I went on a mission this summer to understand a little more about responsible crowdsourcing. It started by doing a communications audit for a client. I remember sitting across the table and telling them that I could find valuable information about their marketshare by leveraging social media and online resources.

Their response? “Really? Do you think that they will give us accurate information? Will I be able to take this information back to my colleagues and will they believe it?” I anticipated those questions about validity even though crowdsourcing can be a favored method of data-collection. Everyone has valuable input to give, although most of it needs to be vetted to determine how applicable it can be. Once the audit was complete and I presented to the client, we moved forward with targeted, strategic communications that proved successful – all because we asked the right questions through our social media channels and carefully parsed through responses.

It made me think about the value of “responsible” crowdsourcing: ask the questions, generate conversation and sift through the information in ways that provide the most constructive knowledge for your project. Even media outlets such as The Guardian are putting money behind the effort. I think Christina Fink, founder of Flickr and Hutch, does this best. In Devin Leonard’s July 28th Wired article, he boils her philosophy down: “Get people talking about themselves — their opinions, tastes, beliefs, idiosyncrasies. Then, once they have shared enough information, mine that data for correlations that provide precisely tailored recommendations for each user.”

Inspired by what I saw professionally, I started a new crowdsourcing project by taking Jeff Howe’s original idea of “The Tinkerer” and applying it personally.  Basically, I let you all control a bit of my hopes and dreams, from American Idol auditions to my latest adventure, Costa Rica.

Jeep-Boat-Jeep ride to Arenal Volcano

It started in June when Dave and I knew that we needed to take a trip – pronto! I’ve planned countless international trips for others and desperately needed to use my passport. Once we determined the place and purchased flights (roundtrip, $350pp), I put out the feelers. With a few simple questions and some cursory research on Costa Rica, I was flooded with information! People seemed to have an incredibly positive experience in certain places and highly recommended to stay away from others. We fashioned our trip based upon all of those suggestions, all the while keeping in mind how we vacation and our desires while in-country.

That said, here are a few lessons I learned in the process:

  1. Know your strengths, weaknesses and desires (don’t expect crowdsourcing to provide them): We both knew that we wanted to see a lot of amazing plants and animals, but there were too many places to do so in Costa Rica. By listening to the best places to view what we  wanted, we were able to relax more at each destination instead of rushing around the countryside.
  2. Mine for resources: As we always research our competition in marketing, we also need to see what they provide and if it can be a helpful tool for ourselves. While this applies more in marketing than personal life, its great to see what resources others can provide. For example, I found that Rosetta Stone was doing a beta test for new Spanish language-learning software.  This proved incredibly helpful to revive 6+ years of Spanish classes.
  3. Polish off the gems: Sometimes, one piece of crowdsourced info can make all the difference. I was recommended to take the jeep-boat-jeep to Arenal Volcano and fly Nature Air, but was highly cautioned about the airport taxes that come without warning.  When we arrived, we were prepared.

So, I must say thank you to all of you who provided information. The key is to get people talking about what they love and advise against, and base opinions from there.  Experiment successful!

For pictures and commentary from our trip, please visit my Flickr site and Dave’s page as well.

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