Crowdsourcing: My Suspicions Are Raised

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You’ve heard the phrase “two heads are better than one”…The idea that collaboration and multiple individuals participating in a process can lead to greater results. The essence of collective intelligence as described by Aitamurto, Leiponen, and Tee (2011). This is the foundation of the crowdsourcing revolution. Crowdsourcing sure sounds fancy, doesn’t it?

Sesame Street’s Two Headed Monstrer

 

 
However, in reality, all you need is two elements 1) an open call and 2) a crowd (Aitamurto et al., 2011).
 
Some would argue crowdsourcing is a “hype term associated with unrealistic expectations for innovation and unclear of its requirements and challenges” (Aitamurto et al., 2011). Nonetheless, the practice has grown significantly over recent years in a variety of industries, including sports.
 
Examples of crowdsourcing include Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, Procter & Gamble’s Connect + Develop and InnoCentive where everyday people can use their skills to solve real problems for industries and earn money doing so (Howe, 2016).
 
In my mind, the line between crowdsourcing and user generated content is quite blurry. Crowdsourcing seems to be more task-focused, whereas user generated content can be relatively open in use. EBay (apparently it does still exist) and Wikipedia were listed as examples of user generated content in the readings this week (Howe, 2016).
 
An article we read this week talked about the t-shirt company Threadless, putting shirt designs out to followers for vote on what was graphic was selected for production. While this might have helped the company boost sales, did it really solve a problem? User voting doesn’t seem to be a novel concept to me. It’s how Major League Baseball has chosen All Stars since the 2002 season.
 
It makes me wonder if this type of voting system should really be considered crowd sourcing.
 
Perhaps that is too narrow of a viewpoint. Perhaps, voting and user generated content are approaches existing under the umbrella of crowdsourcing. If this were the case, I’d contend that crowdsourcing is nothing new. Didn’t all of this use to be called customer engagement?
 
Again, that is probably too naïve of a rationale. It’s clear no matter what you call it, the present applications of crowdsourcing are innovating the existing concept.
 
When it comes to applications in news media, even faster evolution is occurring with mass-producer opportunities, and citizen journalism. In Paul Lewis’ (2011) TED Talk about how mobile phones helped solve two murders, the presenter noted crowd sourcing in the news can hold organizations accountable and also fill a void about the scope of what journalists can possibly know and cover (Lewis, 2011). And that was 6 years ago.
 
Ultimately, Lewis (2011) exemplified how crowdsourcing can help resource journalists, while highlighting the laborious task of validating and corroborating information coming in. This evolution of technology use will continue to dominate the future. We have seen it already in numerous viral videos that appear each week, thus prompting journalistic stories. Did anyone see the nurse who was arrested in the hospital a few weeks ago? Case in point.
 
My contention that just maybe crowd sourcing is a pseudonym for customer engagement parallels something I’ve learned about in sport.
 
NFL Play 60 Initiative
In sport literature, there is growing scholarly work about corporate social responsibilities (CSR), which I discussed in Stoll on Sports a few weeks back. A mentor of mine, and perhaps one of the most notable sport management scholars, Dr. Chelladurai (2016), wrote an excellent article detailing that many times CSR initiatives are actually, what he labeled discretionary social initiatives (DSIs). Basically, his point was that DSIs should be called as such, not guised as solely as sports teams/organizations doing something good for the community.
 
Dr. Chelladurai: Well-deserving of a blog pic
I believe the same holds true for crowdsourcing. There are times it truly does drive creative and innovating concepts, solve problems, and help an organization. In which times, call it “revolutionary” if you want. Nevertheless, there are other times where it is merely a mechanism for customer engagement.
 
We learned about this last week when we looked at the Cleveland Indians’ Social Suite where they invite fans and bloggers to positively influence the discourse about the team during games. Is that solving a significant problem for the Indians’ organization? Maybe, but I’d lean toward just a unique fan engagement initiative.
 
There is also a developmental professional soccer team in the UK who dabbled with allowing fans to vote for the starting lineup. This came up when I performed a Google search on “crowdsourcing in sports”. Truly crowdsourcing? I’ll let you be the judge. What about when the novelty wears off?
 
Compare this to using crowdsourcing to develop a solution to a problem resulting in a new product, or an industry revolution. Hmmmm…hopefully you see what I’m getting at here.

Let’s look at another sports example. Many of them seem to revolve around voting, as was done by the Toronto Raptors to name their new expansion franchise back in 1995. The Dallas Mavericks turned to their fans to choose a court design for their home games.

I’m not saying that any of these creative approaches are wrong. Rather, I’m asking if they are truly crowdsourcing.
Okay, MAYBE we could have made one better play call!
 
These concepts are even more interesting in sport due to the extremely high levels of fan engagement. Everyone loves to “Monday morning quarterback”. 

Answer me this, what other industry does the Average Joe feel like he could make better play calls than a head coach? Or even better, can you name another industry where getting cut from your junior varsity team qualifies you to explain to a room full of friends precisely why your team is 1-3 as you chug your fourth Coors Light? I doubt it.
 
That would be like me telling my husband, a forensic structural engineer, why a building collapsed. It makes no sense! (For the record, I have no clue why buildings collapse, but I’d guess it would have something to do with the words “expansive”, “tension”, or “deterioration”. To me, these just add up to a big “Oh crap!” on someone’s part!).
 
The point is, these things aren’t bad, let’s just call them what they are.
 
As we learned this week, many sports organizations even put policies in place to limit the power of social media (Holton & Coddington, 2012).
 

The last point I want to make here is that crowdsourcing does not ALWAYS yield positive results for an organization. Recently, REI, a huge player in the outdoor apparel and gear industry, launched an ad campaign geared toward acknowledging outdoor enthusiasts and athletes come in all body types. It was an anti-body shaming ad. 

I’m not sure who Seth is, but the quote is on point. Image Courtesy LikeSuccess

 

 
Only problem? Their stores are notorious for neglecting to carry plus sizes. Objective: engage consumers to embrace body type. Problem: We don’t offer goods for the body types we are trying to embrace. Result: SOCIALMEDIA FIRESTORM! Major backfire. See the video and read some related comments on the REI Facebook page…bad language warning! (Thanks Mom, for showing me that story!)
 
Boaty McBoatface…isn’t she a BEAUT!
The lesson here? Make sure when you aim to engage the masses, you have dotted your “I’s” and crossed your “T’s”! Need we revisit the state-of-the-art, $287m polar research vessel launching in 2019? The vessel, whose naming put to internet users, is Boaty McBoatface (Rogers, 2016). So, there’s that.
 
Crowdsourcing, and/or customer engagement are nonetheless wonderful tools to advance a brand, solve problems, and boost sales…let us use this power wisely, however!
 
Remember, bad decisions make great stories. Here are some epic mascot fails. See ya for next week’s Stoll on Sports!
 
 
References
 
Aitamurto, T., Leiponen, A., & Tee, R. (June 2011). The promise of idea crowdsourcing – Benefits, contexts, limitations. Whitepaper, 1-30.
 
Bold Worldwide (October 2016). Why crowdsourcing is important for your sports brand. Retrieved from http://www.boldworldwide.com/bold-marketing-blog/how-one-soccer-club-takes-crowdsourcing-to-the-next-level
Chelladurai, P. (2016). Corporate social responsibility and discretionary social initiatives in sport: a position paper.  Journal of Global Sport Management, 1, 1-15.
Holton, A. & Coddington, M. (2012). Recasting social media users as brand ambassadors: Opening the door to the first “Social Suite”. Case Studies in Strategic Communications, 1(2). Retrieved from http://cssc.uscannenberg.org/cases/v1/v1art2/
 
Howe, J. (June 2016). The rise of crowdsourcing. Wired. Retrieved from https://www.wired.com/2006/06/crowds/
 
Lewis, P. (2011). How mobile phones helped solve two murders. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/paul_lewis_crowdsourcing_the_news
 

 

Rogers, K. (March 2016). Boaty McBoatface: What you get when you let the internet decide. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/22/world/europe/boaty-mcboatface-what-you-get-when-you-let-the-internet-decide.html

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