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BLOGDigital Transformation Strategy: Crowdsourcing

by Randall CraigFiled in: Make It Happen Tipsheet, Blog, Digital StrategyTagged as:

One of the more powerful mechanisms for transformation is crowdsourcing… but what does this term actually mean, practically? And are there ways to use the concept more strategically?

Digital Transformation Strategy: Crowdsourcing

The Oxford dictionary defines crowdsourcing as “the practice of obtaining information or input into a task or project by enlisting the services of a large number of people, either paid or unpaid, typically via the internet.”

Crowdsourcing encompasses a spectrum of activities from engagement in internet discussion groups and social media, to GoFundMe and Kickstarter campaigns, all the way up to virtual organizations that exist to achieve a particular goal.

While the concept is simple, it is useful to think about a spectrum of capabilities/benefits that can be derived from it. These levels indicate a level of complexity that organizations can employ; they can use any (or all or none) of them as part of their overall strategy:

Level 0 – Research-driven: Examples include basic surveys and focus groups – eg formal market research. At this level, a defined group of people are asked a defined set of questions. While not really crowdsourcing, there is a basic overlap.

Level I – Knowledge-driven: Examples include Internet discussion groups, social media discussions, and SaaS beta tests. At this level, the crowd is sharing their knowledge, usually in return for either functionality, or an emotional return for their efforts. Sometimes this is helped along with basic gamification.

Level II – Investment-driven: Examples include GoFundMe and Kickstarter. Level II Crowdsourcing extends the commitment to an investment. The participant is expecting to receive a tangible benefit, often with an element of exclusivity.

Level III – Purpose-driven: At this level, an organization is birthed, complete with leadership, a management team, a large and active workforce (usually volunteer), and an even larger number of followers. Often these organizations are mission-focused, but whether they are for-profit or not, they often swing a big stick in the market, because of the zeal of all involved. Many charitable organizations and professional associations have figured this out, and some corporations have as well: consider the extreme loyalty of Apple customers, many of whom actively evangelize the company’s products.

While most organizations currently use market research, and some are at Level I, very few are at Level II. Level III is rare, but is a powerful target for a digital transformation effort: what organization wouldn’t want their staff, clients, prospects, and beyond to identify so strongly and positively with their organization?


The question about whether Level III is appropriate or not is a strategic question informed by internal knowledge and experience. Thankfully, because of the ease of crowdsourcing, it is easy to construct a number of experiments that can quickly and inexpensively grow that experience. This week, choose two candidates for crowdsourcing: one at Level I, and one at Level II, and sketch out the plan to make it happen.

Crowdsourcing insight: The question of digital transformation is connected to the question of WHAT should be crowdsourced: possibilities include product and service development, to marketing, to sales, to training, to customer service and more. A caveat: what happens when technology is used to lock processes in an organization that does not take advantage of crowdsourcing? Usually it means that the benefits of any future crowdsourcing are unlikely to be transformational. Or at least it will be frustrated by the tech lock-in.

Marketing insight: Does the question of “going viral” fit here as well? Yes and no: on one hand, a marketer’s desire for their campaign to “go viral” is a wish, and at best tactical: it’s not a transformational strategy. On the other hand, if virality has been achieved, it may be possible, as part of a transformational strategy, to use the “crowd”…

Related post: Crowdsourcing, LinkedIn Crowdsourcing

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