Crowdsourcing: 5 Ways Product Managers Can Use It Effectively

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After a series of marine disasters in the early 1700s, it became clear that there was a strong need for better navigational accuracy during long voyages. The British government offered its citizens a prize to develop the best method of measuring a ship’s longitudinal position. By 1714, the Longitude Rewards Prize was born to help guide long-distance strategy.

Even today, many organizations across various sectors have sought strategic assistance from the public, and requested possible solutions to some of the challenges their industry faces. The results of relying on the general public to assist businesses can be varied, but when done correctly can be hugely advantageous.

In 2005, Jeff Howe described this tool as ‘crowdsourcing’. In recent years, the popularity of crowdsourcing has grown immensely, as the value-added proposition for both enterprises and startups has been made clear.

A key question remains; how can product managers use crowdsourcing in delivering their digital goals? Depending on the industry and organizational objectives, there are a variety of ways to capitalise on this.


1. Crowdsourced Market Research

For some product managers, market research is simply out of reach, and can create more data than can be processed into usable learnings. Other product managers find that the costs involved make getting data from secondary sources more convenient. Secondary sources of information could involve white papers, industry reports or academic studies by other businesses, government agencies, trade associations, universities, media sources, etc.

Thankfully, with the vast capabilities made possible by tech leaders, it is easier than ever for consumers to voice their opinions. To build a comprehensive knowledge management solution, an organization should include crowdsourced market research in conjunction with secondary information sources, and their own research endeavours.

Market research data can be crowdsourced through a multitude of methods:

  • Social media: With a Facebook page, it is possible to create a poll to gather data on consumers’ preferences; ask fans to vote on their favorite product color, product feature, best uses of your product, preferred shipping or payment method, etc.
  • Email lists: This is a great option because the people on your email list specifically asked to be updated about your products and services, and to provide input into your internal processes. Email your subscribers with a link to a survey or interactive tool to allow them to provide direct information about their thoughts and preferences. Open source survey tools like SurveyMonkey or Doodle can generate data that is easy to collect and analyze afterwards.
  • Crowdsourcing startups and third-party models: When you don’t have an extensive email list or a Facebook page, this can be beneficial. Develop some of your own objectives, and reach out to reputable commercial crowdsourcing companies like Crowdtap, that can supply dependable data, liaise with your marketing team, and furnish you with reusable information.

However, as opposed to Facebook pages or email lists, engaging with another company will not be free of charge. A possible obstacle with this method is that there are often some participants who answer surveys regardless of their actual interest or prior experience simply to access the incentives offered. Nevertheless, this can still be a good method to carry out market research, depending on the project specifications and level of accuracy required.


2. Crowdsourced Product Ideas

I almost included this in section no. 1, but it deserves its own blurb.

The former has a wider scope. This has one focus: generating product ideas.

In the case that your market research isn’t going well (at least not as well as you like) or you feel you don’t have enough information to make a decision on your next product or you’re stuck in a creative rut and just need new ideas…

Go ahead and ask your customers.

Lego is an excellent example of a company doing this. Lego Ideas allows users to submit ideas for Lego products, and when 10,000 people like a product suggestion, Lego manufactures it and makes it available for sale.

The prize? 1% of royalties from sales of the product.

An example of a product that became reality is the time machine.

You can check thousands of other project ideas here.

Sure, you don’t have to go Lego-esque to crowdsource product ideas. You can use social media (Facebook) like Lay’s did with their Do Us a Flavor contest.

Simply put, consumers were asked to launch new flavors in Lay’s products, and $1 million was awarded to the winning flavor.

In both cases, the customers largely decided what the new product should be. That’s instant validation for you as product manager.


3. Crowdsource Product Design

A product’s design, functions, and overall features can determine its appeal to customers.

Maybe in this case you know what products you’re manufacturing, but you have not yet settled on a design, or you just need design inspiration. Then you can crowdsource your product’s design.

Most times you can do this in two ways:

  • Set up a contest with a prize or prizes up for grabs
  • Design some sample products and ask your customers to choose their preferred design.

Celebrity photographs are frequently polished digitally with image-editing software to make them look perfect. Feminist legislators in France, Norway, and Britain have said they want digitally altered photos labelled as such.

To help make software that mimics human perception of before-and-after editing of photos, hundreds of people were recruited online to compare images and determine changes in photos on a scale of 1 to 5 i.e. from minimally altered to drastically altered. The human rankings were used to train the software to mimic human perceptions.

Also, in an attempt to know which product would sell fastest, Lego set up a vote contest and asked customers directly.

Source: Social Media Examiner

The winning Lego set was given to a random contest participant.

For Budweiser, they had over 25,000 consumers taste 12 experimental varieties of beer to help them produce more of the kind of beer consumers wanted.

So you see, you don’t need to ask your customers to design your products, you can design several variations and let your customers choose one they like. It still makes them feel like an important part of the design process, and helps you make more sales too.


4. Crowdsource Testing

As a digital product manager, whether you’re managing mobile apps, web apps, or websites, crowdsourced testing can work for you.

If you’re still on the fence regarding crowdsourced testing, you should consider implementing it for the following reasons:

  • It is cost-effective: You can have thousands of people on thousands of devices testing your app or site without employing the testers or buying their devices.
  • It is speedy: More people at work (aka division of labor) often means faster execution.
  • It is unbiased: Crowd testers are not wired to support or defend any part of your app or site, as different working locations means Confirmation Bias, Groupthink, and internal concerns of your company don’t affect their opinion.
  • There is ‘wisdom of the crowds’: There is diversity of opinion, independence, decentralization, and aggregation in crowdsourced testing, which according to James Surowiecki’s book The Wisdom of the Crowds, are the four elements of a wise crowd.
  • Localization: You can test whether the characters, language, formatting, etc. is culturally suitable for the audience it’s meant for carrying out tests in locales of your choice.

Choose a crowd testing platform, test your products, analyze the results, and tweak your website or app accordingly. You’ll have satisfied customers, and maybe a large bank account to show for it.

Interested in crowdsourced testing?

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5. Crowdsource Product Names

Crowdsourcing a product name isn’t always about rebranding a business. It is not necessarily market research. And it’s not because your creative juices dried up.

No, none of the above is wrong in itself. But sometimes it’s about making your customers feel connected to your business, or increasing social interaction.

For example, grocery store Trader Joe’s asked customers to name a product earlier this year. In the opening paragraph of the blog post announcing it, they said:

“Why, then, do we want YOU to name this product? We thought you’d be interested. Babies, pets, cars, Trader Joe’s Products—naming is an engaging brainteaser. If you like mental stimulation; find the prospect of putting a name on a yet-to-be-debuted, exclusive-to-Trader Joe’s product provocative; or just want to win —we challenge YOU.”

See what they did there? Even if you’re entering the competition just to win the prize, no problem.

If you don’t post your contest on your blog, you can use websites like SquadHelp, NamingForce, NameStation, etc. to set up the contest.

Promote your contest on social media sites, and you can do paid ads to encourage more entries.


In 2014, 85% of the best global brands had used crowdsourcing in the last ten years. It’s safe to say the number has increased now.

It’s 2016, and crowdsourcing is still a wise way to increase customer engagement, reward customers, and to create buzz around your business.

Share this article

This post will:

A) show you great use cases which you can apply directly to your daily business and

B) explain the following 5 ways to use crowdsourcing

1.) Crowdsourced Market Research

2.) Crowdsourced Product Ideas

3.) Crowdsourced Product Design

4.) Crowdsourced Testing

5.) Crowdsourced Product Names

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