Crowdsourcing: Remember you are the one in charge!

Crowdsourcing is at term that has been in use for several years and refers to the process of outsourcing tasks, though originally apparently started by coders and the computer industry more and more businesses now use crowdsourcing for talks they feel can be accomplished by a crowd of ‘experts’ rather than internal employees.

But is this always a good idea? can the masses really help decide what happens in your business and can they get it right?

There are advantages to crowdsourcing, a hive mind can come up with some good ideas, ideas that can sometimes only be created by those who are not directly influenced (by salary or loyalty) by the subject matter or task in hand.

Wikipedia’s crowdsourcing business model is the underlying mechanism driving its success. Anybody and everybody can edit and update any page, giving the user the control, there are many stories of pages being edited to announce deaths prematurely of for malicious purposes.

Wikipedia works because it has very few paid staff and the content updated is based on trust. However the downside is the management of such a large scale group who may be spread across many countries. A traditional offline Encyclopedia such as Britannica would have difficulty (though it has to have considered it) competing in this market given its staff of paid experts, who write and/or vet content before it appears in the book.

On the other hand take sites such as Unbound.co.uk which allow authors and readers to decide which books get published, bypassing the traditional agent route and crowdsourcing the funding of the books the readers wants to see on the shelves.

But what of those who don’t get funding, for them crowdsourcing may not be the best way of financing their book, but what are the other options and what is the best way? Be prepared to fail if funding isn’t forthcoming to your business.

Though crowdsourcing isn’t always the best way, though Twitter and the suchlike can be great for enthusiasm and ideas it takes time and patience to put them into action. You maybe able to find the skills you need at a great rate but unless you are paying or can offer a barter for the expertise then you cannot guarantee loyalty or quality, so be perhaps be prepared to incur added costs to complete the project – not always.

Where I do think that crowd sourcing has been proven to be of value is in buying in external short-term creative thinking and even expertise for non-core functions where outside input from perhaps more skilled individuals for short-term roles can be priceless. (Design input / marketing feedback / introduction to new sources / lots services are also driven down price wise by crowd input / shortcuts to knowledge by asking the crowd..)

Istockphoto is a another example of how the crowdsourcing of photographs into a common database allowed every photographer however good they were to sell their photos, this subsequently many many professional stock photographers lost out as an amateur could charge a low fee for something that a professional would traditionally have charged a high fee for. This free site started by a group of designers who wanted to share there stock photography was bought by Getty Image in 2007 for $50 million.

So crowdsourcing can be a good thing and it can be a bad thing, depending on which side of the coin you fall into. But however you choose to use the power of the hive mind then always remember you are the one in charge!

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Lara Morgan is the founder and former CEO of Pacific Direct. She is a founder member of the Young Entrepreneurs Organisation, now EO, was a finalist in the Veuve Clicquot Businesswoman of the Year Award, and has also been a three times finalist in the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year. She was named Cranfield Entrepreneur Alumnus of the Year in 2009. Having sold her company, Lara is now focusing her passion on Company Shortcuts, an online platform for entrepreneurs to increase their effectiveness and accelerate growth.