OPINION10 April 2013

Crowdsourcing lessons for market research


Vision Critical’s Ray Poynter thinks crowdsourcing will have a disruptive impact on market research – and he set out to prove it with his session at MRS Annual Conference. Did we catch a glimpse of a bright new future?

The crowdsourcing panel discussion at the MRS Annual Conference created a great deal of buzz on Twitter and through social media. It brought together four leaders in crowdsourcing from outside the world of market research. Panel members represented crowdfunding (Phil Geraghty,, creativity (Heidi Schneigansz, Idea Bounty), sharing (Benita Matofska, The People Who Share), and academia (Tim Causer, Transcribe Bentham). Perhaps because the participants were not from the world of research, the session looked at crowdsourcing as a new way of doing business, rather than a research methodology.

The result was an interesting discussion which highlighted several ways that market research could and should be adapting crowdsourcing practices from outside the world of research – without some of the introspection that often occurs when a new methodology is discussed.

Key points from the panel members included:

  • understanding what is in it for participants and for organisations
  • dealing with quality and intellectual property issues; and
  • lessons for market research

Although all four crowdsourcing organisations work hard to engage and involve their participants, none of them actively seek to make it fun; a lesson for market research. Business and serious activities can be made more engaging, but they can’t readily be made more fun than activities whose purpose is fun. All four organisations sought to stress that participants are making a difference, that they are building something, and – in the case of Idea Bounty – that they can win awards and be ‘discovered’.

Organisations using crowdsourcing do it for a variety of reasons. A key one is to deal with a shortage of money. Beyond cost savings, other reasons cited were: access to new thinking, helping to promote an idea at the same time as acquiring resources, and testing the credibility of an idea.

“One way of testing a business concept is to conduct market research, but another is to place it on a crowdfunding site to see if people are willing to back it with their money”

In many of the crowdsourcing contexts, the quality dimension can be left to the users of the service. People wanting to share, and people wanting to invest, tend to assess the quality of ideas that are being floated on the platforms themselves. Tim Causer of UCL and Transcribe Bentham described how the quality of the transcriptions created by volunteers were routinely checked by professional academics, but he also confirmed that over 90% of the transcripts created by the crowd were of the right standard.

Crowdsourcing raises a number of issues about intellectual property and regulation. Phil Geraghty of described the discussions he has with people seeking funding, who often want to hang onto their secrets while at the same time asking for investment. Benita Matofska described the processes she had been through to create legal frameworks for social enterprises. Idea Bounty has probably had the most exposure to intellectual property issues, and it deals with them with very clear rules. For example, the company paying the bounty owns all the ideas submitted, not just the winning idea.

There were many lessons for market researchers generated by the session, but a couple of them are worth highlighting. One way of testing a business concept is to conduct market research, but another is to place it on a crowdfunding site to see if people are willing to back it with their money. Heidi Schneigansz talked about a venture Idea Bounty is exploring where people in South Africa were seeking to crowdsource mobile phone data collection.

Market research has long used some form of crowdsourcing, but the session highlighted that there are many more dimensions that can be adapted and adopted. Have we glimpsed a bright new future for MR? The Twitterati at conference seemed to think so.

Join the debate

The MRS Conference Community site is hosting a discussion around the question: What can market research learn from crowdsourcing? Share your views here.

Ray Poynter is director of Vision Critical University

1 Comment

11 years ago

the use of a prediction market enables the same results, just faster and without the use of money (playing to win a prize using points is how it's done). Huunu is best of breed IMO. It's not just about crowdsourcing, it is about generating an accurate probability of outcome using the collective judgment of the participants (the "wisdom of the crowds" by James Surowiecki expresses the idea) that is the holy grail for quickly and cheaply being an early warning indicator or, conversely, a forecasting tool for products and concepts to "win" (win revenue) in the marketplace. It is not data-mining it is rather "people mining" and it is a useful and proven (prediction markets are 20 years in use now) method (tool) for informing both strategic and tactical decision making.

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