The term crowdsourcing—the practice of getting input to solve a problem or take up an opportunity by enlisting large numbers of people for their ideas, typically via social or other digital channels—seems to have been coined by writer Jeff Howe for WIRED magazine in 2006. Google Trends analysis suggests that the term achieved peak popularity around 2014, and since then has declined in terms of search interest (until I began searching away to write this article).
Crowdsourcing’s heyday as a novelty for solving marketing or communications challenges might be behind us, but it still has a role in helping marketers—they just need to be realistic in how they approach the task. Crowdsourcing is unlikely to reveal the next killer app, the perfect brand identity, the best ad or the most riveting storyline for a brand. However, it can yield ideas or insights on a mass scale, enabling the marketer to sort the wheat from the chaff and find potential new directions to explore.
So, what is the smart way to use crowdsourcing for a corporate anniversary? Here are a couple of ideas.
To anyone who has ridden the Tube in London, this familiar message is seen and heard at most stations and literally means to exercise care when boarding or disembarking from the train because of the gap between the platform and the railcar. In the case of an organization’s history—which, like a train, constantly moves forward—the gap is a time period when little is known or captured. Sometimes, it’s called the black hole, and it can be a stumbling block for marketers who are putting together an anniversary program. This is where crowdsourcing content can be a great tactic.
When you crowdsource content, you’re asking current and former employees to submit or share artifacts or insights from the past. They might have an old sales brochure from the 1970s, or an interesting button provided at the annual meeting in 1983. It could be an oral history, either professionally recorded or self-recorded. It could even be digital records that relate to an event or situation, or help in identifying a signature or a person in a photo. Discovery Programs™ are an invaluable crowdsourcing tool offered by History Factory. An effective Discovery Program can help fill in the gaps and enhance the archives to fuel a more robust anniversary program.
For its 50th anniversary, global tech auditing and compliance association ISACA launched a dedicated anniversary microsite with an invitation to current and past members to participate. The organization asked members to share their story: how and why they became members, how the organization has helped their careers, and why would they recommend the organization. These stories provided the raw material for original anniversary content throughout the milestone year.
Recently, we’ve seen a slight uptick in the use of crowdsourcing to aid in storytelling. Discovery Programs are one way to do this; another way borrows a page from Intel’s playbook for its 50th anniversary. As part of its global anniversary program in 2018, Intel created My Intel Story, seeking employees’ personal stories and the role Intel plays in their lives and communities. More than 200 of these stories were published online, and nine were turned into video shorts for use as part of the anniversary program.
University Hospital’s Heart & Vascular Institute is the leader in cardiovascular care – with innovative therapies found nowhere else in our region. Learn more https://t.co/t1W08fhFgz. https://t.co/eAPWpIV5nQ
— University Hospital (@univ_hospital) October 9, 2018
University Health Care System of Augusta, Georgia, took a similar approach to its 200th anniversary, including stories from employees and patients to help to show the pioneering nature of the hospital in the region.
Over the past decade, we have seen the rise of crowdsourcing tools for everything from brand logo design to translation to Super Bowl commercials. However, we have yet to see examples where the crowd determines an anniversary brand identity, theme or tactic. This is likely the case because anniversaries are relatively rare—for most companies, they’re marked every 5, 10 or 25 years—and also highly personal for the company, akin to a brand identity. And while some companies have crowdsourced their identity, it’s rare for major brands to take that step. It’s not surprising that brands don’t want to see their corporate anniversary campaign go the way of Boaty McBoatface.
Trusting the crowd with the execution of an anniversary program may work against the self-interest of a marketing or communications team in what should be a shining moment of glory for a company. Components of the anniversary, such as the design of an official T-shirt, can be sublet from the marketing team, but other aspects, such as the core narrative of the program or campaigns that fulfill specific anniversary objectives, should be reserved for experienced marketing and communications professionals and their partners. Nevertheless, crowdsourcing is a tool that anniversary planning teams should consider as they look to build out their corporate anniversary program. But don’t take our word for it—ask around.