In the past few weeks, I’ve noticed a lot of crowdsourcing (crowd sourcing) initiatives popping up in the media, which makes me think…could this be the year crowdsourcing goes mainstream?

From fighting diabetes to social media campaigns; from building off-road racers to the military; from reinventing public policy to producing a Nine Inch Nails music video (late ’09) – everyone (big and small) seems to be experimenting with crowdsourcing these days.

Crowdsourcing is not a new phenomenon. Creatives, artists, coders, and writers have used it for years. The basic premise is to tap into the vast wisdom of the general population to funnel the best ideas to the top and execute them Transfer 8mm Film to DVD DIgital Toronto. In short, Wikipedia FOR EVERYTHING! In the 90s, crowdsourcing was used by Russian artists Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid to determine what people (in various countries) wanted to see in a painting (done via telephone polls – wow…how far we’ve come).

Its digital grassroots can be traced back to the open source movement (Wikis, etc.). Companies like iStockphoto and Threadless put themselves on the map using crowdsourcing as their core business model (although not intentionally). In June 2006, Jeff Howe officially coined the term crowdsourcing in a Wired magazine article, and later went on to write a book on the subject in 2008.

Crowdsourcing is sometimes related to as open innovation and is becoming popular as a virtual outsourcing strategy. Examples of such companies are InnoCentive, Innovation Exchange (located in Toronto), and NineSigma, where corporations can offer incentives for solving their innovation challenges and business problems.

Here ends the history lesson.

Today, regardless of how and when, it seems the mainstreaming of social media and niche communities being comfortablesharing ideas online have quickly allowed crowdsourcing to be a popular strategy as the 2nd decade of the 21st century begins.

As a marketing strategy (or should we say new business model marketers need to understand??) I encourage the idea of giving customers more control of the brand (they already have it so why not officially partner up with them). I realize it can be a risky proposition for any brand to take and is not the appropriate strategy for everyone, but if brands are willing to change (think Seth Godin and Meatball Sundae) and make it easy and fun for customer to engage it’s a step they should take if they are going to effectively innovate with and give control to their true brand managers…there customers.

On the outsourcing end of things, there are a few controversial issues that need to be ironed out (i.e. Intellectual Property rights, creative exploitation, etc.). However, it seems the companies who’ve done a good job make being a part of a niche community (i.e. doing something people have a passion for) a win-win situation, which has its benefits beyond “getting paid”. No easy answer here, and I’m certainly no expert on the subject so I’ll leave it at that.

Finally, to wrap things up, if you’re still not convinced that, if deployed correctly, crowdsourcing can be extremely powerful and effective here are a few recent examples of how marketers and entrepreneurs seem to be using crowdsourcing the right way based on actual results.

Secret London Facebook group amasses 180,000 in 2 weeks

Bristol university graduate Tiffany Philippou originally set up the group in response to a competition from ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi to win a mere summer internship. Two weeks after launching, the Secret London Facebook group has over 180,000members and counting and is poised to propel it’s 21 year old creator into her first startup.

“The explosion of the group is reflective of the generation online now,” Philippou says, “as everyone [in] my generation is on Facebook. I’m 21 and have completely grown up in the online evironment.”

Translating the group’s success into a site and community may be a leap, but Philippou is already bringing in a team to achieve it and word is lots of other London startups are lending her a hand. She’s now also crowdsourcing the features of the site from the members.

Social Media Marketing: Pepsi Refresh Project

Companies like Pepsi are going to extensive lengths to foster collaboration with fans, and the payoff has been big. The company’s is already several stages into the Mountain Dew DEWmocracy campaign – a plan to launch a new Mountain Dew flavor with the public’s involvement at all levels of the process. Recently, PepsiCo just launched the Pepsi Refresh Project on January 13th. Rather than spending money on Super Bowl television ads this year, the company is spending $20 million on a social media campaign. The campaigns are part of a crowdsourcing effort that’s part of the larger PepsiCo plan to more closely integrate consumers with the brand.

Local Motors – First Open Source Car Company to Reach Production

Step inside the Local Motors’ office and it reveals itself as a mind-blowing example of the power of micro-factories. In June 2010, Local Motors will officially release the Rally Fighter, a $50,000 off-road (but street-legal) racer. The design was crowdsourced, as was the selection of mostly off-the-shelf components, and the final assembly will be done by the customers themselves in local assembly centers as part of a “build experience.” The result is a car that might put Detroit to shame.

Local Motors’ CEO Jay Rogers used the power of crowdsourcing to design and build the Rally Fighter.

Trent Reznor of the Nine Inch Nails

When it comes to the web and social media Reznor just gets it.

When a deal to commercially film one of his concerts for release on DVD fell through, he came up with a totally relaxed camera and recording policy for this shows on tour. He released raw, high def footage of the shows as torrents that anyone could download, share, mix, edit and basically do with what they please. The video above was released completely by Reznors’ fans. Volunteers who will make nothing in terms of money, instead doing something because the love it and they want to share it.

Would love to hear your thoughts on crowdsourcing (good and bad) via comment or Twitter @mitchfanning.

Until next time – upwards and onwards!

Note: as a side-note the term crowdfunding seems to a new trend that has been inspired by the term crowdsourcing. In fact, according to Wikipedia, on January 25th, 2010, RocketHub launched as the first online platform to publicly embrace the term “crowdfunding.”

Mitch Fanning is a digital marketing | new media strategist, entrepreneur (intrapreneur), and blogger who has a solid 10-year track record closing deals and helping clients (both startups and national brands) with integrated marketing strategy and execution. Mitch has sold, led and collaborated on the strategy and execution of a diverse list of web and mobile projects, online acquisition programs, applications, and integrated campaigns for clients, agency partners, and national brands throughout North America including: Globe & Mail, Sears Travel, Rogers Retail, Deutsche Bank, NBC, and Nestle/Kit Kat.

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