Lessons in crowdsourcing from big businesses

Crowdsourcing is something that is often associated with start-ups or small businesses, but actually many huge international businesses are also at it. What can we learn from them about the practice?

Crowdsourcing can surprise you

Lego have received hundreds of submissions to their Lego Ideas site that allows fans to suggest new sets that they think should exist. Originally set up as an offshoot of the Japanese website Cuusoo, the site was originally called Lego Cuusoo when it launched in 2008. For an idea to be consider to be manufactured, it must receive 10,000 votes from the community within a year of being put on the site before it is reviewed by a board at Lego.

What is interesting though, is that the first two items to hit the mark for production were two that Lego would never have predicted: the Shinkai and Hayabusa. “We would never have guessed that it would be a sea exploration vessel or Japanese satellite,” Peter Espersen head of community co-creation at the Lego Group told the Guardian. “It was not on our radar.”

He added: “The fans’ sheer creativity and what they can do is also amazing. Some of them can make art that sells for hundreds of thousands of dollars. I’ve seen a guy build an ancient Greek mechanical computer that can calculate solar eclipses.

“They are more creative [than internal Lego staff], but in a different way. The fans are not Lego designers. They can do whatever they want.”

Crowdsourcing isn’t just about new products

A lot of people might think that crowdsourcing is all well and good for companies looking for new innovative products – much in the way that Lego Ideas works. But crowdsourcing doesn’t just have to be about products. 

In fact, some great ideas for making Startbucks more ‘green’, improving their iPhone app’s functionality, and offering customers more services have come through their ideas platform, My Starbucks Idea.

“Since 2008, you have shared a lot of ideas about how we can make our stores more ‘green’, more comfortable, and more efficient,” Amelia N, who works on Starbucks’ facilities environmental performance management team, wrote in a blog on My Starbucks Idea about how the company has introduced LED lighting into their stores to save energy.

But it’s not just energy efficiency that Starbucks are crowdsourcing ideas on, they’ll also launch a delivery service pilot scheme later this year, as a result of recommendations from their customers. “We’ve received a lot of requests for Starbucks delivery through My Starbucks Idea as well as from fans through social media,” Adam Brotman, chief digital officer at Starbucks, said. “Well we’ve heard you loud and clear – and have been looking into different ways to provide this service to customers.”

Crowdsourcing can help solve problems you’re already working on

Crowdsourcing doesn’t just have to be about your customers coming up with brand new ideas. A lot of companies actually put out problems that they’re already looking for solutions to so that their consumers can suggest their own answers to the issues.

One great example of this is Dell’s IdeaStorm crowdsourcing platform, which hosts Storm Sessions where they post specific questions to their community. Sometimes these questions will be for feedback on a specific product, and other times it will be used to guide users to give ideas around a wider area. The Storm Sessions last for a few days and allow users a better insight into what Dell are working on, who their partners are and what they are trying to achieve. This means that the ideas that users provide will be potentially more useful to the company and could lead to solutions that customers actually want to see. 


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