How to Use Crowd Sourcing Tools to Enhance or Replace Focus Groups

Focus groups are probably the most important, yet most overlooked component of a market research plan.  Having a group of people in a room where you can watch their body language and watch their subtle reaction to questions, topics and situations is priceless when it comes to deciding which directions you will take with your market research.

There is one major downside to all of this: time, money -- and lots of both.  While social media and other technical tools and resources provide SOME of this information, they don't provide all of it.  And this is why I will NOT remove focus groups as a valuable element in the survey process.

But for those of us who don't have tens of thousands of dollars to invest in the process.  There are some interesting alternatives: social media and crowd sourcing tools like IdeaScale.

Neither of these tools can give you the visual body language component that focus groups provide.  And if that is important to you -- then you will have to invest in the focus group process.  But take heart.  Crowd sourcing tools can really help you focus your work so that when you DO get that focus group together - it will be targeted and meaningful.  Maybe you can do one focus group instead of two or three.

What Qualitative Data do Crowd Sourcing Tools Provide

Crowd sourcing tools work give you the opportunity to do virtual brainstorming with an audience.  You can either recruit the audience by sending them an email with a link to your space or you can simply put a link to your space on your web site and send visitors to the site that way.

If you are running a project and have a targeted audience that you can reach, I'd recommend sending invitations to specific people and encouraging them to participate in the space.

If you're running more of an ongoing listening project -- much like QuestionPro and Survey Analytics do -- then simply placing a "feedback" tab on your site is sufficient.

Another option is to place a bright orange tab on the side of your web page where people can click to provide feedback-

What's Possible With Crowd Sourcing

Listening is perhaps the biggest benefit that you can get with crowd sourcing.  One of the benefits of NOT having people congregated in a room with a professional facilitator is that they are more relaxed and tend to feel more inclined to make more unfiltered comments.  The same principle that makes it possible to make bullying comments and rude rants on web sites takes over and people simply tell you what they think.

Using a crowd sourcing tools requires facilitation as well.  People will make comments and contribute ideas and you need to be available to read them. comment on them and filter out the spam that will inevitably show up. is Crowd Sourcing in Action

Take a look at the project.  This web site is literally a marketplace for challenges.  If you'd like to solve a challenge - browse the available challenges and get involved and if you'd like to post a challenge -- get it up there.  And if you're just looking -- you can log on and vote challenges up and down.


ChallengePost works on the principles of reward for the best solutions.  Netflix is using it as a clearinghouse for their contests.  Netflix had gotten into a bit of trouble with their contests when people accused them of being unfair.  Their solution was ChallengePost.  Netflix puts up a prize amount.  People contribute solutions to their challenge and the crowd votes the solutions up or down.  The solution with  the most votes wins.

Crowd sourcing is a wonderful new way to enhance and jump start more traditional forms of market research.

have YOU used crowd sourcing tools like IdeaScale?  What's been your experience?