Social set is new in-crowd for ideas

Mobilising the collective brain power of consumers is transforming business innovation, as Charles Orton-Jones reports

Old-fashioned thinking relies on the expertise of the few – staff members, advisers. Just a few dozen folk see the evidence and then make decisions. No more. Crowdsourcing is the revolution which brings the ingenuity, knowledge and collective insights of the masses to your firm.

When Barclaycard wanted to develop a new card, it experimented with the crowdsourcing approach. Everything was up for grabs – the design, the interest rate, the terms and conditions. The result was the Barclaycard Ring, which the firm billed as “the first social credit card to be designed and built through the power of community crowdsourcing”.

Crowdmembers can see the card’s profit and loss statements, and can influence how the card is managed in the future. A rewards programme allows the community to share in the profit generated by its decisions. They get to vote on which charity is assisted by the card.

Reggae legend Jimmy Cliff is crowdsourcing his new music video using the website. Talenthouse brings together artists and creatives to make crowdsourcing easy for the music industry. Musicians using the site include Lady Gaga, Elton John and U2. And the corporate world is making the most of it too – you’ll find jobs with Adidas, Nokia and Microsoft.

Products can be designed using crowdsourcing. Handbag website BagServant ran a competition to design a handbag, with up-and-coming designer Mel Boteri supplying the basic shape. More than 500 designs were received, enough to keep BagServant replete with ideas for years to come. The best idea was subject to a popular vote to go into production.

Co-founder Lenka Gourdie says: “Crowdsourcing was a great way to interact with people on the social media too, especially Twitter. Also, it gave me a good reason to contact some top influencers and ask them to design a bag. We have also gathered interesting feedback on what shoppers look for in handbags.”

The crowdsourcing does not have to be overt. When Nissan wanted to understand what factors might hold back consumes from switching to hybrid or electric cars it used Synthesio’s social media analytics to assess chatter on the technology. It identified five concerns: battery range and recharging infrastructures, question marks about running costs, and doubts about drive quality. The eavesdropping also revealed that once people had been in a Nissan Leaf, its electric car, the verdict tended to be more positive. So it ran a campaign to get people into the vehicles. The Leaf is now the world’s best-selling electric car.

Crowdsourcing is the revolution which brings the ingenuity, knowledge and collective insights of the masses to your firm

Strategy can be crowdsourced. Hamish Brocklebank is the young entrepreneur behind Flooved, a site for academic text books. “The original model was to be the Spotify of text books,” he says. “But students weren’t willing to pay.” The solution? Crowdsource what Flooved should do next. “We used social networks and forums to ask academics what would work, and we came up with the idea of offering free lecture notes and guides. The money will come from advertising and premium features, such as study groups and virtual learning environments. The content will be crowdsourced – that’s something else we found out through the crowdsourcing process.”

Crowdsourcing can be done internally. PwC has developed a crowdsourcing platform to use the brainpower of its 17,000 employees. The project uses game concepts, where ideas are up-voted or down-voted and converted into a virtual currency. There is also an ideas stock exchange where people bet on ideas.

Dan Schwarzmann, a partner at PwC, says: “Our first firm-wide campaign for a FTSE 100 company generated more than 500 ideas and over 10,500 employees participated across the country. Using a crowdsourcing platform has allowed us to capture and engage with all the creativity of our people across our firm’s different specialisms, regardless of grade, location or business area, to provide really fresh thinking for our clients.”

The downsides? Online votes can be manipulated, warns BagServant’s Ms Gourdie. “It may be better, sometimes, to put the final vote on ideas to a panel of experts,” she suggests.

Flooved’s Mr Brocklebank also has a few words of caution. “You need to get a thick skin,” he says. “People will offer frank feedback. They might even slag you off on other forums. We have had four or five ‘obtuse’ contributors. This is dangerous. Social networks can be a small world, especially in our field of academia and pessimism can spread like a disease. The trick is to be polite, respond and move on.”

In fact the same could be said of the old-school method of relying on staff. The difference with crowdsourcing is that there are thousands of other helpful voices to drown out the moaners. For that benefit alone, crowdsourcing is worth a look.



How do you make sure your new products are going to be a hit? Tribesports’ answer is to get the customers to design them.

With 200,000 members, Tribesports is one of the most popular social networks for sports on the internet. The master plan of founder Steve Reid is to crowdsource the design of a new line of sportswear. The clothes will be made in the same factories which churn out mainstream brands. The crowdsourcing approach means, in theory, cost savings of 40 per cent, which will be passed on to the consumer.

Tribesports used its own social network initially to mine data to see which sports were most popular. It then took that data and asked users to help produce, and refine, the prototypes.

More than 1,400 responses poured in. Shorts, tops and women’s sports leggings are now ready to be manufactured.

Naturally, Tribesports raised the money to produce the clothes via crowdsourcing. The target was £30,000 on the Kickstarter platform. This was reached, and passed, in two days, with more than 1,000 backers. Tribesports will market the range as “community-driven sportswear” – an entirely accurate description.