Special Guest PostBy Angela Brennan

Are com­pa­nies using crowd­sourc­ing to make mon­ey? Yes, and it’s a fas­ci­nat­ing story.

Com­pa­nies that our fathers worked at (that we envi­sion being like those on “Mad Men”) func­tioned like vaults and pro­tect­ed their infor­ma­tion, con­tacts and ideas. Employ­ees were expect­ed to have the answers, and com­pa­nies believed that it was their duty to tell con­sumers only what they need­ed to know. Com­pa­nies also believed that the mass­es would be as excit­ed about a prod­uct inno­va­tion as those inside the com­pa­ny were. In oth­er words, go back just a decade or more, and the belief was that the com­pa­ny was in con­trol of both its prod­uct line and its line to the consumer.

Angela Brennan
Enter crowdsourcing.

This new dis­rup­tion to the tra­di­tion­al busi­ness mod­el has left a lot of com­pa­nies feel­ing as if they are los­ing con­trol. This is because social media broad­en the con­ver­sa­tion about com­pa­nies and their prod­ucts immense­ly. Infor­ma­tion about prod­ucts (and opin­ions!) are shared in vol­ume around the world in an instant. The cus­tomer is now empowered.

All smart com­pa­nies are at the moment close­ly mon­i­tor­ing the use of crowds and social media to dri­ve the direc­tion of their prod­uct devel­op­ment and even strate­gies. Sev­er­al are con­duct­ing analy­ses of the impact and future poten­tial of these chan­nels. Some have sought the advice of experts through con­sult­ing or even hir­ing a social media advi­sor [link]. And few­er still have even embraced these chan­nels as com­pe­tent voic­es in the boardroom.

In fact, the empow­er­ment of cus­tomers is mak­ing com­pa­nies more effi­cient at answer­ing cus­tomers’ demands and — by analysing the e-con­ver­sa­tion — has the poten­tial to lead com­pa­nies toward their next great idea. These con­ver­sa­tions are cur­rent­ly ask­ing how com­pa­nies can use social media and the crowds from being mere­ly a means of con­nect­ing and gath­er­ing ideas to opti­mis­ing these chan­nels to col­lect data that could be utilised and built upon.

Because of the race for data (any and all that we can think of), new busi­ness oppor­tu­ni­ties and career paths are emerg­ing. Indi­vid­u­als and organ­i­sa­tions are becom­ing expert resources in help­ing com­pa­nies nav­i­gate these new tech­nolo­gies and reach the ever increas­ing and con­nect­ed mass­es. Large con­sult­ing com­pa­nies have seen the oppor­tu­ni­ty to sup­port clients through ana­lyt­ics and answer which data to gath­er, how to col­lect it, and how to inter­pret it.Crowdsourcing

But crowd­sourc­ing has gen­er­at­ed some new ques­tions as well. As com­pa­nies become more com­fort­able inter­act­ing direct­ly with their past, cur­rent and tar­get cus­tomers, will these voic­es and the col­lec­tive brain­pow­er of the mass­es replace cer­tain types of employ­ees? What will “mar­ket­ing” mean in the future, and what about mar­keters only trained in the tech­niques of the past? What meth­ods for gath­er­ing this data will com­pa­nies need to put in place to keep the process inter­est­ing? Which com­pa­nies will be bold enough to trust their prod­uct designs to the mass­es? In those cir­cum­stances, what rights (both legal and moral) will a com­pa­ny have to the intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty produced?

The Guardian just pub­lished an arti­cle about “How crowd­sourc­ing and open inno­va­tion could change the world”. And it’s not hard to find arti­cles with the theme of this one: “Crowd­sourc­ing — Start­ing a Busi­ness with a Cast of Thou­sands”. But be espe­cial­ly atten­tive to arti­cles such as the one by Tere­sa Meek on Forbes: “Crowd­sourc­ing: Great For Your Busi­ness (A Handy Primer)”.

This is why you can’t allow any­one to con­vince you that crowd­sourc­ing is a fad. Nor should you allow your­self to believe that busi­ness and social media are trains that run on sep­a­rate tracks, nev­er merg­ing. If any­thing, busi­ness­es have more to gain by man­ag­ing crowd­sourc­ing deft­ly than almost any­one else.

Angela Bren­nan (@AngelaLBrennan) has 10 years of expe­ri­ence in exec­u­tive edu­ca­tion, work­ing for busi­ness schools in Europe and in the US. She has expe­ri­ence in exec­u­tive edu­ca­tion pro­gram design and deliv­ery, busi­ness devel­op­ment and pro­gramme man­age­ment. Recent inter­ests include cook­ing, learn­ing Por­tuguese and furi­ous organising.

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