5 Ways Product Managers Can Use Crowdsourcing Effectively
UX Corner

5 Ways Product Managers Can Use Crowdsourcing Effectively

Marvin Burman • May 30, 2017

“Diversity and independence are important because the best collective decisions are the product of disagreement and contest, not consensus or compromise.” ~ James Surowiecki in “The Wisdom of Crowds”

After series of marine disasters in the early 1700s, the need for better navigational accuracy during long voyages became apparent. The British government offered the public a monetary prize to whoever would come up with the best way of measuring a ship’s longitudinal position. By 1714, after passing the Longitude Act, the Longitude Rewards (Prize) was born.

Over the years, governmental and non-governmental organizations have broadcasted their problems to the public and made a call for possible solutions to those problems. It isn’t always free, but it generally costs less than hiring employees. The wisdom of the crowd is real.

In 2005, Jeff Howe coined the perfect name for this phenomenon—crowdsourcing. Fast forward 10 years and a quick Google search for “crowdsourcing” turns up millions of web pages.

In 2014, 85% of the best global brands had used crowdsourcing in the last 10 years. How can product managers use crowdsourcing to carry out their responsibilities?

Crowdsource Market Research

For some product managers, market research can be a huge time drain. For others, the costs involved make getting data from secondary sources more convenient. Secondary sources could be reports or studies by other businesses in their industry, government agencies, trade associations, media sources etc.

Fortunately, with modern technology, it is easier than ever for consumers to voice their opinions. As a bonus, crowdsourcing market research can complement research from secondary sources mentioned earlier.

Market research can be crowdsourced in various ways including, but not limited to:

  • Via social media: If you have a Facebook page, you can create a Facebook vote contest. Ask your fans to vote on their favorite product color, favorite product, best use of your product, preferred shipping/shopping method, etc. A simple Facebook contest can help you gain insight into your customer’s preferences.

  • Via an email list: This is a great option because the people on your email list (some of them, at least, depending on your product or service) opted to subscribe to get updates or information from you. Email your subscribers with a link to a survey they can complete to give you firsthand information on their preferences.

  • Through commercial crowdsourcing companies: When you don’t have an email list, or a Facebook fan page, this can be beneficial. There are commercial crowdsourcing companies that can help with market research. An example is Crowdtap.

Modern survey tools like SurveyMonkey make data collection and analysis after surveys easier. Whatever the case, choose a survey tool that has just what you need for a successful survey.

Unlike the first two options, this will not be free. And there may be participants who participate in some surveys, whether it’s relevant to them or not, just to earn the incentives offered.

Crowdsource Product Ideas

The focus: generate product ideas.

Maybe your market research isn’t going well (at least not as well as you’d like). Maybe you feel you don’t have enough information to make a decision on your next product. Maybe you’re stuck in a creative rut and just need new ideas.

Go ahead and ask your customers.

LEGO is an excellent example. Lego Ideas allows users to submit ideas for Lego products and when 10,000 people like a product suggestion, Lego manufactures it and makes it available for sale.

The prize? 1% of royalties from sales of the product. An example of a product that became reality is the time machine. You can check thousands of other project ideas here.

Sure, you don’t have to go Lego-esque to crowdsource product ideas. You can use social media (Facebook) like Lays did with their “Do Us a Flavor” contest.

Consumers were asked to launch new flavors in Lay’s products, and $1 million was awarded to the winning flavor. The customers decided what the new product should be. That’s instant validation for you as product manager.

Crowdsource Product Design

A product’s design, functions, and overall features can determine its appeal to customers. Maybe in this case you know what products you’re manufacturing, but you have not yet settled on a design. Or you just need design inspiration. Then you can crowdsource your product’s design.

Most times you can do this in two ways:

  • Set up a contest with a prizes up for grabs.

  • Design some sample products and ask your customers to choose their preferred design.

Celebrity photographs are frequently polished digitally with image-editing software to make them look perfect. Feminist legislators in France, Norway and Britain have said they want digitally altered photos labelled as such.

To help make software that mimics human perception of before-and-after editing of photos, hundreds of people were recruited online to compare images and determine changes in photos on a scale of one to five, from minimally altered to drastically altered. The human rankings were used to train the software to mimic human perceptions. This is a good example of how crowdsourcing can teach machine learning engines.

For Budweiser, they had over 25,000 consumers taste 12 experimental varieties of beer to help them produce more of the kind of beer consumers wanted.

You can design several variations and let your customers choose one they like. It makes them feel like an important part of the design process … and helps with sales too.

Crowdsource Testing

If your products include mobile apps, web apps, websites, etc., then crowdsourced testing can work for you. This has several advantages including:

  • It is cost-effective: You can have thousands of people on thousands of devices testing your app or site without employing the testers or buying their devices.

  • It is speedy: More people at work (aka division of labor) often means faster execution.

  • It is unbiased: Crowd testers are not wired to support or defend any part of your app or site, as different working locations means Confirmation Bias, Groupthink and internal concerns of your company don’t affect their opinion.

  • There is wisdom to the crowds: There is diversity of opinion, independence, decentralization, and aggregation in crowdsourced testing. According to James Surowiecki’s book ,The Wisdom of the Crowds, those are the four elements of a wise crowd.
  • Localization: You can test whether the characters, language, formatting, etc. is culturally suitable for the audience it’s meant for by carrying out tests in locales of your choice.

Choose a crowd testing platform, test your products, analyze the results, and tweak your website or app accordingly. You’ll have satisfied customers and maybe a larger bank account to show for it.

Crowdsource Product Names

Crowdsourcing a product name isn’t always about rebranding a business. It is not necessarily market research. And it’s not because your creative juices dried up.

None of the above is wrong in itself. But sometimes it’s about making your customers feel connected to your business, or increasing social interaction.

For example, grocery store Trader Joe’s asked customers to name a product earlier this year. In the opening paragraph of the announcement, Trader Joe’s said:

“Why, then, do we want YOU to name this product? We thought you’d be interested. Babies, pets, cars, Trader Joe’s Products—naming is an engaging brainteaser. If you like mental stimulation; find the prospect of putting a name on a yet-to-be-debuted, exclusive-to-Trader Joe’s product provocative; or just want to win —we challenge YOU.”

See what they did there? Even if you’re entering the competition just to win the prize, no problem.

If you don’t post your contest on your blog, you can use websites like SquadHelp, NamingForce, NameStation, etc. to set up the contest. Promote your contest on social media sites, and you can do paid ads to encourage more entries.

Marvin Burman is the vice president of sales for Europe at Applause. This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.

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