The Power And Wisdom Of Crowds And Community

4 Feb
2011

CrowdThis post was reposted from the Nimble blog, with the purpose of retaining a copy of the blogpost in my blogging portfolio.

I was working on a blogpost the other day, talking about humanness in corporate social media, as well as the phenomenon of the professional and personal worlds blending. I knew that somewhere, a long time ago, I came across someone’s personal anecdote about receiving more compassion in a service role after adding a photo with kids to social media avatars. For the life of me, I couldn’t think of who said that, about what company, or what the platform of expression was (tweet, blog, forum, etc). Go figure! My colleague and I scoured Google and Twitter search for mentions of anything that had the words “kids, service, avatar, compassion” — you get the point. Nothing! It’s was much like finding a proverbial needle in a haystack. Because I knew this example existed, and because I’m stubborn and curious, I just couldn’t give up yet. The very first idea that came to my mind was to tweet and ask anyone who was listening to point me in the right direction. And then, the most amazing thing happened. My friend Mitch Lieberman ended up publicly replying to me and to a woman named Kira, whom I hadn’t had the pleasure of meeting yet. He mentioned that she had had this same experience in her work at Intuit. Nice! Then another awesome thing happened: Kira was incredibly gracious and generous to chat with me on Twitter and email me her story as a follow up. All of this happened in the span of one evening. I was so incredibly happy for two main reasons. Firstly,  I had a real, personal story to share. Secondly, it made me think of all the things I love about the social web: conversation, collaboration, sharing. Even though traditionally. the term “crowdsourcing” is used for more involved projects, where solutions are submitted and voted on (Wikipedia defines it as a “distributed problem-solving and production mode”), the meaning has expanded to include a simpler process of asking questions and delivering answers inside of a community, which this is an example of. Whether you call it crowdsourcing or just a simple conversation, the result is clear: leveraging the “collective brain” of the community produces a higher-quality result in a more efficient way than you would produce alone. This is simply due to the fact that the “collective brain” and the collective experience is simply richer than an individual’s. This is why teamwork and collaboration are so important. When you crowdsource from a community, however, you are enabling collaboration with not only people you ordinarily work with or know, but also people you don’t know — sometimes, people you may not have met in another circumstance. And I think being able to work with a stranger, who becomes a partner, is beyond cool. To be able to tap into the “collective brain” and make it work for you, you should keep the following points in mind:

Trust and relationships are everything. Just like with everything on the social web, for any collaborative project to work, there will need to be a baseline of trust. You are more likely to trust the word of someone who is in your network, or at least adjacent to it. Tools like LinkedIn, for example, allow you to see “degrees of connection” — the closer to yourself the connection is, the more likely to be trusted. On Twitter, as in the example I gave above, the connection came through a mutual friend. This did two things: I was able to trust Kira as a high-quality source, and she was more likely to spend time helping me, because I was a friend of a friend.

Become a member of the community first. This goes along with the previous points. If people trust you, know who you are, and you are known for being helpful, you will have an easier time with each “ask”. The more you become a trusted member of the community, the stronger and bigger your network will get. Size does matter, but only when quality is emphasized equally. For a call for help to be answered, it has to be heard first. Without a sizable and engaged community, or an ability to get to this community, your plea will fall on deaf ears.

Asking for help appeals to a basic human need. People are social creatures, and a basic human desire is to be helpful to others, especially those to whom you feel some kind of affiliation — either through sharing a tribe, profession, a friendship of some sort. When you ask people to help, as long as you do it in a way that benefits not just you, but also others, a basic human instinct is to be helpful.

You need to give back. That being said, you should always be careful of not asking too many things without contributing something back. The whole concept of social capital rests on a perceived mental balance of credits and debits into your “account”. Are you someone who gives and helps? If yes, then others will want to help you. If not, probably less likely to do so. The “golden rule” is alive and well, and you should treat others the way you want to be treated. An important corollary is also “Don’t go to the well too many times,” because you certainly don’t want to be known as someone who doesn’t understand the value of a give-and-take. Because social media is such a huge part of my daily life, it’s easy to get desensitized to the small and amazing ways in which it moves my personal and professional life forward. The above was just such an example. It wasn’t earth-shattering, but it’s the little things that matter and make up your entire experience online.  On this Friday afternoon, I’d love to extend a sincere thanks to our community for being awesome and a real family. Photo credit: crsan

  • http://www.evanhamilton.com Evan Hamilton

    Love it! Yes!

    When I wrote this week about customer-powered support not working people got all freaked out because they didn’t read past the headline. You’ve stated it better than I did, I think: crowdsourcing works, but only if it’s human, two-way, and legit. And when it works, it’s a beautiful thing. :)

    • http://themaria.me/ themaria

      Evan,

      I’m so excited to have you join this discussion. You are someone I really respect from a community perspective. I’ve only skimmed your post, but I’m heading there now to contribute a comment. I do love that you drew the parallel between community support and this particular story, even though this is not technically a support issue. However, I do agree, that at the core of it all is trust and tapping into the “brain” with the intention of producing things that benefit *everyone* — NOT with the intention of using and misusing others. Communities are like living people, they have feelings :) I think intention is really key, and will drive execution, and dictate the success / failure of the collaboration / crowdsourcing project. Alas, many implementations fail because companies want to cut corners. I’m coming over to your post now :)

      - Maria

      • http://www.evanhamilton.com Evan Hamilton

        Totes. Whether it’s crowdsourcing support, a link like you did, a logo, the name for your solid waste department, etc – good intentions and equal effort are key. :)

  • http://collaborizeclassroom.com Shana Ray

    Wow. Your post points out everything I LOVE about the community I have become a part of online (wine & food and now edtech). Each point can easily be overlooked if you forget that social media is first and formost a social experience with people that share the same passion as you. Thanks again for the reminder!

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