How to Harness Crowdsourcing for Product Development

By Daphne Lefran

Research and development used to be viewed as a strenuous process with single-room focus groups, telephone interviews and paper surveys.  With the advent of the internet and social media platforms, it’s gotten a lot simpler to gain useful insights into what your customers want.

There are many different ways to acquire and use a crowd consisting of professionals, customers and employees, to improve and market your products and services.  Crowdsourcing provides a method for getting ideas, content and support from a community of people.  Websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo were the first of the platforms in which people could crowdsource the funding of an idea.

Crowdsourced initiatives have since provided a way to achieve new innovations by getting customers involved in the forefront development of emerging and existing products.  Your customer base can provide a wealth of highly valuable knowledge. Here is how crowdsourcing efforts can be leveraged for a smooth product development process.

Crowdsource for new product development

The basic approach of expanding the pool of ideas and feedback and using it to tailor products has long been implemented through the use of focus groups.  However, the long process of creating these groups, and the inability to accurately reflect the unmet market needs makes this method limited and inconsistent.  Crowdsourcing online, specifically through social media channels, has made understanding what the target audience wants much easier and accurate.  In addition, brainstorming alongside your customer base can be done in the conceptual stage as opposed to having to wait until the product has been fully developed.  This makes product development much more efficient and organic.  You can also dodge any risks in market acceptance before your product hits the shelves.

When it comes to crowdsourcing, it is more important to involve more people in the early stages of development and then focus on engagement, as different features or products transpire.  Working to create a collaborative relationship with your potential future customer base drives innovation.

Validate your idea within a secure customer community before developing and releasing it to the public.  This can be done by initiating conversations through online discussion forums or social media posts.  For example, post a discussion topic about a potential product feature that asks a target audience to identify and share the strengths and weaknesses they see as consumers.  When more narrowed feedback is needed, target certain consumer segments through the use of personalized emails and surveys.

Crowdsource to foster innovation and engage those within an organization

Crowdsourcing isn’t just limited to the consuming public. Important ideas and insights can be gained from those working within the four walls of a company.  Allowing employees the chance to share, comment and vote on ideas regardless of rank, education background or experience can improve processes while fostering team collaboration.  Crowdsourcing from within not only allows management to hear multiple solutions to market problems and see which gain momentum, but it also helps them identify who best understands the problem.  This can be useful when pulling together a team who will take a product from idea to reality.

Crowdsource for increased customer outreach

Customers can become quite familiar with a product or service’s value and are thus well positioned to suggest future product features and enhancements.  Crowdsourcing blurs the lines between consumers, designers and marketers.  A person involved in the development or design stage of a product can also be the same person who is recommending the product to all their friends.  However, the first step is entering into an open conversation that involves all of your industry communities.

Public social networks, such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, allow you to publicize your crowdsourcing initiatives.  This teases people to come back to your community and learn more about your product and brand.  The intrigue alone can be enough to increase customer conversions and encourages brand engagement with the public.

By reaching out for their feedback and opinions, customers will see that you care about them and want them involved in the process.  This ultimately fosters customer loyalty.

Crowdsource for investments

Crowdfunding should never be the first step in product development.  Crowdsourcing as a means for funding your product should be done after you have passed the initial idea phase and have a business plan set in place, performed some audience research and perhaps designed a prototype.  Crowdfunding should then be used to fill in some of the holes left in your budget plan. Also, donors are much more likely to send money your way when you are farther along in the development process.  If done right, crowdfunding can be a means of gaining capital.

Crowdfunding services, such as Kickstarter, are important to product development because they tie customer investment to the product.  This increases people’s sense of ownership felt towards your product.

In short, there are many ways to leverage crowdsourcing for product development; however managing these campaigns can be difficult.  The ultimate goal is to build something that people care about, and this is best done when involving people along every step of the creative process.

Daphne Lefran has been writing about design topics and innovative ideas for many years.  She currently writes on behalf of the design and manufacturing gurus at Pivot International.  In her spare time, she enjoys capturing moments through a camera lens; traveling to new and far away places and cheering on the Florida State Seminoles.  Follow her on Twitter @daphnelefran