From crowdsourcing to co-creation: how to create successful projects

With public trust in institutions, including media in the broad sense of the world, at an all time low, there is a need for media owners to do more to win back trust of their consumers. This is even more so an issue in a world of Brexit and Trump, where media companies stand accused of having lost touch with the views of large swathes of their populations.

It is an accepted imperative for media brands to get closer to their audiences, to foster closer connections and to build trust. Recently we looked at how tech could help offer solutions, featuring platforms and projects such as Hearken, The Coral Project, Civil Co (see the stories about comments sections and outsourcing engagement to social media, quoting Hearken, The Coral Project and Civil Co, here and here), and Google News Initiative’s Perspectives. We also had Hearken’s Jennifer Brandel (watch the video) and The Coral Project’s Andrew Losowsky (watch the video) at the recent Digital Innovators’ Summit, speaking about how journalists and communities can get closer together.

Getting wisdom from the crowd is of course not only something for the journalists in a media organisation to do, but can be extremely valuable to the business side too. Dominik Grau, chief innovation officer at Ebner Media Group, and Simon Schneider, an entrepreneur in among other areas crowdsourcing, recently got together to discuss open innovation, crowdsourcing and its continued, all-round value to publishers. 

Here they tell us more, in their own words:

Accessing the wisdom of the crowd goes back to an experiment by the French scientist Francois Galton who in 1906 at a livestock festival asked 800 attendees to guess the weight of an ox. To his amazement, the crowd’s guess in average was absolutely spot on and proved that a large enough crowd can outfox the smarts of an individual expert in certain circumstances. In the early 2000’s this model re-emerged due to the growth of the internet and access it gave to every firm’s employees, customers and suppliers. 

Crowd ()

For instance, Starbucks has been running its crowdsourcing platform for almost a decade now since 2008. Hundreds of thousands of customers are uploading ideas, vetting the best ones and the company has already implemented 300+ ideas from the crowd in its stores as far as we know. Its most famous product improvement happened when the crowd invented the little green stick to stop hot coffee from overflowing when carrying it around or driving with it. 

What publishers can do

Publishers can follow platform strategies like Starbucks did, collaborate for instance with the likes of Kickstarter or set up external think tanks with colleges or universities. Or they can collaborate with other publishers in innovation labs, focusing on crowdsourcing ideas for or about the products of such a lab. Most publishers also have many readers who already create content, for example in the comments sections of articles, social media mentions or reviews of apps and services. We believe that is an area publishers should really investigate more as the potential for a certain specified crowd of readers to suggest new ideas and write content is immense. 

Co-creating ideas ‘for free’

One of the biggest mistakes that companies make is that they take the participation of their crowd for granted. ‘Oh they will love it’ is typically the initial mindset, which often resulted in nice platforms that become ghost communities soon. We recommend that you need to calculate an (im-)balance of what you ask from the crowd and what you give them. 

Only if you have at least a 10x ratio of benefits to effort, you will get the crowd to participate. 

Ask yourself: what motivates the readers and why are they on my media platform? We’d argue that for instance a magazine with B2B specialists in cement should rather focus on reputational items that helps participants to stand out from their peers than rewarding them with micro-payments of € 0.50 per up-voted idea. We have learned that these readers would for example be most motivated by free access to webinars or seminars hosted by industry professionals or influencers from their peer group.

Challenges to overcome ‘publisher mindset’

Crowdsourcing is a process that makes teams more open and transparent which is a good thing on the one hand. But it also makes CXOs somewhat uncomfortable to give away some control of their product to the crowd. If you have never done something like this, the first important step is to get your staff on board and then take it from there together with a dedicated crowdsource manager who has a budget, freedom to fail, flexibility to pivot and a deadline that’s not set in stone.

Successful open innovation projects take time and experimental environments are best with a certain unpredictability built into the projects. Such ideas in fact need to make managers a little uncomfortable because we need to move outside of comfort zones by ceding some control to allow the crowd to co-create. 

How to start the project: focus on internal co-creation

The first step is to get your co-workers on board. Starting with an internal co-creation project that is led by your CEO will acclimate your workforce to the platform and its powers before you let it loose on your readers. 

Think of at least 10 or 15 very creative employees who have already shown an interest in or a focus on idea generation in undefined environments. They are the beta group who will eventually lead the first co-creation effort.

Crowd ()

Then start with one topic or one key area that is relevant to the immediate future of your business. Generate ideas with the beta group and let them coordinate the whole workflow freely. 

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To get a better sense of such group workflows look at processes like design thinking, minimum viable products, lean management, and rapid prototyping. 

While their approaches may be different they all lead to one end goal: extremely efficient workflows at low costs that scale small ideas generated by a group towards a functionable product that can be tested and optimised quickly. 

Once this beta group is comfortable with one or some of the aforementioned workflow techniques start inviting the first external users to the strictly controlled internal idea generation environment. 

Let them add their ideas either through phone conferences, messenger groups, Slack, onsite meetings, idea boards like forums or similar platforms, and guide them along the way. As soon as this enlarged beta group has shown the first promising results, ask your participant to invite 3 to 5 friends each to make the group even larger – voila, your first crowdsourcing initiative has just begun.. 

This is how most of the successful crowdsourcing projects at media companies have made their first steps towards useful resultse begun. And this is how you can replicate it.

By Dominik Grau & Simon Schneider

Dominik Grau is the CIO of Ebner Media Group. 

Simon Schneider is an entrepreneur and UK Director of ECSI Consulting.

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