What Motivates the Crowd?

Crowdsourcing: The Other Side Of The Coin

Last week I used threadless.com as a model for how crowdsourcing can an effective way for a company to increase demand in their product. This week I was browsing through some other blogs when I came across one by venividivulgo, who took a more negative perspective on crowdsourcing, labelling it “slave labour”.

Venividivulgo suggested that making money out of the ideas of others without appropriate reimbursement is questionable ethically. I personally disagree. After all, if people don’t want their ideas to be used, they are under no obligation to participate.

However, crowdsourcing will always have the potential to turn sour. The images below are of outraged tweets by (design agency watchdog?), showing what happens in the digital age when companies run design competitions (a form of crowdsourcing), but nobody wins the advertised prize money.

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In my opinion, if a company runs a design competition but nobody wins, then that is unethical – because their work has been “crowdsourced” under false pretences. I’m sure many of you will agree.

Contrast this with how threadless do things – very transparent, and we can deduce that for crowdsourcing to be effective, companies must be transparent – to avoid scandals like this one, particularly in the age of social and digital media.

When Crowdsourcing Backfires…

 Speaking of digital media, how about these videos for examples of crowdsourcing backfiring on a company?

Chevrolet actually provided the facilities for all of these adverts to happen. They set up a website with software preloaded on a website where people could edit together a load of different footage of Chevrolet cars (including one where the car is perched on a mountain), choose their music, and program the text to overlay the images. In short, Chevrolet were the architects of their own misfortune. Evidently, crowdsourcing isn’t right for all companies, particularly ones who want to manage their image carefully.

Why Do We Bother?

The users of these videos weren’t paid for putting together these videos, and I’m pretty sure they knew their entry wasn’t going to win the competition. They did them because they were intrinsically motivated to do so. Similarly, when we were asked to host an event in PJ hall last year, my friend and I came up with lots of ideas for mid show videos, and this was the first one we filmed:

The event was later cancelled – but unlike the people who participated in the design competition, we didn’t really care – we had fun making the video over three days, and filmed it because we wanted to, not because of external reward. Furthermore, we did all this using limited resources – a £50 camera that we borrowed from a member of staff, a tripod, and a macbook pro laptop.

This is all relevant to crowdsourcing. Ambile, Hennessey & Grossman (1986) showed that intrinsic motivation enhances creativity, while extrinsic motivation has a negative effect on creative tasks, and inhibits creativity. They also suggested that creativity results from risk taking and uninhibited exploration.

Similarly, studies have shown that children who initially show high levels of interest in creative tasks show decreased interest when working for expected extrinsic rewards, compared to children who work for no reward, and that the extrinsic children’s work is assessed to be of lower quality (Greene & Lepper,  1974; Lepper, Greene and Nisbett, 1973).

Titans in the field of motivation Deci, Koestner and Ryan (1999) also assert that  “tangible rewards tend to have a substantially negative effect on intrinsic motivation”, and that tangible rewards have a negative effect on intrinsic motivation, and that attempting to control people’s behaviour also has a long term negative effect on motivation.

Implications For Businesses

These studies show that if businesses want to get the best crowd sourced ideas, they need to ensure that their users feel intrinsically motivated to contribute, and that tangible rewards are unnecessary. In fact, they are best avoided altogether. In order to maximise creativity, they also need to provide users intuitive and engaging platforms that allow them to explore the creative options available to them freely and fully.

The Chevrolet website is a perfect example – they provide a fun medium, and some really cool facilities to the public – some incredible panoramic shots, dramatic music, and free reign on the text. As a result, users came up with some really creative adverts! The only problem of course, was that the results cast Chevrolet in a negative light. Nonetheless, the results of their videos do highlight the massive potential of crowdsourcing creativity to provide free publicity and generate engaging content.

1 comment
  1. jimmyg said:

    I love crowd sourcing! I think one of the best uses is projects such as Planet Hunters, a website that lets ‘citizen astronauts’ trawl through astronomical data. This is particularly useful when the task cannot be completed effectively by a computer and requires the specific skills of the human eye and brain. Planet hunters have just discovered their first planet and it is the first planet ever found in a quadruple star system. Imagine that – four sunsets every day! PH1 is a gas giant roughly six times the size of Earth. This is another example of how crowd sourcing can create successful scientific outcomes by crunching through huge data sets. I think it’s clear that crowd sourcing is here to stay and will continue to transform marketing and business in general.

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