Revisiting Crowdsourcing

As an industry, marketing has always been in love with the bright, shiny object. From new channels (radio, TV, online, mobile…) to new strategies (celebrity endorsements, couponing, line extensions…) to new job titles (planners, interactive media buyer, creative culturalists…), the search for the new, for an edge, has always been around. Of course, another time honored industry tradition is to watch from the sidelines and provide withering commentary on the latest innovation. Industry thought leaders love to rubberneck the Gartner Hype Cycle as the latest trend makes its way from the Peak of Inflated Expectations to the Trough of Disillusionment. At that point most move on to the next trend and the process begins anew, with little thought given to the final stages: The Slope of Enlightenment and the Plateau of Productivity. And yet that’s where the real learnings can usually be found. So today I ask you to travel back with me to a time before 2nd Screen, Big Data and Gamification roamed the Earth. Yes, all the way back to 2009 when Crowdsourcing was the hottest GMOOT (Give Me One Of Those) on the block.

Back then it seemed everyone was dying to leverage the wisdom of the crowds. Super Bowl spots, new ice cream flavors, brand logos, you name it and companies were looking to the amateurs to solve the problem. Some understood how to harness this power, most did not, and as a result a lot of the output was forgettable at best, embarrassing and harmful to the brand at worst.  I catalogued much of this with my e-book, Everyone is Illuminated, in early 2010. It includes several of my essays on the topic along with insights and POVs from a whole host of very smart industry pros. Give it a quick read if you have a minute and want to catch up on what was happening back then.


But the question today is, where is crowdsourcing now? Was it a gimmick that was fun for a while, but ultimately discarded in favor of A) the old reliables and/or B) even shinier, newer objects? The short answer is yes, crowdsourcing is worth your time. Why? Because consumers want to hav a deeper involvement with the brands they love and development in analytics and other marketing strategies such as gamification make crowdsourcing even more attractive… if you take the time to do it right.

I won’t speak to the wisdom of crowds, but it’s clear that there is economic power in crowds. Crowdfunding, a subspecies of crowdsourcing, has exploded in the last few years, with sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo playing significant roles in the launch of Generation Start-Up. Others, such as MutopoVictors & Spoils and Zooppa have taken on the roles of harnessing the crowds in the service of brands, acting as consultants/agencies/wranglers.

But I think brands, before they enter into this territory, need to understand a key aspect: the difference between a crowd and a tribe. More than mere semantics, this is a fundamental distinction. A crowd gawks at a car accident, congregates behind the woodshop to watch two 8th graders fight, or tunes in to watch a handful of desperate ‘contestants’ sell their dignity for a chance at 15 minutes of fame on a TV game show… and then they disappear as quickly as the came. A tribe, on the other hand, is a group of people with a common cause. They are there for each other. If you are doing things right, your brand will create a tribe of followers who you can activate in support of a variety of executions. That’s the type of crowd you want to cultivate, and cultivating a tribe is no easy thing for most brands. This is where an agency can play a critical role, for in addition to a superior product and visionary mission, brands that tell a compelling story are the ones that develop tribes. And so successful crowdsourcing isn’t achieved by circumventing the traditional ad agency, but rather, it happens with the help of an engaged agency partner.

David Bratvold, founder of The Daily Crowdsource echoes my sentiments: “The world’s largest brands are adopting crowdsourcing. It’s not a tactic where they’re relinquishing their traditional agency model, but rather looking for agencies that can handle both methods.”

And what is the compelling reason why brands (and agencies) should be embracing crowdsourcing? According to Bratvold, Consumers have long been clamoring for more bi-directional engagement with their favorite brands & crowdsourcing is the perfect way for them to get it.”

I tend to agree with him here. All marketing trends point away from a messaging push and towards a more collaborative, two-way engagement with consumers. And again, to be clear, these messages, this new way of communicating with brands, will still be lead by agencies. More from Bratvold:  “Agencies have no reason to fear crowdsourcing as long as they find a way to add it to their set of tools. The brands that embrace crowdsourcing properly will succeed in the next decade. The brands that don’t will fall behind. Microsoft knows this. So do Doritos, GE, Kimberly-Clark, Pepsi, & Coca-Cola  – they all know how powerful crowdsourcing is, and it’s slowly becoming more widely used within these organizations.”

I think crowdsourcing can also be enhanced when you look at something like gamification. Smart game design accounts for how all members of a tribe will react to behavioral incentives and keeps all members of the tribe engaged. In some ways, all gamification is crowdsourcing, but not all crowdsourcing uses gamification. Both tactics can be powerful, especially when used in conjunction, but can easily be misused as well. Again, this is where a trusted agency partner plays a key role.

On February 27 & 28, Bratvold and The Daily Crowdsource will be hosting Crowdopolis, a conference showcasing Fortune 500 Corporations using crowdsourcing to out-innovate, out-process, & out-engage their competition. Companies like GEMicrosoft, WalmarteBay, SAP, NASA & many others are scheduled to be on-hand to lead the discussion. As a special offer to Ignition readers, Bratvold is offering us a 2-for-1 discount for the event. You can register here, be sure to use the promotional code: AgencyYR to receive your discount.  The 2-for-1 promotion ends Jan 28 so book now. The event will be held at:
Metropolitan Pavilion Center
125 W 18th St
New York, NY 10011

I’m going to be in attendance and I hope I see you there.

Crowdsourcing: Everything old is new again

Remember when crowdsourcing was all the rage, way back in…


At my in-laws house this week, we looked at a copy of Photoplay magazine from 1931 that featured a story on my wife’s grandmother.  The magazine had run a contest in conjunction with Warner Bros., asking readers to write an original screenplay for a motion picture, “Beauty and the Boss.” Jane Considine of Philadelphia (grandma) was the winner from a field of more than 10,000!

That’s right, crowdsourcing was being used by various content producers (magazines, motion picture studios) 80 years ago, and they were apparently doing it quite successfully. The copy from the story on the winner is priceless, including such gems as:

The name? The writer of the mysterious yarn? “Jane E. Considine, Philadelphia, PA,” was written in the upper right hand corner of page one.

She is twenty-one years old.

She is medium height, with dark hair and eyes and an olive skin. She loves sports, is a great movie fan and does not believe in diet.

She is a typical young American girl – modern, up-to-date but not a flapper. Thoughtful, but not solemn. She has stamina and courage. She is the highest type of American young womanhood.



Gamification is the new Crowdsourcing

If you’ve been following my blog for the last couple of years you know I’ve written a lot about crowdsourcing (Ed. Note – You can find all my crowdsourcing-related posts here). Even wrote a little ebook on the topic with the help of many friends. The same sorts of conversations and buzz I heard with crowdsourcing I’m now hearing with game mechanics, or ‘gamification’ as it is often called. A term greatly disliked by many people who take this stuff seriously. And that in part is the crux of this post. Terms quickly get thrown about (like ‘viral’) by people who aren’t really sure what they are speaking about.  I’ve already started writing on this a bit, and hope to continue to do so.  I’ll be looking to tap into a wide variety of practitioners and skeptics with the goal of providing an objective and balanced perspective on the subject. Here are two people that I recently had the chance to exchange correspondence with and I thought they both had worthwhile views on the issue. First, a brief note from Brian Solis, principal at Altimeter Group. Brian’s also a driving force behind the Pivot Conference taking place in New York this October (sign up here to attend). I asked Brian about the future of game mechanics and questioned if 2011 was the year this practice went from insider knowledge to over-exposed and misused (jumping the shark as it were):

Brian Solis: Before I can answer, I can’t believe that Happy Days culture is still alive. When will jumping the shark finally jump the shark? I believe that in social media as anything jumps the shark it means it’s starting to take a strong foothold within the mainstream. This is good because that means we, as everyday people, have a say in the direction of new media and how we discover, share and learn. Game theory and gamification hold promise in engagement, personalization, and rewards. It will make for better website experiences, for more enriching exchanges in social and mobile networks, and I believe it will also help reinvent our education system.

So, a very positive spin on things from Brian and I agree with him for the most part. I think there are some lessons from crowdsourcing that we can take though. Not every website or brand is ideal for game mechanics, and it’s important to understand the science as well as the art to getting it right. On that note, I spoke with Laurent Courtines who has worked with online communities for over ten years, first managing and establishing the fantasy sports community and for the last five years leading community and social initiatives at AOL’s He is the  founder of the The Blog at and can be found musing on the Internet at He was kind enough to answer several of my questions and I thought his responses were worth sharing in full:

Rick Liebling: Two years ago Crowdsourcing was the buzz word every marketer was spouting, now it’s ‘gamification.’ What should marketers know before jumping into this area, whether it’s branded social games or social rewards in a community?

Laurent Courtines: I’ll sum it up in a list form:

1. It’s not easy.
Think it through. Always think to yourself,  will this be fun?  If it’s not fun to you,  it won’t be fun for your audience.

2. You can’t just slap badges on your content and expect people to become more engaged.
Affinity items and badges systems are ongoing.  Once your audience gets a taste for the rewards, they will want more.  Be prepared to support your campaign for a long time.

3. Study!
Play games,  think about what makes a game fun.  Go back to your childhood and think about games you played. What made Monopoly, Shoots and Ladders or Q-Bert fun? Make a list and find the fun.

4. Don’t over-complicate things.
You don’t have to have ALL the game mechanics all at once.  It could just be a leader board for your site calling out the most active participants, or a simple progression bar to show you how far you have to go to complete an order. (LinkedIn is a good example of how great a little progress bar can be. You always want to fill in your profile)
It’s little features that can help a lot!

5. Trust the experts.
As a marketer, trust the game designers and producers.  Usually, they are the real game lovers and understand the game audience much more than you do.  If you have an idea for a branded game, trust the game makers when they say no one wants to play a game with Clorox all over it.  Do simple things like sponsor the game to be ad free for a while (most online games have a pre-roll ad). Give something to the player that they can appreciate.

Overall, I think the game mechanics being added to non-game events are good. We just have to realize that there is work involved.  It’s not a magic bullet and has to have focus.


I think you’re going to hear and see a lot on this topic in the second half of this year. I’m looking forward to following the developments.

Crowdsourcing: The Next Step in the Evolution of Crowdsourcing

What's next for crowdsourcing?

In my last post in the crowdsourcing series several experts remarked on the continued growth of crowdsourcing. So, for this round the question is:

What’s the next step in the evolution of crowdsourcing?

I think what makes any burgeoning concept interesting is where it goes once some of the basics have been covered. Whether platforms like YouTube or Twitter or concepts like product integration, no idea can stick around long without evolving. So, where are the places that crowdsourcing will go in the future?

Aaron Bateman: “My guess is there’ll be a thinning out as some of the initial frontrunners either fade from view or carve out ever wider spheres of influence. Much like the regular agency rat-race I guess. One interesting possibility might see larger outfits taking over the networks of smaller competitors. Consolidation in other words.” This is an interesting, and logical, extrapolation. But I don’t know if, say Victors & Spoils, would be interested in owning Guided or Napkins Labs (read why Napkins Labs Will Find Crowdsourcing Success For Creatives And Clients). I think each of the different crowdsourcing agencies has enough of a different approach that a direct acquisition may not make sense.

Hank Leber: “Curation has got to get more efficient and effective. The onus is not only on those running the crowdsourcing businesses, but also on the crowd itself – to get motivated, learn how to be most effective in this new space, and to make the system work for them.  The problem is part awareness, and part confidence.  People need to see more projects working, which will make them more amenable to playing a hand or two in the system. More individuals get involved and more people talk about the projects – awareness goes up.  It´s a standard advertising/branding problem and it´ll work itself out.”

As always, I think it’s important to showcase a variety of viewpoints and Nate Sullivan falls firmly in the anti-crowdsource camp: “Every generation has had its marketing scams, from MLMs of the 80s and 90s to crowdsourcing today. One topic that the recession recently exposed and provided a brief news flash in 2010, was the unpaid internship. The unpaid internship is the closest thing to crowdsourced design that existed prior to Web 2.0. Inc reported in April 2010 that the Labor Department was cracking down on unpaid internships. There are guidelines and court decisions that guide the definition of unpaid labor. Crowdsourcing skirts this by having the appearance of a contest, but in reality, it’s contracted labor. If crowdsourcing as a labor substituting practice continues, it faces the same possibility of legal scrutiny and for good reason. You can’t operate a business on the backs of uncompensated labor and get away with it for long. It’s sort of like running a lottery and advertising it as an investment vehicle.” I often find myself thinking Nate’s got it wrong, but I also have a sneaking suspicion that in the long run he’s going to be proven right on a lot of this.

Sam Ford: I think that we are increasingly seeing the crowdsourcing mentality applied not so much to the creation of content but to the circulation of content. If companies are ultimately producing media texts, marketing, and other media for audiences to spread in a social space, it makes sense that we should be remodeling how those companies foster dialogue and put those messages in motion with communities in a meaningful way. At the heart of such work is a core commitment to listening, both in understanding what audiences want in creating content but in developing relationships that invite audiences to use media content for their own purposes in innovative ways that may or may not bring value back to the content creator but in a way that respects the labor and interests of the audience member.” An interesting interpretation, and one that also puts a premium on brands making sure ‘the crowd’ feels their efforts are valued. If people feel they are doing the work for the brand and not receiving anything in return they will eventually abandon the brand.

We’ll end the discussion with Tracy Shea: “We will see pockets of communities crop up and begin to operate much like a newsroom, with “silos” of information, curated somewhat collectively, but functioning as a whole.” This is an interesting idea. A newsroom of crowdsourced content from like-minded people around a certain topic would be powerful, especially if harnessed (supported?) by a brand.


Crowdsourcing: Yes, Crowdsourcing Is Still A Growing Trend

In recent weeks I’ve continued my examination on crowdsourcing by exploring topics such as whether crowdsourcing is still a hot topic, how people’s opinions have, or have not changed regarding crowdsourcing and taken a look at The IdeaLists and their approach to making matches rather than sourcing crowds. In this post I pose the following question:

Have you seen an increase or decrease in participation by people looking to engage in crowdsourcing opportunities?

For this question I turned to several experts who deal directly with this issue, leading agencies that help connect brands with the crowd.

Here’s Wil Merritt from Zooppa: “Significant increase.  Some people are learning how to make a living through crowdsourcing creative, and many others just enjoy the opportunity to participate and engage with the brands they love as a social media activity.”  Wil brings up an interesting point. Often we focus on the professional ad creative or graphic designer and how crowdsourcing is hurting their industries. But many of the participants are merely brand fans with no agenda other than having some fun.

Sam Reid of Guided offered: “It’s been a pretty steady increase in people getting in touch with Guided. We do a project which someone finds interesting and they ask to sign up. However we have a defined criteria / benchmark. We don’t need 1000 copywriters or graphic designers for instance. We need the right type of person with a required skill set who plays nicely but has a clear understanding of cultural stuff beyond advertising. It’s credible mass not critical mass.”  Again, a critical distinction – sourcing the right people rather than just the most people.

Claudia Batten of Victors & Spoils shared what’s happening out in Colorado: “We are seeing an increase in the number of people looking to participate in crowdsourcing opportunities. We are seeing this on the client side and the creative side with incredible growth in our creative participants in our crowd (or creative department as we look at it) alongside increasing interest from brands. When we started Victors & Spoils we quickly climbed to a crowd of 700 creative professionals which has steadily increased to now almost 4,000 members. We see a lot of interest from people who want to expand their current creative duties, stretch their creative legs as it were. We also take great pains to attract interesting clients with interesting work, which really motivates the great creatives who are always inspired to work on interesting briefs. We also see a lot of creatives opt in to self-select the client work they want to do, which really resonates with our clients as they want to hear from people who are passionate about their brand.”  So, more participants but also a level of discernment for some sector of the participants.

A small sampling, but clearly one that shows that crowdsourcing continues to not only grow, but grow in sophistication, not only from agencies like Zooppa, Guided and V&S, but also from the brands and people looking to participate. Those factors all bode well for the continued growth of crowdsourcing.

The IdeaLists: Redefining The Relationship Between Creatives, Brands and Agencies

"We make matches; we don't source crowds."

In the first part of my Crowdsourcing One Year Later series, Aaron Bateman, author of the Agency Future site, mentioned The IdeaLists, an organization I wasn’t familiar with. I did a little digging and thought it would be worthwhile and relevant to bring them into this discussion on how the relationship between brands, agencies and members of the creative community continues to evolve. Adam Glickman, Founder at The IdeaLists, graciously fielded some questions on what is The IdeaLists and how does it work:

Rick Liebling: Tell me about the premise behind IdeaLists? How did you start?

Adam Glickman: The idea was to take a look at the current processes in marketing and media and see where technology applied in the right places might be able to reduce some of the unnecessary layers and silos. If we are living in a quickly-changing, quickly-leveling world thanks to the sharing of information, can not/should not some of these new communications be applied to our industry?

Between 2006 and 2009 I had been tasked by two different agencies (W+K and BBH) to explore new agency models. After being within the walls of those organizations (which hold some of advertisings smartest and most adventurous people) I decided if an experiment like The IdeaLists was going to work, it needed to start from the outside and work its way in. So I went off to do it solo. I hired an Estonian designer, Indian developers and built a barebones site prototype. I quietly began inviting people in over Christmas 2009. Before long matches started getting made and money started changing hands. The model was working. So I started slowly growing it from there. Today Im proud to say we have 1600 qualified engaged members and over 10 million dollars in opportunities have flown through the site in the first year. Companies using the site include everything from non-profits to indie record labels to ad agencies to global brands. And every week we see where things can be tweaked to make the model stronger. Its still an ongoing experiment.

RL: How is it different from Guided Collective or Victors & Spoils?

AG: We arent an agency;  we dont seek retainers. We simply act as matchmaker for creatives and clients. And we do this efficiently by applying a number of filters to the information that flows through the network.

So picture us more as agent than agency. The IdeaLists is an ecosystem full of eclectic talent, ideas and opportunities. And when someone presents a specific problem into the mix, its our job to ensure the network matches them with the best solution.

RL: How does IdeaLists benefit brands?

AG: The site isn’t set up to differentiate between client buckets and creative buckets. As a one size-fits-all shop, projects of wildly varying budgets are flowing through the site regularly. So one day an agency that considers themselves a client might find themselves the creative the next day.

The most important way we benefit members is by introducing them to fresh  talent and ideas that exist outside their current professional network. Too often projects are awarded on access as opposed to merit. Our filters open the playing field without creating a mob.

RL: What do you see as the future for creatives and brands working together?

AG: Marketing is increasingly moving from broad and shallow messages that can appeal to a single large audience to multiple, deep and narrow executions that can appeal to targeted audiences simultaneously. Increasingly, agencies are hearing from their clients less of “heres ten million dollars for a campaign” and more of “heres ten million dollars for 100 mini-campaigns”. Agencies arent tooled for this. So The IdeaLists, by acting simply as matchmaker to deliver the best team for a specific execution, can facilitate this new market need.

Here’s an example of an IdeaLists project,  a recent collaboration with Levis.  They commissioned this film, utilizing filters in place so only a select few presented treatments and then they project managed and delivered the final film.


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