I’d like to introduce this reflection by quoting Tara Hunt, who writes the following in a post titled Please Stop Crowdsourcing Me:
I came and I thought, hey, this is kind of neat-o and it empowered me at first. I thought, “Awesome! They want my opinion! They listen!” and I offered it and the feedback was, “Great idea!” and I watched as you implemented it, then benefitted from it and I felt good. I was great at first, but then after a while, I started to feel a little dirty…a little used…a little like cheap labor, replacing people you probably laid off or decided to save money on not hiring because you were getting so much great value out of my time. Maybe it was because it seemed that you believed you could ‘tap’ my well of ideas or ‘pick my brain’ endlessly? Maybe it was because my generosity goes so far and you overstepped your bounds? Maybe it was because you had a chance to reward my efforts, but dropped me like a wet rag as soon as I asked?
Tara Hunt, Please Stop Crowdsourcing Me
I just came upon her article a few minutes ago as I was aimlessly clicking around in my newsreader. It’s funny, because I’ve been thinking of this post I wanted to write for a few days now, and it’s right on the same topic.
I’ve already felt uneasy about the “Peer Economy” (if I may call it like that before). About the fact that certain businesses actually get a lot of stuff for free from their enthusiastic users — stuff they would have to pay for, otherwise. The point I understood about a year ago is that the fact that people contribute voluntarily to help improve services like WordPress, GMail, Twitter, and countless others is what allows us (the community) to benefit from great tools like these free of cost or way cheaper than what they’re worth. I’m comfortable with that.
However, I agree with Tara, there is a fine line to tread. As a company, you don’t want people to feel used. And like Tara, I’ve had more of my share of people/companies who want me to “take a look” at their stuff and “tell them what I think” — picking my brain for free. And I don’t like it. If I’m passionate about your product, then yes — I’ll give you feedback. You probably won’t even have to ask me. I’ll blog about it. If you’re smart, you’ll point out what I wrote, give me credit and link-love, thank me publicly. But I didn’t do it for that. I did it because I liked your product, or because talking about your product fulfilled one of my agenda, in a way. I’ve given products/companies like WordPress, Dopplr, Twitter, coComment, Seesmic and a bunch of others valuable feedback because I wanted to, because I loved their stuff.
That doesn’t mean that I’ll do it for any product or service that crosses my path. If you’re one of the lucky ones, well, good for you. If you’re not, you’ll have to pay cash (experiential marketing is one of the ways a company can use cash to make up for lack of immediate passion on the part of this particular human being). Just like I’ll help my friends out for free and open blogs for them just because I love them, some companies out there benefit from “free intelligence”. Others need to pay for a similar service.
You get the idea, I think.
Now, here’s what I really wanted to bring up with this post.
As you know, I’m putting together an event for the month of May, Going Solo. (If you’re a freelancer or a small business owner, you should plan to come, by the way ;-).) This is my first event. I’m not going to be doing it alone. Thing is, I realised I’m a bit shy about asking my friends to help me out, because on the one hand, I want to keep the event expenses to a minimum, and on the other hand, I don’t want people to get the impression I’m trying to “crowdsource them” — as Tara expresses above.
This is made worse (and way more uncomfortable for me) by the fact that this is not a non-profit venture. I’m going to be investing quite a lot of time in this adventure, and I hope to be able to pay myself enough to have made it worthwhile. Ditto for my sales and logistics partners. So, yes, we’re hoping the event will make a profit (against all odds, it seems — everybody tells me that if you’re first event breaks even, you’re very lucky).
So, I know that part of the difficulty I’m facing here is my own inner workings. Despite what some people on IRC may think 😉 I’m somebody who doesn’t find it easy to ask for help/stuff. I always feel I owe people (except when I feel I’m owed, in a kind of weird back-swing dynamic).
There are certain things that I need for the conference, where I’m hoping I’ll manage to find somebody who is willing to “work for fame”. Taking care of the website is one. Design is another. Similarly, I’m hoping to strike up a partnership for the WiFi and bandwidth we need for the event.
In fact, there is some similarity between “working for fame” and being a sponsor/partner. You provide stuff for free (or almost), and in return you get visibility. So maybe I need to switch mindsets. Instead of looking for “people to help me”, I’m looking for “individual partners” for the event.
I feel like this is a thought in progress. I’m not exactly sure what I think, or what to do, or what is “right”. I’m particularly embarrassed when I start talking with friends or contacts about this or that they could do for the event, because it’s not clear from the start if we’re talking about a partnership (work for fame) or Real Work (work for cash).
Any insights appreciated. I feel like I need to step out of my mind a bit to find a way out, and you can help me out with that by sharing your thoughts.