paidContent - Inside Word: What Crowdsourcers Can Learn From 'American Idol'

This story was written by Joseph Tartakoff.
The Inside Word is a weekly feature that looks at compelling industry debates and discussions unfolding on the blogs of employees at digital-media companies.

Poster: Kenneth Yeung

Blog name: The Letter Two

Position: Yeung is a freelance interactive producer, who also blogs for domain name registration firm Network Solutions.

Backstory: There’s been debate recently about how businesses can effectively use crowdsourcing—generally defined as outsourcing a task usually associated with one person to a group. LinkedIn, for instance, faced a backlash last month when it asked members if they would be interested in translating some of the site’s content into other languages. Many said no. In a blog post, Yeung presents American Idol as a model for effective crowdsourcing. American Idol lets viewers choose which contestants they want to stay on the show—but only after the choices have been filtered down—and the judges have given their own points of view. More than 100 million votes were cast during this year’s season finale.

Blog post: “You must build up trust and a relationship with the people you want help from,” Yeung writes. “American Idol has done really well because they have the judges telling the contestants and viewers what they think and theyre being as transparent [and] authentic as they possibly could be. It seems that the majority of the eliminations that happen on the show agree with what [Judge] Simon Cowell says the night before he can be really harsh and doesnt filter out his opinions, but thats what Americans are probably looking for and [they] put some trust in his judgment. So if you want to succeed in crowdsourcing, you better be honest, transparent, and understanding. Dont make the mistake thinking that you can put out your request for help and assume people will be knocking down your door with advice. Youll need to give some insights as well.”

Post-script: We asked Yeung how the lesson of American Idol could have applied to the LinkedIn controversy. He clarified that the situations are different: voting is a premise of American Idol; having members translate LinkedIn into multiple languages is not core to the social network. However, he said, LinkedIn could have done a better job in setting up the choices for its members: “The thing with LinkedIn’s case is that they gave [people] a choice and said ‘how much are you willing to be compensated for this?’ and included several values and then ‘volunteer.’ They probably should have asked ... first if anyone was willing to translate it voluntarily. That may have dampened the controversy.”

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By Joseph Tartakoff