Are you thinking about adding a service to your freelancing repertoire or expanding a product line for your online business? Or maybe you just want to give something a test run before you decide to adopt it. If so, you might have considered using digital crowdsourcing — a popular assessment method — to see if that new idea has legs. A business tool that’s been around since 2006, digital crowdsourcing is commonly described as the practice of getting input into a project from a large number of people.
In its most broad sense, crowdsourcing is a way of using mass collaboration to achieve a business goal.
- It costs little or nothing to figure out if your idea is worth pursuing.
- It saves you wasting precious time and money on an unworkable product or service.
- It helps build more connections to your business.
People use digital crowdsourcing in a variety of ways online, from soliciting advice on a color scheme in their kitchen remodel to selecting a logo from three finalists who were chosen on a crowdsourcing platform. But when you are using this tool to vet permanent modifications or enhancements to your business, it can get a little trickier.
In order to get the most useful results, you will want to define your goal and strategy upfront, target the right pool of respondents, and craft your questions with care.
A crowdsourcing tale
Let me tell you a story. It might sound familiar. A while back one of my friends had an idea for his business, a membership program. His thoughts were, why not find out if people would pay to join by simply asking them?
So he decided to crowdsource his idea. First, he posted it on his blog. The few comments he got were positive. Then he went into a couple of Facebook group pages where he was active. The results there were more promising. His post was liked by several people. Some typical comments were:
- Awesome idea!
- Sign me up!
- What a wonderful resource.
- Go for it.
- Knowing you, it will be great.
My friend was so encouraged by this that he built and launched the site. By the end of the first week, he had one sign-up. Weeks passed and a couple more trickled in. What happened? Where were all those people who loved his idea?
Of course, no single action, planning strategy or tool will give you all the answers.
And obviously other factors also influenced my friend’s success. For example, what kind of marketing did he implement after the crowdsourcing activity — but before the launch?
When it came to the digital crowdsourcing activity itself, it’s possible he might have seen a better return with a little more thought into his plan. He depended on a group of people who were already his fans and were happy to support his idea — in concept.
It’s probably fair to say that my friend could have used a strategy, a digital crowdsourcing plan.
10 steps for testing your new idea with digital crowdsourcing
Take these 10 steps to improve your odds at digital crowdsourcing:
Narrow down your idea.
Have a strategy and define your goal precisely.
Select your crowd with care.
Don’t underestimate the time and effort needed.
Avoid the influence trap.
Craft your questions to favor specific over general.
Choose quality over quantity.
Follow up with both responders and people who did not reply.
Analyze the information you get and revise your idea if the feedback warrants it.
Stay positive and be persistent.
Let’s look at each step in more detail.
1. Narrow down your idea
You don’t have to spend dozens of hours on a formal business plan, but you should start with a specific, well thought-out idea. Do a little market research first. Red flags to watch for:
- Many companies already offer what you are thinking about launching (too much competition or you are not offering something that makes you stand out).
- No one is doing it (is there a reason for that?). Use this information to objectively look at your idea.
Once you have defined your idea, flesh out the details. At our company, we are fond of a little activity called mind mapping. Some people like to mind map the old-fashioned way, with a large blank sheet of paper and marking pen, but there is also free mind mapping software out there, like XMind.
2. Have a strategy and define your goal precisely
Always start with the goal of your digital crowdsourcing project. If you don’t have one, how will you know if you achieved it? What is the most important piece of feedback you want from your crowd? Write down one to three goals and keep that list in front of you as you design your survey.
3. Select your crowd with care
Try for a diverse group of leads with a mix of thought leaders and normal folk. In addition to using the email lists you have cultivated through your blog or newsletter, cast your net wide and look for other people whose email addresses you have access to. And don’t automatically eliminate people who are outside your industry or field. Sometimes the people outside the bubble are the ones who come up with the freshest and most creative input.
4. Don’t underestimate the time and effort needed
Add time to your calendar for market research, question construction, and follow-up. And have a backup or extra support plan so you can find help if you need it.
5. Avoid the influence trap
Let’s face it: In a public forum like Facebook, some people’s opinions can be swayed by others, especially if momentum is building one way or another. In addition to the fact that up-and-down votes and likes are not helpful data, this particular kind of feedback makes it more difficult to separate the honest responses from those that have been unduly influenced by others. To counteract this, consider sending your request via private email.
6. Craft your questions to favor specific over general
When writing your message, keep it clear and focused. In your first paragraph, explain your idea, why you are thinking about launching it and — most importantly — why you are asking them in particular to participate.
Then quickly move to your questions. Borrowing a page from the journalist’s interviewing guidebook, avoid asking a lot of questions that can be answered with a yes or no. Instead, make most of them open-ended so the respondent can go where they want to with their answer. So, perhaps start with, “Would you buy this product?” but follow with questions like, “How would you personally use this service?” and, “What feature is missing that you would like to see added?”
7. Choose quality over quantity
I’m not saying you should aim for a small sample, but do pay more attention to what people say than the number of responses see you get. Remember, you are looking for specifics.
8. Follow up with both responders and people who did not reply
This step is key in ensuring that responders feel appreciated and stay connected. You might even briefly share some of the results with them. As far as the no-shows, this is a great time to reconnect with them and invite their participation next time around.
9. Analyze the information you get and revise your idea if the feedback warrants it
First, look for common threads with your digital crowdsourcing. Is there a feature missing in your product idea that several people identified? Tally the percentage of people who indicate that they would buy your new product or service. If you run into suggestions that you hadn’t conceived of, consider whether they make sense and, if so, think about whether you want to modify your idea to incorporate them.
10. Stay positive and be persistent
Don’t get discouraged if you don’t have high open or respond rates the first time around. If you have tracked your responses, you can always send out a second, friendly request to catch those who missed giving their input.
The bottom line
Digital crowdsourcing is a helpful tool, but it is just one piece of the overall puzzle. You will want to use other strategies, like one-to-one conversations with people you know and trust (colleagues, mentors, even a coach you hire), and connections with clients and customers.
Look at your digital crowdsourcing results as a think piece, a jumping-off place of sorts. Weigh your crowd’s opinions, but trust your instincts. Because, in the end, it’s your business.