"Wisdom of the crowds" sounds magical: Just throw a concept out to the crowd and wait for an elegant solution to coalesce.
However, as anyone who has tried it knows, crowdsourcing can easily go wrong. What starts out as a source of collective insights can quickly turn into an unmanageable mob of dissonant voices. Whether you want to use crowdsourcing to raise funding, design a product, get feedback on a marketing plan, or to outsource a business process, it is important to take a strategic approach to ensure the process runs smoothly.
I've spent years relying on the "wisdom of the crowds" to run many facets of a fast-growing e-commerce company, including product development, marketing campaigns and more.
I've learned a few lessons along the way:
Go all in.
Before reaching out to the crowd for feedback, make sure you really want to do it! You can't crowdsource halfway. You either throw an idea out to the crowd and invite all feedback (good and bad), or you don't do it at all.
Some people will HATE your idea, and that's okay. Sometimes negative feedback can be very valuable, and other times it's just a rant. Listen to all points of view, but then discard the super-positive or super-negative outliers to get a clear picture of what's working and what's not. Find the nuggets of insight by really listening to the conversation. As an entrepreneur, it's your job to analyze all the feedback to create the best path forward.
Lastly, don't forget to have a thick skin. You have to have confidence in your main ideas to crowdsource, otherwise you will be pulled in too many directions and let disparate voices pull your main business plan off track.
Pick one or two focus areas.
Sure you can crowdsource content creation or business strategy, but does that really make sense? Crowdsourcing doesn't work for everything, and it makes sense to pick and choose where and when you will use it. For many companies, crowdsourcing is most valuable for product development and marketing--two areas where customer feedback is worth its weight in gold.
At Julep, we've integrated the wisdom of the crowds directly into the product development process, creating over 300 new beauty products in 2013 alone based almost entirely on customer feedback. We collect customer feedback at our retail outlets, via social channels such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and YouTube--and via online focus groups and forums. As a consumer products company, it's critical we create products our customers love, so it's a no brainer to use crowdsourcing in this area. We also gather feedback and conduct A/B testing on our marketing campaigns to find out which ones resonate with customers and why.
Ask the right question.
At the beginning of our product development process, we ask open-ended questions such as: "If you could make one change to one of your favorite beauty products, what would it be and why?" Later, when we're looking for concrete input on an actual product prototype we ask clear, limited questions, such as: "What's more important, a face cream that reduces wrinkles or one that firms your skin?" In the final stages before launch, if we're trying to validate a price point or plan inventory levels, we might put the product up for sale as a pre-order to gauge purchase intent. Some of the most helpful feedback comes from customers when they are making real decisions about how to spend their dollars.
Remember, you won't be able to control the crowd and you shouldn't want to. Their wisdom is the key to your company's growth. But you can put structures in place to better collect, analyze and act on collective insights. When done right, crowdsourcing leads to better products, better marketing and even better revenues.