How to Get More (and Better) Crowdsource Competitions Participants

By Greg Holden, Business Writer & Social Media Manager, IRI

Let’s face it, the number of crowdsource competitions blooming into existence these days is staggering; almost too many to choose from. This is normal, of course, for any research practice that proves itself an effective method for solving problems quickly. But there’s a downside: with so many competitions to choose from, people who would normally participate in many competitions will, over time, become more selective. Why should they choose yours?

A study conducted by four professors and one postdoctoral researcher from the TIME research area at RWTH Aachen University, Germany,  found what may be the answer to such a problem and it’s easier than you might think. After interviewing over 200 “solvers,” their term for individuals who typically participate in crowdsource competitions, they identified a key component in the satisfaction of the solver before, during, and after the competition that would help determine if they would return to that particular challenge provider. That key component is communication.

“Overall, our analyses of the quantitative data and free-text responses revealed that most participants perceive the level of communication in crowdsourcing contests as inadequate,” wrote the authors. As part of their study, they identified five principles that every competition provider should follow if they wish to improve the quality of the solutions and ideas they receive as well as a greater number of return participants in future competitions.

What is important to know before diving into these five principles are the specifics of what is meant by communication in an open, global competition. The authors looked at communication as operating in three distinct flows: unidirectional, bidirectional, and multidirectional. Unidirectional is when only one side communicates with the other and not vice versa; think newsletters or official announcements. Bidirectional is when two sides communicate directly with each other without any other participants. This would be one-to-one emails, phone calls, or text messages and the like. Multidirectional is then the open communication of many people from many sides such as in an open forum. What was found during their analysis is that most competition hosts or providers tend to rely solely on unidirectional announcements with their participants and that these providers rarely ever take full advantage of the other communication pathways, to their detriment.

When looking at the importance of effective communication within a crowdsource competition, communication between solvers and the company asking the question was deemed the most important by a wide margin. Why? First, “solvers long for information beyond the problem statement that will help them tailor their solutions to the seeker’s expectations.” Most problem statements are kept generic, but the problem that resides behind that generic statement is typically much more nuanced and specific. Competition hosts should be more open about what that more specific problem is should a solver ask about it.

Second, “solvers expect to receive feedback on their submissions, particularly when solutions are rejected.” It’s important to keep in mind that the people participating in these challenges typically grow personally attached to their submitted solutions. A rejection of a solution with no clear explanation can be demoralizing and will likely deter them from participating in similar competitions in the future.

As a result, the first principle of crowdsource competitions that these authors recommend is for the competition sponsor or host (whoever posed the challenge question) to be an open book about the problem. “Wherever possible,” the authors write, “solution seekers should be prepared to share information beyond the initial problem statement, be open to queries from solvers as the contest progresses, and provide detailed and individual feedback.” This can be much more time consuming, for sure, but it is a necessary step to ensure better, more engaged, and more repeat participation in crowdsource competitions.

Interested in learning about the other four principles? Read the full article!


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