Crowdsourcing with a Purpose

By: Lewis Pryor, assistant vice president – Public Affairs at State Farm in Bloomington, Ill.

It seems there isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t hear about the latest and greatest public relations campaign talks about the power of “crowdsourcing.” The idea is where a “crowd” can provide ongoing feedback on projects, teach and – in the case of public relations – be an active part of a campaign. Some practitioners will talk about this recent phenomenon as a threat, but I believe it produces enormous opportunity for PR professionals when crowdsourcing is done with a clear purpose.

The very core of PR is about engaging various publics. And, the foundation of any successful campaign employs those publics to become aware, behave or act in a certain way. Crowdsourcing is, by its very nature, a moving organization where people participate based on their own beliefs and passions. The key for PR professionals is to create campaigns that align with your organization’s mission while striking a chord with groups who can act.

State Farm looked for new, more relevant ways to engage with consumers regarding their philanthropic donations, and launched Neighborhood Assist (NA) which empowered people to identify issues in their community via Facebook. Then the program connected them with a local nonprofit that can help solve the problem, and provided an opportunity to receive $25,000 in funding support. Causes were submitted via Facebook to the State Farm Youth Advisory Board (YAB). The YAB includes 30 students, 17-20, across North America who run a $5 million-a-year grant program where they review the submissions and selected 100 finalists. Then communities rallied behind their cause by voting on the State Farm Facebook page for three weeks. The 40 top vote receiving causes each won $25,000.

The result? 38,000 people took to Facebook and cast more than 1.2 M votes in three weeks. The 40 winning organizations came from 22 states and the top five voting-receivers came from cities with populations less than 275,000.The CAE website had 418K unique visitors while the Facebook site had 22K socials shares. In addition, nearly 200 unique media placements were garnered. However, the most impressive result was winning a 2013 Silver Anvil Award.

This program provides helpful lessons and tips into effective crowdsourcing:
Be transparent. Every rule and step must be very transparent. Any program that appears it isn’t above board because of lack of transparency will turn people away.
Keep it simple. The process to become engaged must be very simple. Multi-step processes and involved entries will greatly reduce conversion rates.

Engaging your publics. This is easier said than done, but the program has to engage audiences and then keep them engaged throughout the campaign.
Be Unique. Create a program that is different than other programs.

Following these easy steps can help your program stand out and produce outstanding results. But, whatever you create it must balance organizational alignment with what the public cares about. That’s crowdsourcing with a purpose!

Lewis Pryor is assistant vice president – Public Affairs at State Farm in Bloomington, Ill. He also currently serves as president of the Central Illinois PRSA Chapter and a board member of the PRSA Midwest District Board

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