Can You Really Get Good Results with a Crowd-Sourced Workforce?

It used to be that the big fear of American employees was having your job shipped off to a cheap sweatshop worker in China. Now, it’s having your job given to a thirty-something college dropout typing away on his computer in his mother’s basement.

Crowdsourcing–the process of submitting tasks to a large number of people via the internet–has become an established way of doing things in American business. Opinions are mixed when it comes to crowdsourcing. Full-time employees may deride it is nothing more than an example of corporate cheapness resulting in low-quality work. Employers, meanwhile, may see crowdsourcing as a viable way of obtaining a diversity of input while reducing overhead.

As a business decision maker, you want to know which of these two ways of thought is the correct one. If crowdsourcing can get the job done and save you money, more power to it. But if it’s as big a scam as the critics say it is, you probably want to invest your money elsewhere.

What’s the lowdown on crowdsourcing? It isn’t that clear-cut.

How Crowdsourcing is Done Right

Although the first thing that comes to mind when “crowdsourcing” is mentioned is usually the image of a content farm with thousands of remote workers across the world making $3.00 an hour, the reality can be more sophisticated.

Just take Doritos’ annual “Crash the Superbowl” Competition, in which rising ad-men submit their video entries for a chance to win $1 million, recognition, and further contracts. The end result is that Doritos gets a great Superbowl ad every year by paying only a fraction of what it would to a top agency.

Microsoft is doing the same thing with its bug bounty programs, under which it offers prizes as high as $100,000 to individuals who identify novel flaws in Windows software. The prizes are considerable but far from what Microsoft would spend with a research and development team dedicated to these tasks.

These are examples of good crowdsourcing. They work because the potential prize is enticing enough for the crowdsourced workforce to give it their all. What you get in the end is real creativity and quality.

Smaller businesses can use these same principles by applying crowdsourcing to conceive new products and develop marketing campaigns.

Crowdsourcing Gone Awry

Crowdsourcing tends to give subpar results when it tries to produce relevant, quality content using an underpaid workforce that’s too large to monitor effectively. Content farms come to mind. You only have  to look to Demand Media, which plummeted in the stock market after its cheap, fast-food quality articles were hit by Google penalties.

The problem with this kind of crowdsourcing is that writers have to produce content as fast as possible to make a good per-hour wage. Grammatical errors, plagiarism, and redundant copy run rampant. Although content farms employ editors, the editors are often crowdsourced workers themselves who only give superficial revisions to avoid earning peanuts.

A better solution, if you don’t have the budget to hire a full-time content creator, is to hire a reputable freelancer. This offers option offers benefits like communication and accountability.

Are Content Farms Ever Useful?

There are situations when you can actually benefit from the services of a content farm. When the tasks are small and simple enough to not require real skill, handing the work over to an anonymous workforce poses no problem. Tasks that benefit from content farming include data tagging, moderation, and transcription.


Crowdsourcing is useful for low-skill tasks. For more advanced kinds of work, crowdsourcing should be used in a way that offers contributors enough incentive to give quality results.