Poll: Is Crowdsourcing a Problem-solving Technique or Just Another Marketing Campaign?

Crowdsourcing history.docxIn the last decade crowdsourcing has become a critical tool for businesses to solve some of their biggest problems. Crowdsourcing can effectively and efficiently solve business challenges in IT, product development, operations, and other functions. According to Google (a crowdsourcing genius), the definition of crowdsource is: “obtain information or input into a particular task or project by enlisting the services of a number of people, either paid or unpaid, typically via the Internet.” And if you look at the crowdsourcing timeline, it appears the use of crowdsourcing is directly correlated to the rise of the internet. As firms have gained easy access to the masses, leveraging the right group of people to solve their problems has become easier.

ImageGreat examples of crowdsourcing abound across industry and function. Take for example the identification of the Boston Marathon Bombers, the public provided thousands of photos that helped authorities to rapidly identify the terrorists. More corporate examples include Netflix’s use of crowdsourcing to improve user recommendations and Threadless.com, a t-shirt company that prints the t-shirt designs created and voted on by site users.  Crowdsourcing has seen exponential growth in the last decade because of its ability to effectively pool the brainpower of the masses to develop a solution or better idea.

Excellent examples of the traditional definition of crowdsourcing exist in abundance, but an alternative purpose to crowdsourcing is growing in strength. Increasingly, companies are using crowdsourcing as a marketing tool. In a society that’s oversaturated with media and advertisements it’s hard to standout in the – excuse the pun – crowd. So, advertisers are turning to crowdsourcing as a distinctive strategy for engaging consumers, giving them a sense of ownership in company products, increasing social media presence, and even conducting market research. In these cases companies are inventing artificial “problems” that they need consumers to solve in order to connect customers to their brand. I’ve been thinking of it as “crowdsource marketing.” Here are some examples:


Last week the Smithsonian National Zoo announced the name of its newest panda cub: Bao Bao, meaning “precious, treasure.”The zoo chose to crowdsource the name giving the public the opportunity to vote from a list of possible choices.  I am sure the zoo could have named their newest precious treasure on their own, but the campaign gave them some marketing momentum. Over 123,000 votes were cast, driving traffic to the Smithsonian website. Additionally, The Wall Street Journal featured the panda and the competition results on their homepage yesterday, giving the zoo additional PR attention. Furthermore, how many of those 123,000 voters are going to visit the National Zoo now that they feel they had a hand in naming little Bao Bao? Probably a few more than would have without the campaign.


On a much larger scale, Coca-Cola has become a master at using crowdsourcing to market their products. There are dozens of Coca-Cola examples to choose from, but here’s just one. In 2011 Coca-Cola set off to “reconnect” with Australia. It launched a campaign in which each Coke bottle was labeled with one of Australia’s 150 most popular names. When the campaign went viral and when requests started coming in for additional Coke crowdsourced the decision for what names to print next.  Australians could enter their top picks and vote on the Coca-Cola website. You can learn more about the campaign here, but it’s safe to say that it was a success, and the use of crowdsourcing helped to increase social media presence, involvement, engagement, and longevity of the campaign.

OreoOreo also utilizes crowdsource marketing. They’re well-known for their impressive social media strategy, and crowdsourcing is a critical part of it. To celebrate their 100th anniversary last year, Oreo announced its “Daily Twist” campaign. For 100-days the company released new Oreo cookie designs to reflect each day’s news. They then asked consumers to participate in two ways – first, to suggest new designs via social media and on the final day to vote for their favorite design. The campaign was a huge success; Oreo’s facebook page shares increased by more than 4,000 percent. The “Daily Twist” campaign actually built the follower-base that was necessary to make Oreo’s (now famous) Super Bowl social media advertisement go viral.

In the future, I think we will continue to see more companies use crowdsourcing as a marketing tool and less as an actual problem solving strategy. The benefits to using crowdsource marketing  are clear. If done well it can lead to:

  • Insight into consumer preferences and desires.
  • Increased consumer engagement with the brand.
  • Increased social media presence and greater follower base.
  • Customers establishing a personal connection and vested interest in a brand and its products.

But here are my questions for you: How do we define crowdsourcing? Has the definition changed? Is it solving any problem a company has, real or artificial, through the use of a crowd? Is crowdsourcing just a form of marketing? Or is marketing trying to masquerade as crowdsourcing? Do I care what your answers are to my questions or am I just trying to increase the number of readers and comments by staging this post as a poll?

Additional Sources





  1. Awesome topic! And great idea using a poll – will definitely be back later to see the results.

    I think that crowdsourcing (and crowd-______) in general is a powerful, legitimate tool. Whether for problem solving, sharing work, or just generating buzz, I think that it definitely holds a place in managers’ toolkits for social media. The effectiveness of the application of crowdsourcing comes down to execution and the type of work you are looking to accomplish. Obviously getting people motivated and excited to name a baby panda is straight forward – just look at that thing, it’s adorable. It gets trickier for more complex work, but still is very doable if you design something well and provide the right means of motivation and recognition. Thanks for sharing your blog post!

  2. Caroline, this is a stellar post! I love how interactive it is with pictures and links and a poll at the end. I think that crowdsourcing is both for marketing and problem solving. It brings up questions about social media. Is it for personal use or marketing? I feel like the two are very strongly linked, both social media and crowdsourcing and that the purposes are ample. To best use crowd sourcing and social media, it’s key to know your purpose. For instance if a company is using crowdsourcing, they should know why. This will help focus their post or use and make it most effective.

  3. Awesome post Caroline! Really interesting. I’ll expand on my poll answer by saying that I think the results a company sees from crowdsourcing depends on what the company chooses to see. If a company sets out to use crowdsourcing to get new information from consumers, they will likely also be gaining consumer attention from a marketing perspective without even realizing it. It is when a company chooses to see the dual function of crowdsourcing, which you’ve pointed out so well in this blog post, that they can really develop a marketing strategy that uses crowdsourcing to their advantage. The idea of strategic dual function crowdsourcing also reminds me of the post I did a while back on Jimmy Fallon’s personal branding strategy, because Fallon does a great job of asking his fans questions via Twitter that he then uses as in his show. Not only does this allow his fans to be more involved in his show, but he gets material this way too.

  4. Very interactive post Caroline. I think crowdsourcing falls into both marketing and problem solving. In addition to your examples, Doritos has done a good job incorporating crowdsourcing into its marketing by allowing customers to come up with its Super Bowl ad. The EMC case was also a good example of a company using this tool to solve a strategic issue. I think the biggest value of crowdsourcing is the massive reach and instant results it generates. Instead of sending people out into the field to conduct weeks of research, then can just blast out questions or a survey through their various social media sites.

%d bloggers like this: