On the surface, crowdsourcing seems like an effective and fun way to generate interest in an idea and maybe get some free content for a project. Whether it’s placing your vote, submitting a video or just making a phone call with pertinent information, there have been many examples of successful crowdsourcing campaigns over the years. And since many of us just watched the Super Bowl, an example of how one particular advertiser implemented crowdsourcing immediately comes to my mind.
Doritos has used crowdsourcing for many years to get what The Verge writer Chris Plante described as a “decade-long scam for free Super Bowl commercials”. In short, Doritos solicited videos from amateur filmmakers promoting its product and the winning video would be shown during the Super Bowl. For example, in a 2016 crowdsourcing project, five videos were selected and viewers voted for the winner. According to Plante, the five video makers were awarded $10,000 and a trip to Detroit, where they attended a Super Bowl party but not the actual football game. Fans helped select a winner by watching the commercials and then voting on their computer and other smart devices. It’s pretty genius. Just think about all the money the company saved on personnel and filming equipment by not producing its own commercial. And as an added bonus, the good press from the successful crowdsourcing campaign led to PR awards and positive recognition for Doritos. Just take a look at the winning video. (Warning: Prepare yourself for cuteness overload!) I do remember seeing the commercial, but never knew that it came from a crowdsourcing campaign. The quality was exceptional and comparable to other Super Bowl commercials.
Like many other companies, Doritos uses crowdsourcing to generate free content. It’s a win-win experience for both the company and the people who participate, and especially the winner. But it’s not always fun and games when it comes to crowdsourcing. There are complex issues that are often solved because of crowdsourcing. Let’s look at the CrimeStoppers program. Chances are you’ve probably heard on television or online that you could receive a cash reward for information that leads to an arrest and conviction in a particular criminal case. Central Alabama CrimeStoppers is a non-profit organization that works independently from the local police department (although law enforcement officers are on its board of directors) to obtain information in hopes of helping investigators solve crimes. The organization partners with local media to solicit information on its cases. These cases range from missing persons, unsolved crimes, wanted suspects. It even features a “Crime of the Week”. Video and photos of suspects are broadcasted and posted online in hopes that someone will recognize the person and contact authorities. In this case, CrimeStoppers is counting on crowdsourcing to solve these cases. The end result they are striving for is clearly stated on its website: “They committed the crime. YOU helped put them away!”
Police departments located across the country use crowdsourcing as an essential investigative tool. In an article entitled “Here’s Why Law Enforcement Is So Keen on Social Media” by Jimmy Daly of State Tech, he stated that 80% of law enforcement reportedly used social media to solve crimes. This included soliciting crime tips and notifying the public. When a police department shares a picture of a suspect on its social media sites, the goal is to get a response that will help them solve the case quickly. The Atlanta police department often posts surveillance video or photos of suspects on Facebook and Twitter to solicit the public’s help in catching those criminals. Police see social media as an invaluable tool that will help them catch criminals. And with 2.8 billion people who have Facebook accounts, chances are the suspect will be recognized by someone, especially if the post is shared or retweeted. Police also utilize crowdsourcing to get information on missing children. On any given day, you can see a child’s picture and identifying information shared on social media. As Mohammad Mujahed from Yo Magazine states, “Pages like Facebook can aid law enforcement officers in finding missing persons by spreading the word of missing persons cases on a global level.”
So far I’ve discussed both the fun and serious sides of crowdsourcing. But it’s not always that straightforward. Not everyone approves of certain crowdsourcing methods. I was part of a crowdsourcing project that ruffled the feathers of our city officials. As the digital media manager at a local newspaper, I was contacted by a company that operated a website where citizens could report anything from potholes to broken street lights. The digital team thought it was a great idea to have the SeeClickFix website integrate with ours. What harm would it do? We would only be providing additional access to an existing website. We didn’t build the site, but we did embed parts of it into the newspaper’s website. Citizens didn’t actually need us to participate on the site, but we just made it a little easier. When city officials caught wind of it, they were not happy. They insisted they already had a number that residents could call for these type issues. I believe they felt that having a website that listed all the problems that citizens had with city maintenance would cause strife within the affected city departments and it would somehow appear as if they were not doing their job. But we, as the newspaper’s digital team, wanted to provide an alternative. This type of crowdsourcing would give readers another voice and we could possibly glean story ideas. But still, the city did not agree with our decision to promote this site. We moved ahead with partnering with SeeClickFix despite the criticism and opposition from city leaders. If you can tolerate resistance and a little hostility, you’ll see the benefit of this type of crowdsourcing.
Ask and you shall receive! That’s how I think about crowdsourcing sometimes. Its power can be pretty amazing. Crimes can be solved, missing children can be found and everyday people can be transformed into a celebrity as a result of crowdsourcing. However when these campaigns are launched, project leaders have to be ready for any and all types of responses. Being able to decipher and process all the information produced from crowdsourcing is key to obtaining effective and useful results.