirely.

The explosive growth of the internet and social media has created the ability to tap into the world’s collective knowledge more easily, increasing crowdsourcing’s viability from a small business perspective over the last five years.  

Two Approaches to Crowdsourcing

There are two approaches to online crowdsourcing for business.

  1. Formal Crowdsourcing – this is organised, structured crowdsourcing where service providers are connected with potential projects and opportunities through a facilitator like Vancouver’s Hire the World. Similar to outsourcing, crowdsourcing takes the activity of farming out specific tasks or requirements and taps into the online population for both the fulfillment and in more and more cases the feedback on decision making.
    Online outsourcing firms like E-Lance have long been in the business of assisting entreprenuers in getting work done online (if you need a logo for example and have limited resources these sites are a  great place to start to find the right design for you).  Over the years however, online outsourcing has evolved to encompass the crowd as participators throughout the fulfillment process.
  2. Informal Crowdsourcing – this is something that you might have done without even realising or thinking much about it.  Have you ever asked a question on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn and received answers?  More than likely you have.  Congratulations, you just crowdsourced.

One example of informal crowdsourcing happened recently at Out-Smarts when our website had some issues.  We found out about the problems as a result of a post on our Facebook page from a follower who had been trying to access one of our blog posts but couldn’t get the post to load.  Trying to recreate the issue internally did not work so the team put the word out on Facebook and immediately the “crowd” went into action.  Within 10 minutes, thanks to feedback from followers, the issue was isolated (one follower on Twitter even suggested that there was an issue with some specific code on our site) and was quickly rectified at no cost and with little effort.  

Which crowdsourcing approach you take will depend on the challenges you are facing and the task at hand.  Crowdsourcing can be used for everything from simple tasks such as getting directions to the best Italian coffee house in Gastown for an important meeting, to researching your market, getting feedback from clients, learning about new technologies,  getting design, admin or other  work done or to asking your clients for feedback on your products and services.  The only limitation might be your imagination.

The Risks of Crowdsourcing

With crowdsourcing, the possibilities are endless but as with every approach there are risks that should be taken into account.  Crowdsourcing the question of the risks of crowdsourcing on Quora and LinkedIn (click to read the responses), one respondent, Luca Hammer commented that you shouldn’t use crowdsourcing for sensitive tasks; and that you should define your task clearly so that the responses meet your expectations.  In addition, it also important to remember when crowdsourcing, that  you don’t usually know the individual or group that you are working with, which creates an element of risk for your business, so make sure to carry out your own due diligence and always verify for yourself any information and feedback that you get when using crowdsourcing as a research tool.

Conclusion

The Internet connects billions of people worldwide, each with their own skills or knowledge, but in isolation their knowledge can only impact their direct circles.  Enhanced communication capabilities and social hubs like Twitter connect people and give entrepreneurs the opportunity to more easily source the collective to get work done, to make decisions and to be more productive.  This is crowdsourcing.

About Mhairi Petrovic

Mhairi (pronounced va-ri)- is the Founder of Out-Smarts Marketing Inc. a boutique marketing consultancy that works with organizations to build their presence and grow their business online.

Passionate about social media and internet marketing, Mhairi blogs and podcasts regularly and puts her knowledge, resulting from almost two decades of online marketing experience, to good use to bridge the gap between technology and business.

Mhairi has presented seminars on social media and Internet marketing at Small Business BC since 2009.