Once your initiative has been launched, keeping a close eye on crowd engagement is essential to success. This means more than just noting whether folks are signing up and participating. You must continually assess whether your ability to forecast outcomes has improved as a result of your crowdsourcing data or, qualitatively speaking, whether the opportunities surfaced are gravitating toward solutions that make sense to implement.
Here, time is an important factor. In the short run, flukes are possible, but long-term improvement tracking is a key component of crowdsourcing success. Establish policies for analyzing results with the long term in mind.
The value of predictions
The most popular use of crowdsourcing by far is the prediction market, in which participants are given fake money or stock credits to use in trading-style transactions.
Prediction markets use the flow of the crowd’s currency to predict the occurrence of future events. Accurate predictions are important because they help companies allocate resources more effectively and benefit financially from projections.
Best Buy used an internal prediction market to determine when it would open its first store in China. The winning employees were rewarded with gift cards, and Best Buy was rewarded with near-prescient knowledge of when to prepare for its China debut.
For the past two years, Google has operated a very successful internal crowdsourcing project open only to its employees. The project forecasts product launch dates, new office openings, and other strategic corporate decisions. Google’s employees have accurately predicted the probability of more than 200 separate events, which might be one of the reasons Google is able to gain and maintain such wide competitive margins.
Crowdsourcing at your service
Several software development firms make it easier for companies to engage in predictive markets by selling or leasing a hosted, turnkey version of predictive market software. Two such companies are Inkling and Predictify.
Inkling has developed a product called Inkling Markets that helps customers tap the collective wisdom of partners, employees, and customers.
“In most companies, people work in one department, and although they have been ‘narrowcasted’ to focus on one position, they probably have a good idea of what’s going on in other areas of the company," says Adam Siegel, CEO and co-founder of Inkling. "And they probably have informed opinions about all sorts of topics. Before prediction markets, there wasn’t really a good way to capture the collective intelligence within a corporation.”
ABC7, the San Francisco affiliate of the ABC network, has implemented Inkling Markets on the station’s Web site in the ABC7 Futures Market. ABC7 asks its viewers questions about local and international news items to generate both short- and long-range predictions. Some questions range from “Who will be Barbara Walters’ most fascinating person of 2007?” to “Will the price of oil top $100 a barrel in 2007?”
Ellen Conlan, vice president of station marketing and research at ABC7, says, “We refer to the prediction market results in our newscasts. It performs the function of a poll, but it gives us a better indication not of what the predictors want to happen -- as is the case with a poll -- but rather what they think is most likely to happen. So it tends to be very accurate.”