The Psychology of Crowdsourcing

An analysis of the digital side of the phenomenon


Crowdsourcing starts with decentralization…“ the first 4 words in the description of Wikipedia are quite possibly the most important ones to outline a process we have seen more frequently during the last years.



First, to define crowdsourcing for this posting, I’ll put it as mentioned on the right: People working (digitally) together to accomplish an assigned task.

In general, crowdsourcing is all about the power of people as my colleague Larisa mentioned one month ago. She described one very interesting example of a project for hobby cartographers.



Probably most of you know the Life in a Day project, where over 80.000 video-sequences of one day were put together.

Being a Digital Consultant for a living, I want to take you one layer higher and find answers to questions below:

  • Why is crowdsourcing working so well?
  • And why should organisations use it?

But first to inspire you, there is another current example of crowdsourcing: the Star Wars Uncut project: Users were asked to reshoot scenes of the first movie. Then those 437 uniquely produced sequences were put together to one film. And apart from many very engaged users and media coverage, the project even won an Emmy in 2010.

So, why did that work?



To get an answer to our questions let’s have a look into basic human psychology.


Sense of belonging

First of all: People are social. That’s nothing new, as since the beginning of mankind people strive to form and obtain social bonds. Why? Simply because it’s easier to survive – or in our modern western culture: because it’s easier to achieve something.

During the process of coming together as a group something interesting happens which the scientist Gregory Walton (University of Stanford) pointed out: If a group of people has mutual interests and aims their social bonds are strengthened. And belonging to such a group increases an individuals self-esteem and its own activity.

His colleague Nicholas Christakis (University of Harvard) nourishes this idea by finding that happiness is directly linked to social connections: If your friend becomes happy, it increases the probability that you will become happy by 15%.


Now having those findings, let’s get back to the questions I pointed out at the beginning.

  • Why is crowdsourcing even such a good idea?
    Because a group of people gets a higher sense of belonging and becomes more active if it works together on achieving a task. Plus it makes you happier to see that your friend gets happy, so people like to share what they and their community have produced.
  • And how can organisations use it?
    Many organisations already have huge communities assembled on their Facebook-Page. Now they can use crowdsourcing to get their fans and followers to feel more connected within themselves and to create a higher level of engagement. And if that is achieved, it also becomes easier to activate them for other things as well. Plus: Crowdsourcing can be an effective tool to find out whether a community is really active or not.

Considering these findings, I want to give you a feeling of what can be achieved on a larger scale, by showing you 2 other great campaigns.

In The Johnny Cash project users were able to redraw single frames of the music video Ain’t no grave. By the end about 250.000 participants produced 1 unique and user-generated video, which also was nominated for a Grammy in 2010.

As I’m a personal fan of John F. Kennedy I want to close my posting with one great campaign for the 50th anniversary of his inauguration speech:

For Our JFK Speech users were asked to recreate parts of the presidents’ speech through videos, tweets and facebook-postings. Thousands of people participated and thus reminded a large community about this historic event, and in addition the campaign was on the Future Website Award Shortlist.

So I hope you now have an understanding about how this mystery called crowdsourcing works and that it can be a powerful tool to spread a message.

Keep on crowdsourcing!


Header Image(s) from Pixabay & Gratisography

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