Why Crowdsourcing Isn’t All About Spec Work Anymore

There’s always controversy surrounding crowdsourcing. Many people think that it means getting a lot of people to do something for nothing. But as the crowdsourcing industry evolves, there are many companies that look at crowdsourcing as a new way to approach work.

In this post, I’ll discuss what crowdsourcing is and explain how the new hybrid crowdsource agencies have evolved away from the spec model. I’ll also provide examples of four of those new agencies.


What Is Crowdsourcing?

Crowdsourcing as a set of principles, processes and platforms isn’t all about doing spec work. Spec work can be an element of some creative contests out there such as design and naming, however, for the most part, crowdsourcing companies are compensating workers for work and workers can bid on jobs without having to turn over a nearly finished product.

Nowhere is there a “rule book” that says crowdsourcing should translate into getting work done for free. Crowdsourcing starts with an online crowd, an open call that goes out to the crowd, and a system for receiving and managing input from the crowd. Crowdsourcing happens because of the Internet and Internet technologies that allow companies to cast a wide net to reach workers and participants. After that, it is up to the crowdsourcing company or site and the workers themselves to agree on–or accept–the terms.

There are more and more hybrid creative agencies forming that carefully vet their crowd, meaning that they only allow people into their crowd community who have specific skills rather than allowing anyone to participate. They hand-pick workers for a project based on a proposal in response to a client’s creative brief. Then they pay members of their crowd community for work rendered.

Four New Model Crowd Source Agencies

Here are some agencies that bring freelancers into vetted and managed communities, particularly creatives and marketers, and that use a more typical bidding approach where the best proposal wins the job or a portion of the job.

  • blur Group–This UK-based full-service “integrated creative agency” leverages crowdsourcing to create a “services exchange” that taps into solo creatives and smaller agencies as their “crowd.” They gather and manage five specific crowds: designers, writers, marketers, photographers/videographers/artists and innovators or entrepreneurs. As an agency, they work closely with clients to develop creative briefs that are put out as an open call to the relevant crowd. Then they help narrow down the choices to find the right person or people for a particular job. Compensation is pretty much market value and being part of their communities means you are privy to multiple open calls each month.
  • GeniusRocket–Focusing on video content production for television and Web as well as animation and motion graphics, GeniusRocket holds creative contests, but with the assurance that creatives are paid. They call their model of carefully vetting participants Curated Crowdsourcing and their crowd members can pitch ideas first rather than doing work on spec in the hopes of winning the contract. Participants submit their ideas privately and they retain ownership of any ideas they submit.
  • Victors and Spoils–This is an ad agency that works with top brands such as Harley Davidson, Gap and Levi’s. They have account directors, strategy directors and creative directors on staff, but they are also “built on crowdsourcing principles” and manage a carefully vetted creative community of writers, artists, art directors, designers, producers and strategists. They match creatives to the right creative brief and manage and pay them for the work they do or for ideas the client buys.
  • Whinot–What began as a marketing and business consultancy with a crowdsourcing component is morphing into a more sustainable model that may become closer to “Expert Sourcing.” The new site and business model is still under wraps, but it is worth reading about the lessons the company learned from its first iteration and finding out more about their new direction.

Your Turn

For freelancers, being a part of agencies with a crowdsourcing component can be like having a business development department drumming up work opportunities. Sure, you still have to win the business, but you usually don’t have to create work on spec in these work eco-systems, and when you win the business, you get paid.

Do you know of any other new hybrid agencies that don’t require work on spec? Share your answer in the comments.

Image by IAN RANSLEY DESIGN + ILLUSTRATION