Crowdsoucing Rocks! (err maybe)

Over the past several weeks I’ve been experimenting with crowdsourcing.  My ultimate goal in experimenting was to understand how Marketing professionals can utilize crowsourcing for production of marketing materials.  From Wikipedia,

“Crowdsourcing is a neologism for the act of taking a task traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people, in the form of an open call. For example, the public may be invited to develop a new technology, carry out a design task, refine an algorithm or help capture, systematize or analyze large amounts of data (see also citizen science).”

The basic idea is to gain efficiencies by harnessing the power of the crowd.

Crowdsourcing Market Research via Amazon Mechanical Turk

I started off my crowdsourcing vacation by using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service to do some market research. I already have an Amazon.com account, so it was relatively easy for me to sign up for the Turk service. I sent funds via credit card to my Turk account, wrote a brief of the project, offered a payment, and waited. Turk provides a system for those interested in web-based work for hire to sign up for the job, called a HIT (Human Intelligence Task).  The service also makes it relatively easy for you to receive your HIT results, and make payment should you approve of the work provided. Once ready, the work is delivered via a csv file which is downloaded from the mturk website. I offered 3 HITS for the same task so that I could cross-check the results. After 2 days each of my HITS had been accepted and off my Turk’s went. In a few days they came back with the answers I needed.    Sort of.

Market Research Turks Stink

The research that I asked for required some intuitive filtering of data to be readily usable. Guess what? Turks don’t do that. The data they returned was the whole pile rather than the pieces I asked them to parse. Note to self, use Turks for insanely simple tasks rather than those that require thinking. Still though, in terms of getting things done I’d consider using the Turk service in the future (again, for very, very, simple tasks only).

Crowdsourcing Design via 99designs

My second crowdsourcing adventure is based on an idea I’ve had for a few years to develop a line of T-shirts for the educated black man (i.e. me baby!). For this exercise I hopped a broadband flight to Australia, the home of 99designs.com, to commision a T-shirt design. Here things pick up. 99designs allows you to commision creative materials by launching a design contest. Competing designers from across the globe then submit entries in an effort to win.  After thoroughly reading the help and how to sections of 99’s site, I started an account, wrote a design brief, offered a prize of $200, and launched my contest.

Crowdsourcing Design Rocks

A key difference in the crowdsourcing models of Amazon and 99designs is collaboration.  At Amazon, there is no back and forth, you get what you get. At 99designs however, a commenting process allows the contest owner to provide feedback that guides the contestants toward the creative vision. Big difference.

Though things started off slowly (early designs were lacking in ‘oomph’), as I provided more feedback, the designers produced better designs.  There came a point where the designers almost didn’t need me.  Once they understood the concept and style I was looking for they took over, producing designs I hadn’t imagined.

Designers can see the contest owner’s feedback for each design, you rarely have to say anything twice. Unlike in the brick and mortar world, written comments are the only methods of communication. Be prepared for a great deal of writing and specificity. Writing skills in the back and forth conversations with designers, and creative vision are crucial to success. I’m a great writer when need be (I’ve been published in several local business magazines), and as a Marketing Manager I’m well-versed in guiding design work by vendors. I could not be more pleased with the outcome. I’m so impressed with the designers that I not only awarded one winner (I’ll pay the award via paypal), I’ve made agreements with a few of the other strong entrants to purchase their designs. In fact, check out the designs here.

There’s a great deal more to be said about crowdsourcing and the opportunities it holds to help you achieve your goals. I’ll probably pick this subject up later but for now I’ve got to run.

I think I just started a t-shirt line.

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Gotta love Web 2.0 (unless you’re not a nerd)

Two services I’m loving right now are JOTT and I Want Sandy.

Jott allows you to send email messages by calling your special Jott phone number.  Jott transcribes your voicemail and then sends an email to the recipient.  More on this later..

I want sandy is a virtual personal assistance who excels at keeping your calendar, to do lists, etc updated.  Again, more later. 

How to explain Social Media to the old school

In my previous life, i worked for a very large Fortune 500.  The MarCom team that I was a part was generally a younger minded group that was familiar with social media and open to investigating its use for corporate initiatives.  (Pat on the back: I was much more informed, hence my new job here a vSocial). 

During one of the last meetings I attended at my previous employer, the Director of Corporate Communications for this $40 billion company was asked about Social Media.  You can guess what his response was.  Yep, friggin MySpace.  I knew at that point the conversation was over. 

Social Media is so much more but if you don’t live it, and aren’t open minded and interested enough to investigate it your company is doomed.  Doomed to keep using the same costly, inefficient and time consuming marketing tactics it did it the past.  Doomed to keep saying ‘We need to think outside the box’, while steadily building the box up around you.

Forrester analyst Jeremiah Owyang has a great post on how to manage this type of conversation. 

Good luck, an update your resume afterwards just in case.

Wait, did I just use Twitter in my marketing strategy?

I got home today and I couldnt believe it.  In a meeting with the CEO, CTO, and COO of vSocial, I made the argument.  It’s about PR.   We’re a social media startup, we need a blog, we need Twitter.  Took all of 10 min.   We understood, we grasped the value, we bought into it, we did it.   

The new economy is about the conversation.  You’re either in it, or it goes on without you.  Which would rather?  Which is best for your company? Your customers?  Exactly.

Disclaimer:  Social Media tools are not for every company, poorly applied social media strategies can result in PR ass whoopins.