Crowdsourcing for ideas, also known as open innovation, co-creation and ideasourcing, is essentially outsourcing your technical, creative and design challenges and brainstorming needs to top tier talent, whether it goes around the world to foreign PhDs, a different department within an organization, to trusted experts in your own network, or to an online community of your potential customers. It may help you brainstorm, solve a technical problem and get ideas from experts you wouldn’t be able to access otherwise, often for less money than if you’d paid to hire them full time. You’ve probably heard of crowdfunding and the many benefits that it can bring a fledgling company or a new innovation within an established enterprise. But while many companies have benefitted from crowdfunding – and Kickstarters have become a new platform of market research and advertising – fewer entrepreneurs have tapped into the massive power that ideasourcing can bring to their companies.

Why should you crowdsource?

Let’s say you’re in IT, design or marketing and you’ve hit a wall with a project. You essentially have two options: you can hire more people, contractors or consultants – which may require more financial commitment than you’re ready to (or need to) allot – or you can pose your problem to a set of highly qualified and diverse individuals whom you’ll pay simply for their solutions and nothing else. While it sounds too good to be true, this type of crowdsourcing has permeated every sector and stands on an international community of experts with the breadth of varied backgrounds to solve just about any problem.

How does it work?

Crowdsourcing companies suggest that rather than hiring a team of new employees, contractors or a focus group to solve your problems, businesses, government agencies and nonprofits can simply outsource the tasks to an eclectic team of researchers, scientists, marketers or online volunteers to help solve your problem and brainstorm on ideas much better than you could on your own. Many crowdsourcing companies promise to come up with solutions within weeks, all while keeping your intellectual property’s integrity.

Here’s how the majority of the crowdsourcing sites work: your company signs up online and shares your company’s need or challenge, whether it’s academic, technical, research and development, product development, customers engagement, increasing staff productivity, or issues involving adequate returns on investment.

Crowdsourcing companies pay structures typically require payment for results rather than effort. The deal is that companies don’t have to pay for ineffectual work or failure – in other words, only the ideas and solutions that you accept will be rewarded.

Sounds great, now how do I start?

The types of problems that may need to be solved could potentially include a challenge with an online scoring and feedback component or optimization of computer programs. The beautiful part of crowdsourcing is that your imagination can run wild, as you come up with an experimental product or test a new name for your business.

  1. For companies in marketing or design, Brand Tags is a great resource for IT, design, marketing and branded product companies trying to gage customer impressions of their brand. If you’re established to the point that enough people know about your company, the impressions will be based on your reputation and customer experience. If you’re new it will be based on your name and logo – useful for prelaunch of your company when you’re checking out name and brand viability.
  2. For companies in the early stages of branding and still in need of a name, company logo or web design, crowdSPRING promises it will get you dozens of crowdsourced ideas for your company branding. You can also pick a specific creative person who’s a member of the crowdSPRING community to work on your project, if you’d prefer to narrow it down. But it may be more beneficial to choose amongst several random ideas, as it will help you get a sense of words and concepts that your brand evokes in others.
  3. If you’re looking for research and development intermediaries, you may want to consider IdeaConnection.  The R&D problem solver is said to help generate traffic and has the added bonus of filtering submissions so that you don’t waste time screening less helpful submissions. IdeaConnection boasts its fair practices of only taking on challenges that can be solved.
  4. Hypios simplifies the process with a format where “seekers” post R&D problems and select a deadline and a price for the successful “solver.” Their reach is almost one million experts and the company will do the expert matching for you based on your key words and prerequisites.
  5. For large organizations or small businesses with large networks, some crowdsourcing companies, like Innocentive, will even help you harness your own team in order to facilitate quicker, more organized collaboration. As an intermediary, Innocentive provides a platform for different departments to collaborate via a SaaS-based innovation management software so that the crowdsourcing remains private and internal. This sort of a solution can work well when a company needs to reach talent across the company, but needs an organized way to do so. You can choose to engage communities or work networks that are hard to organize and keep records of everything you do from ideas to solving problems and innovating – think of it as a personal administrative assessment.

The only cautionary word of advice in this process is to be sure that you team up with the right expert that will understand and potentially relate to your customers, especially if you’re working with outsourced, foreign experts who may not understand the culture of your business. You will need to use your judgement – IT pros in another are logical, but branding experts may not be, since they’ll have a different perspective that your domestic customers may not share. Don’t be afraid to ask to get a list of the experts that the crowdsourcing companies would like to match you with, it will save you time and money.


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