Although crowdsourcing has been around since 2006, it’s only now that this trend is becoming more and more prominent and gaining momentum in the media. Companies are seeing the benefits that engaging their public can bring to their brand and finding ways to harness that power to improve business operations. But what has made this trend so popular? Are fashion and luxury brands taking advantage of it? And is it a viable way to access wider talent for the long-term without dire consequences on the workforce?
How did crowdsourcing come about?
The term ‘crowdsourcing’ was first used by journalist and writer Jeff Howe. He explains that technological advances have increased accessibility to electronics and software that is not only easy to use and affordable, but also allow consumers to produce high quality work. This has allowed the general public to embrace trades such as graphic design and videography that were generally left for specialists and has diminished the gap between professionals and amateurs.
In modern day, businesses would ‘crowdsource’ by taking a job that was once performed by a designated employee, and cast an open call to the public through the internet or other mediums.
How are companies using crowdsourcing?
The internet has made crowdsourcing all the more attractive to companies as it removes geographical barriers. Through the internet, businesses can create a virtual crowd of people who have a shared passion.
A key example of a fashion crowdsourcer is the ecommerce shop Threadless. Tshirt designs are submitted by the general public and ‘voted in’ to be produced. The model has proven to be innovative and effective for Threadless as by the time shirts are made, they almost always already have an immediate demand for the stock.
Crowdsourcing seems to really fit the fashion industry, says the Crowdsourcing Blog. “Not only do companies get a crowd of talented designers but also at the same time engage with a crowd and leveraging that to have products sold.”
According to writer Sarah Kessler for Mashable.com, “asking a pool of people to create something can also be faster, cheaper, and more accurate than putting a project in the hands of individuals.”
The person who you think is the best person to do it, isn’t always the right person for the job. By utilising crowdsourcing, companies can gather those who are most fit to perform tasks, solve complex problems and contribute with the most relevant and fresh ideas often without the barriers of geographical disparity.
Crowdsourcing may not always be the answer
Writer Cate Corcoran of WWD says that “in a fashion democracy that is already accelerating at an alarming rate, ultimately anyone could be a designer, creator or manufacturer, with profound implications for the structure of the fashion and retail worlds, as well as the overall economy.”
“Analysts estimate that crowd-sourced and customised products could eventually make up as much as 10 per cent of the total market for apparel, accessories and footwear.”
Scott Belsky, CEO of Behance, an online platform for creative professionals, says “the forces that enable crowdsourcing are being used to get thousands of people to do work for free, with a chance of getting paid only if their work is selected for use.”
“Although this is fine for hobbyists or friendly competitions offering a token prize, in a business context, it doesn’t pay for either party.”
“Likewise, companies have also reported mixed sentiments. Inundated with options—mostly unprofessional in quality —they were ultimately left unsure of the worth of the exercise,” said Belsky.
Industry watchdogs such as Nospec.com and Specwatch have accused companies of exploiting designers and devaluing the profession, writes Fiona Graham for BBC News.
“They claim that designers are producing work on a regular basis with no guarantee of payment, with the payment on offer far below market rate.”
“You wouldn’t go into a restaurant and ask for five different meals and only pay for the one you like. Why should it be okay to work with designers that way?” says Debbie Millman, president of the US association for professional design, the AIGA. “It’s an imbalance of power.”
Using crowdsourcing to build long-term relationships
“Crowdsourcing should spawn long-term relationships between clients and creatives rather than be a one-off experiment that leaves a bad taste,” says Belsky.
When used appropriately, crowdsourcing can offer endlesss opportunities for companies to access wider talent and grow customer loyalty. However, it is important for companies to do this in a meaningful way that fairly compensates the contributors and builds longer-term relationships with the organisation’s fan-base.
What do you think of crowdsourcing? Is it possible for companies to utilise crowdsourcing without devaluing industry specialists? Which companies have you seen using a crowdsourcing campaign that benefits all parties involved?