Crowdsourcing B2B.

I’ve been talking to people (anyone who’ll listen actually) about ‘crowdsourcing.’ They’ve listened to me, mostly, and then looked at me like I’m a twat.

So I started to doubt my own visionary forward thinking brilliance and thought maybe I’d best just shut up and sit down. But then again, I’ve never been one to run from a stupidity contest so I thought I’d persevere. In years to come you can all look back and say, “That McKee – crowdsourcing genius.” Or, alternatively, “twat.”

Crowdsourcing is a term first attributed to Jeff Howe in 2006, a tech writer for the US magazine, Wired. It broadly means using the power of many to solve problems. Rather than rely on a single person within an organisation or even an entire department, whole companies their clients and people you don’t even know can contribute to solving a particular corporate challenge. It’s all served up on the interweb via your website or chosen flavour of electronica (intranet/extranet/landing page/microsite/social media/forum…) and the corporate entity gathers opinion and content from far and wide. Think of the principal of opensource applications and you’re on the right lines. If thousands of developers around the world can freely contribute a little bit of code in their spare time, it doesn’t take long to produce an entirely open/free platform to challenge the likes of even Microsoft. The same principal can be applied to any challenge where many hands can make light work.

Crowdsourcing is a bit of a big deal. One that the B2B marketing community has thus far almost wholly ignored.

I’m surprised at the limited adoption in the B2B space because I do believe I’m in love with the whole concept. Brand strategy formulation is all about gathering opinion and establishing a cohesive, compelling story that the audience will believe in. Brands aren’t about guidelines or products or services, they’re about feelings – how people feel about your brand. Rather than being restricted to the views of a few key stakeholders in a workshop and a couple of focus groups, what if you could open up the brand discussion to the people who really matter – the prospective customers – and have the whole world tell you how they feel? Well, actually, you can. How cool is that? And yet, when I offer the service to companies that I understand are seeking that very customer insight, I’m still being given the ‘twat’ look…

There are many fairly dull examples of crowdsourcing I could offer you, but that wouldn’t really inspire or excite. But by relaxing the definition slightly, I can perhaps demonstrate the power of social to shape how companies can affect or be affected by how people ‘feel’ about their brand.

‘United Breaks Guitars’ started as a music video protest by Dave Carroll, a musician who had his guitar broken by United Airlines baggage handlers. United refused to pay for the broken guitar so Carroll wrote a song, produced a video and posted it to YouTube. Google it and enjoy the video. Then think about the Mashable report that the video was viewed three million times in its first ten days of release and almost doubled again ten days later. In the first 10 day period it generated 14,000 viewer comments. Not many of them were very complimentary about United. You can now download the song on iTunes. Dave Carroll was crowdsourcing – using a wider audience to gather opinion and influence brands (his and United’s).

Best Buy, the large U.S. retailer has been using internal crowdsourcing for years. Their ‘Company as Wiki’ YouTube video clearly articulates the benefit of empowering staff to contribute to management thinking and processes to improve the brand. A new idea for a store can be conceived by any staff member, posted to the Best Buy site for comment and discussion by other members of staff. The good ideas rise to the top and management are able to fund the best projects immediately. Best Buy is currently considering how to use crowdsourcing for its external audience.

So. I’m ready. Who wants to play? Genius or twat? Let the crowd decide…

Scot McKee