Innovation Management Wisdom

Posts filed under 'Social media research'

Focus Groups vs. Crowdsourcing Debate

Focus groups are out. Crowdsourcing is in.

Those who make a living on the bleeding edge of Web 2.0 are proposing that social networks are replacements for focus groups and other traditional (i.e., “obsolete”) forms of qualitative research. They’re not and here’s why.

Today’s oft recommended solution-du-juor, crowdsourcing, is defined as, “the use of people and companies to help other people and companies for compensation,” according to Paul Poutanen, president of crowdsourcing firm, Mob4hire.

That doesn’t sound so different from focus groups.

But wait, they say. Unlike focus groups, crowdsourcing is inexpensive, unbiased, fast and reliable…because large numbers of customers are collaborating in the innovation process right there with you, in real time.

With crowdsourcing, all you have to do is define a problem, find customers who can solve it, invite them and compensate them for their contributions.  Companies need only facilitate the collaboration process and discern which of their many ideas the company should implement.

That’s unlike focus groups, where you have to define the problem, find qualified customers, compensate them, facilitate the process and figure out which of their ideas to implement.

See the difference???  Neither did I.

The fact is that both crowdsourcing and focus groups have their respective strengths and applications. Both require time and effort. Choosing requires judgement in defining the problem to be solved and in how each tool is most usefully applied.  The chooser must be able describe why one tool was chosen over another in way that is informed, transparent, and imbues decision makers with confidence.

I’ll write more in upcoming posts about situations in which crowdsourcing, focus groups and other tools are optimally used.

In the meantime, remember that information technologies are only tools.  They render value measured by the skills of those who use them.

July 1st, 2008


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