No, seriously. Stop it. I'm tired. I came and I thought, hey, this is kind of neat-o and it empowered me at first. I thought, "Awesome! They want my opinion! They listen!" and I offered it and the feedback was, "Great idea!" and I watched as you implemented it, then benefitted from it and I felt good. I was great at first, but then after a while, I started to feel a little dirty...a little used...a little like cheap labor, replacing people you probably laid off or decided to save money on not hiring because you were getting so much great value out of my time. Maybe it was because it seemed that you believed you could 'tap' my well of ideas or 'pick my brain' endlessly? Maybe it was because my generosity goes so far and you overstepped your bounds? Maybe it was because you had a chance to reward my efforts, but dropped me like a wet rag as soon as I asked?

And maybe I CAN be replaced in a second. Free ideas are everywhere and people are offering them up like they are going out of style. No loss for you if I feel used, because there will be plenty of crowds to 'source' when I'm gone. I've officially gone back to feeling MORE insignificant than before you asked me my opinion.

Feel familiar? Wondering what it is about this happy, generous 2.0 world that is starting to turn you from enthusiastic to curmudgeon? Look no further than to Community Freeloaders, especially Crowdsourcing Strategies. Now, not all 'customer led innovation' (my preferred phrase) taxes the bejeebees out of customers and community members. Properly handled customer innovation requests make darn certain that the customers feel wholly and completely appreciated. There is not only a plan in place to COLLECT the ideas, FIND the best ideas, IMPLEMENT the ideas and so forth, but there is also a plan in place to REWARD those ideas.

And let me tell you, the bigger/better the idea, the bigger the reward should be.

I'm not talking about paying for ideas, though. Just let me get that out of the way. That provides the wrong incentives. But I've talked about reciprocity here before and it's really important. When asked recently what my 'secret' to building up my reputation in this area is, I replied:

I don't like to build my reputation, I like to build others' reputations.

I would far use my influence or connections to help others succeed than use them for my own benefit. And I'm not just saying that to be cheesy. I really hate tooting my own horn, contacting people for favors, pimping my own stuff and doing anything else that even smacks of getting myself ahead in the world. I used to think that would be my downfall, but I've discovered that it is actually my greatest asset.

But 'crowdsourcing' is usually about benefiting one source...the company or individual asking for the advice/ideas. Unless the 'sourcer' can build something into the process that makes certain it rewards individuals contributing in those 'crowds'. Open Source communities are actually awesome examples of valuable contributors finding rewards organically - access to better jobs, ability to turn their expertise into consulting gigs, wide influence in the community itself, which will lead to speaking gigs, teaching gigs, writing books, etc. The folks at Dell Idea Storm are working hard to find ways to benefit their thousands of contributors, even creating programs to give free merchandise, fly in people with new ideas to work on products with the team (with full credit and rewards), hiring from within their idea community, etc.

I've been a long opponent to the term 'Crowdsourcing' as it invokes the image of an unpaid group of volunteers giving ideas for free while a corporation rakes in endless profits from them. It speaks to the further exploitation and general suckage of customer goodwill. I don't think it is related to it's positive cousin, Open Source. Open source is the term used to describe the state of the source code: can you see it? Is it hidden? Outsourcing is a closer relation, describing the act of saving money by hiring employees from low cost labor markets...only 'Crowdsourcing' goes one step further and doesn't pay the labor at all. Sounds like a sweet deal, right?

Crowdsourcing is another short-term way of thinking about how one can benefit from the relationships one has in communities. Over the longterm, any Social Capital one had will be whittled away from exhausting this free-labor force. Beware of catchy buzzwords, because they are usually all razzle dazzle and no substance.

As Kathy Sierra says, "This ain't about you." It isn't. It's ALWAYS about helping other people kick ass (another famous Kathy-ism). Instead of 'sourcing' or 'tapping' the brilliance of your customers, why not help them implement those ideas in ways that benefit everyone? In ways that make them the stars, not you?

Oh, and if someone has spent a good deal of their time helping YOU kick ass? You need to step up and find ways of reciprocating asap or else you'll lose that goodwill.

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