Wednesday, May 25

Testing For Confusion: Crowdsource

crowdsourcingA few months ago, Danny Brown asked a very good question. Is social media crowdsourcing making us lazy? While he was writing from an individual perspective — suggesting we search, research, and seek relevant resources on our own — some businesses might be getting flabby in how they quantify, qualify, and analyze research.

It was one of the points I alluded to while presenting an adapted version of Thomas Sowell's concept by applying it to social media intellectuals. Some people took exception to the post, claiming it was divisive without solutions for certain prattle. (Think about it.)

The lesson doesn't come from social media. It comes from marketing and community relations.

Years ago, I worked on the front end of Clark County Regional Flood Control District for an agency client. The project included one of the first flood control detention basin projects in the greater Las Vegas area. Specifically, we developed one of the community relations prototypes for neighborhoods that might be impacted (temporarily and permanently) by the necessary construction.

People who live in the area might know the name of the project. Mission Hills Detention Basin Dam is on a tributary of the Las Vegas Wash located in the City of Henderson. Its function is to redirect flood waters to prevent houses from being washed away.

Even when the initial design was being considered, it was important for the city, county, agency, architect, and construction company to receive residents' input throughout the project — ranging from which streets would provide the safest routes for construction trucks to what the 26-foot high berm might look like upon completion (since many residents would lose valued views).

What was very interesting about this prototype community relations plan was it involved several methods of gathering data from area residents so the team would benefit from a better perspective of research. One stream of input was not enough.

low pricesFrom the communication perspective, we developed numerous ways to gather input: one-on-one interviews, private suggestions ballots, selective focus groups, open forums, and surveys. Why? Because the method and the medium can sometimes turn uninformed opinion into undesirable outcomes. And I mean undesirable for anyone.

Of course, I don't suspect too many people can relate to the finer points of flood control detention basin communication. So, I've transposed some of the notes into a more consumer-friendly model.

Transforming Marketing Surveys Into Market Testing.

• Individual Trial Response. Ask preselected customers to try a product for free or at a reduced cost and then solicit their input. Often, the intent is to find issues from the consumer's perspective. Don't direct them to find problems (because they'll make some up if so directed). And never videotape the response (because people tend to provide affirmative responses on camera).

• Focus Groups. Present the product to a select group of consumers or qualified experts to try the product and discuss it. Two cautions. Watch to make sure that one or two or three people don't eventually lead the group in a specific direction. And, always host more than one session, especially if one group fixates on a specific issue. (This is also why we had private suggestion ballots; some people clam up in public.)

• Open Forums. While similar to focus groups, open forums go beyond gathering input and create an opportunity for dialogue between stakeholders and consumers. For example, if the focus group on its own concludes the product would look best in blue, then designers and manufacturers can offer that the color might have consequences — like adding $10 in price.

• Controlled Tests. One classic marketing test model is taking advantage of stores that will carry some new products for a price. While the product will generally not benefit from any advertising assistance, it could provide its first test against competitors. One caution. Controlled tests aren't really product tests on the front end. They are more likely to be considered packaging tests.

• Test Markets. Clearly, test markets are always the most beneficial but sometimes cost-prohibitive tests, which is why large companies try while medium and small companies sometimes do not. Online, it's the essence of alpha and beta testing to some degree. You do what you want to do, just on a limited scale. Then check for results.

Then, of course, there are all the rest... surveys, interviews, etc. I know most people know these methods, but the rehash sets up the point.

The more methods in play, the greater your chance is to refine the product and move it away from what's become the biggest source of confusion caused by online crowdsourcing — conversations turned over to the crowd while letting the chips fall where they may with all sorts of influences you cannot begin to guess at. It's worse than the exhibition of being a flabby business. It very likely can put your company on the wrong path.

Consider several market testing methods instead and look for similar outcomes. It's the easiest way to begin transforming intellectual thinking into tangible experience. But even then, always be cautious anyway.

Sometimes doing it right works, as it did with the Regional Flood Control District, teaching the developers that the most vocal in the community were a minority. And sometimes doing it right doesn't work, which is why there was an Arch Deluxe.

Related Posts From Around The Web.

Memo to Crowdsourcing: Grow Up by Geoff Livingston
Five Ways Social Media Will Change Journalism by Ike Pigott
Could Crowdsourcing Help Pass The Turning Test? by Brendan Cooper
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