Crowdsourcing Spreading like Wildfire with Social Media

by Michael Marchionda - Crowdsourcing is a growing, fast-paced and effective way for organizations to gather the best ideas from online communities and use them in ways that benefit both the organization and contributor.

Crowdsourcing is the practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people. In the past, that sometimes meant a long, arduous process, hindered by the communication challenges one would expect to encounter at a time before the internet. In fact, not much attention was given to crowdsourcing before it was adopted by web-savvy organizations that were designed to take advantage of the networked world. This is the primary reason the term crowdsourcing was coined only a few years ago, despite the concept’s existence for quite some time now.

Just as the internet played a role in the evolution of the word, social media is transforming the way we think of crowdsourcing and will continue to do so as the benefits of using social media to crowdsource become more well-known. Social media is becoming an essential component to crowdsourcing as it allows organizations to reach a wider audience faster, cheaper and more efficiently than ever before.

Current crowdsourcing campaigns almost always use social media to obtain a higher number of contributions, in theory leading to a better quality idea, service or whatever the desired end-product might be. As social media monitoring technology becomes increasingly popular and sophisticated (currently, one-third of marketers do not monitor social media) more and more organizations will pay closer attention to how social media can be used to fuel their crowdsourcing campaigns.

Examples from crowdsourcing pioneers Threadless and Doritos illustrate how social media is providing organizations with the essential channels required to reach the masses and make their crowdsourcing efforts a success. They also show the importance of monitoring social media to fully understand its contribution to their organization’s crowdsourcing effort.

Threadless: turning followers into measurable growth

Threadless is a Chicago-based organization that sells graphic t-shirts which are designed and voted upon by members of an online community. Those who submit winning designs are rewarded a prize valued at $2,500, and the design is then printed and made available for purchase. Threadless does not require designers to follow any parameters to reach one desired end-product, but the model still depends on a constant flow of quality designs and social media is essential to that flow.

At a recent conference in Austin, Texas, VP of Marketing Cam Balzer elaborated on how Threadless’s business model encourages designers to direct traffic to the website using social media. Immediately after designers submit their designs, they oftentimes ask their friends, family and followers to vote for their design since obtaining many high ratings increases the likelihood of winning. The criteria for winning encourage designers to spread word about their design (and more importantly, the Threadless website) through social media.

As Threadless experienced, realizing this potential and growing a considerably large fan base is a long journey:

  • After Threadless met with executives with Twitter, @threadless was put on Twitter’s now-defunct suggested follower list, which used to display the most popular Twitter accounts for users to follow after they’ve registered an account. This resulted in tremendous growth for @threadless, which was adding 40,000-50,000 followers per week.

  • Threadless reaches audiences through Facebook and StumbleUpon, which has provided the organization with 1.3 million visits per month over the last year, and also engages with several video game blogs and science fiction blogs through social media with great success.

  • Like any great campaign, Threadless takes social media further than amassing a large number of followers and actually listens to what the community is saying about them. After noticing that Threadless t-shirts were particularly popular amongst comic book fans, Threadless created a platform for comic artists to express their art in another way by designing a comic that can be printed on the back and front of specially designed t-shirts.

The following quote from Balzer nicely encapsulates how social media has contributed to the growth of Threadless’s business:

“We’ve got this really amazing viral engine built in: designers telling designers, designers telling their friends, friends coming and scoring, friends telling their friends about this amazing t-shirt site they’ve found…and suddenly you grow from 100,000 members to in excess of 1,000,000 members.”

What’s important about this quote, and Threadless as a whole, is that the viral activity created by the organization’s online community doesn’t just translate into a few Retweet or Likes, but into measurable growth for the business.

Doritos: using social media metrics as evaluation criteria

Like Threadless, the Doritos Viralocity crowdsourcing campaign relies on social media, only more heavily. With Threadless, sharing a link to one’s creation is expected but not required to win; with Viralocity, sharing a link to one’s creation is essential to winning.

Viralocity is an online campaign run by Doritos that requires users to name a newest flavour, make a viral video about it and then share it online. The last component, sharing it online, is arguably more important that the video itself. As seen below, videos are scored entirely on the online footprint they leave behind:

 Scoring criteria for Viralocity

The granularity of the evaluation criteria makes it easy to see that sharing through social media is crucial to winning the campaign. The final score is an aggregate of the videos’ exposure on social media sites like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Digg, so every Retweet, unique page view, bookmark and video rating counts. Doritos even gets participants to help them out with their SEO: videos appearing in the top five results for “Doritos Viralocity” are rewarded bonus points.

This example, perhaps more so than Threadless, calls into question the ethics of crowdsourcing and whether or not it results in a quality end-product since the focus is on sharing the product, not creating it. The Viralocity campaign relies on the assumption that the best content will be shared the most often.

Despite these concerns, the campaign was generally regarded as a success. Doritos generated more than 1,100 entries, seven million video views, a YouTube following of 3,500 subscribers and more than 66,000 Facebook fans. The contest topped the Ad Age Viral Video chart for two weeks, as reported by the Vancouver Sun.

Viralocity is an excellent example of a crowdsourcing campaign that maximized exposure by incorporating social media sharing into the contest’s evaluation criteria.

The future of crowdsourcing

With Twitter’s announcement last week that it would use crowdsourcing to translate Twitter into several languages, the topic of crowdsourcing is abuzz in the social media world. Crowdsourcing is alive and well and will become a more acceptable and widespread method of developing end-products once additional success stories of using social media to drive campaigns emerge. In both examples, social media monitoring play an important role in the success of the campaigns. The full potential of crowdsourcing has yet to be tapped, as it is still relatively young, but both of these examples serve to demonstrate that potential by showing how social media can be used to accelerate and grow these campaigns.

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