Crowdsourcing A Discussion on Crowdsourcing: One Year Later

The lone genius or the crowd?

During the latter parts of 2009 I developed a keen interest in what was happening around the concept of crowdsourcing. The notion, which had come to widespread public attention through books such as The Wisdom of Crowds (Surowiecki, 2005) and Crowdsourcing (Howe, 2008), was gaining favor among brands that were eager to engage consumers (and often leverage the power of Social Media). Some brands hit it out of the park, but many others spent good money on programs and campaigns that were instantly forgettable.

In the process, the term “crowdsourcing” started to become a catch-all phrase, thrown around indiscriminantly by marketers and the media.  As a result, I wrote several posts on the subject here on

These posts featured insights from several leaders in the fields of marketing & advertising and ultimately led me to create an e-Book on the subject called, Everyone Is Illuminated. I owe my gratitude to those who provided their estimable thinking on the subject and helped to make it a success.

Now, some twelve months later, it seemed to me the heat had dissipated a bit around crowdsourcing. I wasn’t seeing people referring to it on Twitter with the same frequency. Brands didn’t seem to be using it as much in high profile campaigns. Or was that just my perception and not the reality?

I decided to tap into my own crowd and once again ask experts in the field – agency types, marketers, ad industry vets – to help me survey the state of crowdsourcing. I hope you’ll find this as interesting and illuminating as last time. This year I’ve curated some of the the responses around specific questions, creating a conversation of sorts. We’ll start with asking a very basic question:

Last year at this time, it seems “crowdsource” was THE buzzword. Do you feel the heat has diminished, or is crowdsourcing still a shiny new toy?

It’s clear that crowdsourcing is now entering a new phase of its lifecycle. It’s gone through the proto-crowdsource stage where it indeed existed, but in an amorphous way, not yet labeled or codified. It’s gone through the thought-leadership stage where it was written about as a trend to watch in the future. It’s now had it’s “moment in the sun” phase where it was on the lips of agency execs, and brand managers were clamoring for it.  This led to the “misuse/overuse” phase and brings us to what I think are the more interesting phases: Results focused and diverse experimentation.

Now it’s time for serious people to get down to business and see if this will really work as a concept, not just today, but long into the future. My unscientific survey of agency execs seems to indicate that crowdsourcing is indeed viable.  Aaron Bateman, a copywriter at the Danish creative agency Advance and the man behind the site Agency Future sees crowdsourcing as “…approaching a level of normality now. The obvious reference is V&S ‘winning’ Harley, but less hyped outfits like Guided and The IdeaLists are quietly going about their work, refining their business model and seem here for the long haul.”

I think Aaron makes a key point here. Are the brands and agencies that jumped in (or just dipped their toes) in 2009/2010 learning from their efforts? Will their offerings or executions be refined and altered with future iterations? If so, crowdsourcing can continue to have a role.

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The Consumer Generated Ad Model Backlash is Approaching

I’ve written a bit about Consumer Generated Ads (CGA) in the past, and what is has to offer as an agency model. In general, I’m not sure that CGA has the potential to be more than a novelty, and at that a novelty that is already starting to wear thin. Check out the opening line from this piece in Ad Age earlier this week:

Dear consumer,

Your 15 minutes are over. You suck.

Ok, a little over the top for dramatic purposes, but here comes the CGA backlash. The article goes on to quote various people within the industry who rightly note that the novelty of CGA has now worn off, and in the cold light of day most of the creative being generated is fairly poor. From the article:

“You’re getting these very poor quality spots, and it’s not even done in seriousness anymore. It’s almost like a joke,” said San Diego-based brand strategist Denise Lee Yohn. “It’s almost like a parody, and it’s being treated like a game. That’s definitely affecting the quality of what we’re seeing.”

She remains adamant that “there’s not a lot for a company to gain by doing this. There’s not a novelty anymore, there’s nothing to gain, and it lacks the authenticity. It’s going to happen with a brand real soon where there will be a backlash against this.”

I agree. Or rather agreed. Back in December I wrote:

At some point, probably next summer, you’ll see a crowdsourcing backlash as some unwitting brand will declare some plagiarized effort a ‘winner’ of some contest or perhaps a few too many crowdsourced programs will fail to inspire a decent response and marketers will sour.

I’d be hard pressed to think of another profession where, “Let’s let the consumer/customer/citizen/audience do the work” would be considered a reasonable idea. No one ever suggests Consumer Generated Heart Surgery, or User Generated aircraft piloting, why would advertising, which takes a great deal of skill to do effectively be immune to this absurdity?

For more on crowdsourcing, read my eBook, Everyone Is Illuminated. Tons of great thinking from a lot of really smart people.

The Periodic Table of the Social Media Elements

Social Media really is a lot like chemistry. There is a huge pool of elements you can choose from and an infinite variety of combinations you can create.  Twitter + sharing + commenting will give you a different result than blogging + LinkedIn + Flickr. Then of course there are the active ingredients – the people. A dash of Chris Brogan plus a big helping of David Armano and the whole thing changes again.

Well, this got me to thinking. It would be handy to have a Periodic Table of the Social Media Elements. So, I created one:


Social Media: Art? Or Science?

Social Media: Art? Or Science?

You can grab this from Flickr here. Please feel free to download and share.

Now, if I’m being honest there is nothing particularly scientific about the table. In fact, your table could be very different from my table. You have favorite applications, people and habits. That’s cool. The magic comes with using them all and putting them together in different combinations. According to Wikipedia (so it must be true), the Periodic Table is not a static thing:

“The layout of the table has been refined and extended over time, as new elements have been discovered, and new theoretical models have been developed to explain chemical behavior.”

So maybe in six months or a year I’ll revise this and add some new people, take out others, and mix things up a bit. I think it’s also a cool way to brainstorm – coming up with different ways to connect different elements of Social Media.

A lot of this is going to be old news to Social Media practitioners, but if you have friends, colleagues, parents, students or bosses who are having trouble keeping all the elements of Social Media straight, you may want to download/print this chart out for them.

I know what you’re thinking now (assuming you’ve been kind enough to read this far): Cool idea Rick, but what do all the abbreviations stand for?

Here’s the key:


Social Media Behaviours: (These are the positive things you choose to do)

Sh = Share

Mt = Monitor

Fr = Friend

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