I’ve Looked at Crowds From Both Sides Now

janusThanks to the generosity of Randy Corke of Chaordix, this Wednesday I had the opportunity to go to a meeting of the Ad Club. The Ad Club is the trade organization for marketing, advertising and communications in New England. A different crowd for me. So why was I invited?  Why did I go?  The topic was crowd sourcing – an Enterprise 2.0 subject near and dear to me. The speakers were Edward Boches and John Winsor.

The event was most interesting, mainly because it allowed me to see Enterprise 2.0 from a different perspective – that of the advertising professional (e.g. copy writer, illustrator, designer, layout artists, creative director, etc.).

I was a bit surprised by the tone. Crowd sourcing, as well as bogs and wikis were positioned as threatening. Without bothering to really understand the technology, multiple case studies were referenced that showed how copy could be written, creative ideas developed – through”crowd sourcing” – thus putting many “creative people” out of work.  “Threatening, scary, but powerful and a reality – deal with it.”

Of course there is some truth to what was being said. But in the lack of technology appreciation, there was far too much credit being given to technology and its ability to be the total demise of the marketing profession. I wanted so badly to remind this “crowd” that sometimes the crowd is wrong. Sometimes it leads to mob rule – remember the LA riots and lynch mobs. Heck the “crowd” elected George W Bush – twice.

Too many in this crowd – as do some Enterprise 2.0 purists – believed that Enterprise 2.0 must be implemented as a far reaching, open and transparent. Wrong. As some pointed out there could be great value in specifically developing and managing a “crowd” and containing sourcing within its boundaries.  Sure two heads are better than one, but if you had a tumor growing on your brain would you rather have one qualified oncologist diagnose it, or crowd source it to the general masses?

I wondered why the use of crowd sourcing technology was viewed as radically different from opinion polls and focus groups. Do not get me wrong, I understand and appreciate the difference (speed of execution and scope/reach), but believe it is still a tool most valuable when managed in the hands of a creative team. More time could have been spent looking at how the technology enhances the role of many in marketing and advertising. Roles such as “directors of community” were mentioned but not examined or clearly defined. Terms like ” benevolent dictator” were introduced but not fully explored.

More shockingly, the protection of intellectual property was merely glossed over.  One speaker even suggested that authors and artists might crowd source the authoring of an agreement/contract to protect their own intellectual property. At this point, I thought to myself, “I sure hope you have some folks with legal expertise in that crowd.”  I also found it ironic that John Winsor was talking about using crowd sourcing to a small degree in the development of his soon to be published book. I got the impression that he was not paying many of those that contributed in this manner, and certainly he did not develop it in a wiki – with transparent availability to the community/crowd. Oh no, this book will be published the old fashioned way, with its copyright protected and made available for a fee at the online or brick-and-mortar bookstore of your choice – rendering royalties to it author.  (Do as I say, not as I do.)

Ironically, the voice of reason came from Randy Corke who, although peddling technology, often explained how there was more to the “solution” than just technology, and that a great deal of creativity in implementation and execution (i.e.management and design) are necessary.

I am not sure everyone came away with a clear understanding of Enterprise 2.0 technology and crowd sourcing, and how best to leverage and manage them. For too many in this crowd, teh focus seemed to be on  too many seemed to focus on replacing personnel, rather than the introduction of new tools and models.  Heck some of the features in technology from products, such as those from Choradix, are the answers to some of the concerns/questions the crowd raised. There is such a dire need for education and learning among many crowds in order for Enterprise 2.0 to by effectively leveraged.

As I walked away I was humming the Joni Mitchel Song, “Both Sides Now“, taking liberty with the lyrics as they ran through my head, “I’ve looked at crowds from both sides now, from win and lose and still somehow, its crowds illusions I recall – I really dont know crowds at all.”

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