How Crowdsourcing Hurts Professionals

Last spring I took a class all about entrepreneurial marketing. We didn’t completely throw out the traditional concepts of marketing strategy, or the 4 P’s of the marketing mix. However, we did focus on growing trends and new rules for success in the field. How do we, as marketers, move products from concept to consumer? What medium do we use for transmitting our messages in a form that will actually be received and understood by our audiences? People look to Apple as a marketing hero. The company doesn’t even need to market anymore, because its customers do all the work for them each and every day. Blogging about products, walking around the mall with an iPod in the back pocket, or raving about the iPhone to a friend. Just look at any of its retail locations and consider the brands influence on modern design. It truly has evolved to become a “lovemark“.With this concept in mind, we looked toward the New Marketing trends with admiration.

Naturally, one trend that emerged in discussion was crowd-sourcing. Outsourcing jobs is less necessary if you can cheaply find community members willing to work for you to tackle a project. With unemployment still around 10% nationwide and rising once again in some areas, it is no surprise that the number of people attempting to generate income working from home is growing. Call it self-employment, freelance work, volunteerism. Whether blogging, finding clients, or selling handmade items on sites like Etsy (which is awesome btw), people want to work more than they want to sit in front of the television for months at a time worried about debt and bills.

In theory, crowd-sourcing is awesome. You pitch a project not just to a room of employees, but to massive communities ranging from a few thousand to a few hundred-thousand. The results are quick (or so they say). Dozens of responses immediately pour in, and possibly hundreds of people compete for your dollars by submitting work. In my class, we discussed success stories including Threadless.com (since 2000) and Zazzle.com (since 2005). These community based sites allow members to submit designs which the company then uses to print on shirts as well as numerous other customizable gifts. In the case of Threadless, the community votes for the best designs. I think this is why it has been very successful. As a designer, it would mean the possibility of working hard with no reward or payment. And that is the ultimate flaw with crowd-sourcing. Suddenly, you are not given a project to complete to earn revenue. You are given an opportunity to compete with hundreds or thousands of other people. Statistically speaking, you probably can’t count on this as a steady source of income. Especially since the clients tend to be small with similar sized budgets.

I discovered the site crowdSPRING just this week. At first glance it looked legitimate, boasting reviews from the top publications and claiming a community 70,000 creatives strong. Then a thought hit me. You design, submit, and hope to beat out 70,000 contestants with equal opportunity. That speculative model is destined for failure and is probably the reason it took me more than 3 years to discover the site. After a little digging, I found several negative reactions and learned a little more about graphic design work in the process.

How the Internet can ruin the world while smiling sweetly

Spec work can damage your business

AIGA position on spec work

Democratizing Design

Ultimately, crowd-sourcing allows smaller companies to benefit from the creativity and skill of large numbers of people. On the other side of the coin, is the creative hoping to gain experience and traction, possibly earning some money along the way. Students could be especially vulnerable to buying into the idea that spec work will help their career. The major problem professionals point out is that too much time and creative energy is wasted by participating in this type of contest-like system. You are better off finding a local business and offering your services for free. No one wastes any time, and you get professional experience working with a client. Who knows, they just may hire you again, or recommend you to a friend.

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