It is likely that you have utilized Wikipedia at some point, either to look up something quickly or to use as a springboard for additional research. Did you know that for the first few years, Wikipedia was managed almost entirely by thousands of volunteers? In 2005, there were only two employees. Today, Wikipedia receives about 19 billion page views per month.
Have you ever been upset because you needed to decipher and type a distorted sequence of characters to verify your identity when filling out an online form? CAPTCHAs, the online word puzzles, are used to ensure that the entity entering the information is an actual human being instead of a computer program. However, you may not know that by figuring out those squiggly lines you are contributing to the digital transformation of old books. Computers are able to “read” the majority of printed books and then translate them into a digital format, but they are at a loss when it comes to character recognition and converting words and glyphs from documents where printed lettering has faded. The next time you feel like you wasted 10 seconds of your time, think about leveraging the crowd for human good.
Have you heard of Duolingo? It’s a project which at its inception aimed to have 100 million people translating the Web into every major language while they were learning new languages. And yes, you guessed correctly, it is being done for free. Duolingo currently has more than 120 million users completing more than 6 billion exercises each month.
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The mushrooming trend of crowdsourcing makes me wonder how this could apply to market research. Could the same idea somehow revolutionize the way we obtain customer insights, and if so, what would be the benefits or pitfalls? If crowdsourced initiatives have been built from people sharing their time and insights without being paid, is it possible that people would also participate for free in the kind of market research we field in the health care sector?
Here are a few observations I made while investigating this topic.
- Standardized research is becoming the forte of crowdsourcing companies such as AYTM, Crowdtap and InCrowd, which promise better, faster and cheaper research results via tapping into crowds of current or potential customers eager to share their ideas, co-create new products and capture their experiences at any time, in real time. These companies do so via easy-to-design microsurveys or quick “pulses,” fielded among large populations with results delivered in a presentation-ready format even before fielding completion. These work well for broad and perhaps unblinded studies. However, these may not work as well for blinded, highly customized ones.
- Crowdsourced research allows for a unique form of collaboration between customers and brands to explore new ideas or improve upon existing products and services, concepts, etc. It facilitates an organic germination of ideas bounced back and forth between consumers and brands in a more unified effort, as opposed to structured traditional interviewing which may seem like a self-serving way to help brands – a process in which consumers are just “suppliers” of insights and not co-creators.
- Social media can be an engaging (and free) recruitment tool. Social media offers something more than just access to immense crowds. It offers interconnectivity, which market researchers can leverage for recruitment purposes. With little or no incentive, targeted populations can be encouraged to share a survey link and garner new participants.
I have yet to determine what the best practices should be for crowdsourcing market research in the health care industry – an industry where consumers and clinical professionals are accustomed to being highly paid respondents. I’d be curious to hear from others: What do you think are the untapped opportunities to leverage crowdsourcing in market research?