Crowd Control: How to Turn the Power of the Crowd in Your Favour

By | March 19, 2013

The crowd is capable of incredible innovation. Whether that helps or harms your organization is a matter of how you direct it.

In an article for the Huffington Post titled The Crowd Picked a Cat. What Are Crowds Good for, Anyway?, Andrea Kates reflects on the example of Hasbro’s recent decision to allow the crowd to decide on the theme for its next Monopoly game piece.

Kates commented:

The crowd involvement generated buzz. Success could be defined as game sales based on the popularity of the new piece. But, it’s just as important for companies like Hasbro to realize when to turn off the spigot of public opinion.

Monopoly game board

That’s a fair point, but there is nothing particularly new here.

Organizations have been mining the ideas of their customer bases for decades.

Food company Kraft launched iconic Australian spread Vegemite with a public competition to name the new product as far back as 1923.

However, as crowdsourcing platforms become an increasingly common presence in mainstream organizations, calling on the crowd is becoming less about publicity stunts and more about genuine innovation.

In her article, Kates went on to ask:

When does it make sense and when does it NOT make sense to cast a wide net for input into business decisions?

In answering her own question, she quite rightly warns business leaders to give the crowd the cold shoulder when:

1. A crowd will lead to compromise or group think

2. A crowd will force consensus over bravery

3. A crowd has no curation

That’s all good advice, however there’s a more fundamental point to make here.

Crowds can add genuine business value when used appropriately.

The key lies in having a clear understanding of the core competencies of your organization and how they play into its strategic positioning.

These core competencies should certainly not be subject to the compromise of group think, and your organization’s strategic positioning should not be changed on the whim of a crowd.

However, the crowd is capable of adding value within a clearly defined framework that feeds into the organization’s set strategic positioning without changing its course.

That is, Hasbro invited the crowd to innovate within clearly defined boundaries.

While the selection of a crowd-friendly game piece certainly adds value to the product, it does not change Monopoly’s strategic position in the market.

If Hasbro, on the other hand, was to ask the crowd to set a new price point for the board game or to introduce a new set of rules to govern gameplay, that would quite obviously impact Monolopy’s market position.

Those are decisions best left in the hands of internal Hasbro management who will be guided by their core competencies, not the whim of the crowd.

Chapter four of Getting Results from Crowds delves further into exactly when to engage crowds, and we’ll return to this important topic in future posts.

Watch this space.

Image source: Mike_fleming

  • Guy

    It’s an interesting article but why cant you have clearly defined boundaries around big decisions such as price or game play? In reality I think I have played 100 different rules to monopoly. This is surely a diverse crowd acting with no group think. The trick is not to avoid asking the crowd big, strategic questions but to consider how to design and manage the crowd so it isn’t just a glorified quant analysis but a way of gaining independent and creative insight regardless of the subject.

  • Shane Conroy

    Hi Guy
    Thanks for your comment. I certainly agree with your point. Defined boundaries are the key to achieving positive outcomes, even when it comes to big strategic decisions. However, in many cases, I don’t think it’s necessarily beneficial to expect the crowd to substitute for a company’s core competencies. As you say, the crowd is a great source of independent and creative insight, but this must be interpreted in terms of the company’s big-picture strategy which may not always be possible to communicate with the crowd. But you’re right — it all comes back to how you manage the crowd.

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