Tuesday, November 16, 2010

some new concepts: crowdsourcing and learning loops

This week’s readings discuss crowds and learning loops. Chapter Eight, “Working with Crowds,” talks about, well, crowds. It starts by defining “crowdsourcing” as “the process of organizing many people to participate in a joint project, often in small ways.” Then it classifies it into four categories:

Crowd wisdom: Best example? Wikipedia. I mean, can you think of a better example of quintessential crowd wisdom?

Crowd creation: PostSecret - This is an ongoing art project, as described by the website. Users anonymously submit secrets; it started through snail mail and has grown to include e-mail and such. If you've never seen the website or the books, you're missing out. They even have a Twitter now.

· Crowd voting: Pepsi Refresh! Need I explain more?

· Crowd funding: Crowdrise - Crowdrise is a website that allows anyone to start an online fundraising page so that you don't even have to be an organization, you can just raise money on behalf of an organization.

These are the four different ways an organization can utilize crowds to create social change. I think it’s important to define these categories because it shows the different ways you can utilize the power of a crowd. I tried to find examples for each because though the book gives its own examples, I was finding it hard to think of other ways each of these could be conceived. I’ll admit, it seems that utilizing a crowd seems to be much easier to put in motion when the idea is something creative like in the example of the Royal Opera creating a user-submitted opera or the Humane Society creating a video contest after the Michael Vick scandal. Can these methods be easily used in a different type of non-profit such as a hospital? I think that the creativity and scope of crowdsourcing corresponds with the creativity and scope of the organization’s goals. I’m not saying a hospital can’t use social media and crowdsourcing – far from it – but they have to modify it and maybe use slightly more traditional methods to reach its audiences.

Chapter Nine discusses learning loops – something I had never heard about until reading this book (I had heard crowdsourcing in passing at least). Thus, I feel that I need to define learning loops, mainly for myself. Learning loops is the process of monitoring (and analyzing) results and then using this information to change future plans. The way this is different from normal analysis that PR professionals have been doing for years is that it is all done in a short period of time, or in real time. The Humane Society example works here too (in fact, it was the opening example of the chapter). The chapter warns to not have too broad of a scope, however. It suggests working in small sections with targeted audiences so that if one small section doesn’t go the way you want it, you have the chance to change/scrap it without losing a ton of money and a ton of time. While the chapter gives a million and one ways you can measure the success (many suggestions don’t require money or too much effort), it emphasizes the overall goal. At the end/middle/throughout campaign, analyze it with the overall goal in mind. Did it reach it? If it did, what elements made it successful? If it didn’t, what didn’t work?

The suggestions and ideas of the book are lofty at times. I think they are all feasible but seem to apply to some organizations more than others. However, it might take some time for organizations to move completely into this direction but I think it’s a great direction to be heading!

To offer a possible downside of crowdsourcing, here's an article I found on Fast Company that describes why crowdsourcing may only produce mediocre results. However, I think that if an organization uses it for smaller things (I mean, designing a car? That's a VERY lofty goal for a crowd), it can produce good results.

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