Crowd Power & Social Responsibility

Crowd power may be the most useful tool in order to use social media for the benefit of social responsibility. The basic idea behind crowd power is to effectively tap into the wisdom and power of a large group of people with an outcome that would be superior to the efforts of any single individual

There are a number of crowd-related terms that all have an element of the power of the crowd, from “crowdsourcing” to “crowd clout.” At its root it is a means of building a community. Without a community there will not be a crowd to source.

As a result, crowd power is built on engagement and interactivity. In relation to social responsibility, creating positive change requires the engagement and motivation of people.

The concept of crowd power has been applied in a variety of commercial ventures: Cambrian House sources software and business ideas; Fluevog is home to the crowdsourced shoe; NowPublic has crowd-power journalism; Threadless taps the crowd for T-shirt designs, and on it goes.

The principles of crowd power can apply equally as well to companies that wish to practice social responsibility. I will explain the principle and then how it can be applied to social responsibility.

First, to be at the forefront of the crowd power field, a company must have tools that allow the user to easily communicate and interact with other users and the organization. A successful crowdpreneurial company needs to be a vehicle for idea generation, and the crowd must have a platform from which to provide input on a variety of issues. As Jeff Howe told me, “If you want to be the room where the conversation takes place, then serve good drinks.” (quoted in e-Preneur).

There should be an environment where collaboration produces viable, measurable and community-controlled change in the most simplistic format possible. One example is Digg which allows users to define all of its news content through a simple voting system. The crowd determines the content through adding, voting about, and creating the news items that appear on the home page. Members who use the system more frequently are given a higher ‘weight’ than first time users to ensure system stability and to prevent fraudulent activity. A site that focuses on social responsibility could rank various projects for a company to be involved with.

Second, crowd power must be conducted within clearly-established parameters in order to be successful. In order to tap the wisdom of the crowds they should operate within constraints while at the same time retaining their individuality. Mike Sikorsky, of Cambrian House, stresses that crowds are better at voting and commenting rather than doing. The key objective is to eliminate contributions that are not worthwhile and will be time-draining for a company to deal with. The bottom line is that the crowd must be recognized for both what it can and won’t do.

A third aspect of utilizing crowd power is the ranking and evaluation structure sometimes referred to as a “reputation system.” This ties into the notion of transparency in the online environment. The purpose of the ranking and evaluation component of the site is not to serve as a method for expressing negative feedback, but rather to provide an unbiased assessment tool. What do people really think of the service? There are various ways to organize feedback.

A “recognition-focused” approach allows individuals to recognize a group or person; for example, this could be a list of the top ten features. An “acknowledgement-based” system gives credit to users who are doing the most in a particular category. Another element is ”fraud preventing,” a system that places a higher ‘weight’ on users who rate and evaluate more often and have greater credibility within the system to prevent potential ‘gaming.’

Finally, there is “experience–oriented” ranking which focuses on individual user experiences with the company’s product or service. For example, dotherightthing.com allows users to rate companies based on social impact by contributing relevant news stories pertaining to the company. Organizations are then assigned a rating based on how socially conscious they are.

A fourth aspect of crowd power, which will become more significant in the future, is to establish some method of rewarding individuals who are involved in the crowd power process. To encourage consistent interaction with the site, a reward system identifying beneficial contributions by each member needs to be developed. The user may receive points that affect his or her status, translate into money or company discounts, or increase accessibility in other aspects of the site. Furthermore, the user may receive points for commenting, posting and adding friends, hosting reviews of products or services, inviting new users to join, etc. An effective site should promote networking and provide a tangible resource that identifies those who contributes the most, providing incentives for all consistent site users.

A fifth tip for the effective use of crowd power is to establish the company’s site identity with credibility, professionalism, and ease of use. In addition to these overarching characteristics, a company should aim to communicate a brand that is innovative, progressive, dynamic, transparent, inspirational, and collaborative. A crowd power company should ideally be free of any bias—nonpartisan, independent, and without religious affiliations. The brand should appeal to users from different generations (Gen X, Gen Y, and Baby Boomers) and different cultures, providing an accessible format that is easy to understand and cultivates interaction with the site.

Any company that wants to practice social responsibility can adopt these five principles of crowd power. All of the above factors should contribute to tapping the “right” crowds in the “right” manner. If done properly, then crowd power can have many positive benefits; if not, then there can be a lot of time wasted sorting through marginal input. For organizations that are pursuing social responsibility it can be a great boost to tap into crowd power; all of the same benefits apply.