At this summer’s Crowdopolis conference in Los Angeles, which I organized, speakers from major brands such as eBay, Amazon, Nokia, and GE presented case studies on their company’s use of crowdsourcing. They shared best practices and provided unique insight into how the practice is impacting advertising, content marketing, and technology.   
I asked several major users of crowdsourcing to share what they’ve learned.
James Rubinstein, PM Search Metrics, eBay: The good thing about tapping the crowd—whether for human relevance judgments to get a measure of search result quality or for funding your latest scientific discovery mission—is that by distributing the work, you can massively scale up or down very quickly. It is possible to go from zero to full throttle and back to zero again in relatively no time. This is a huge advantage for many of us who don’t have constant streams of work to accomplish.
The difficult part is getting people to engage in your job; I mean really get into it. Your task has to resonate with the end user/judge/funder. If your task, experiment, question, or insight has resonance with people they will work, contribute, answer, or comment—often for little or no cost. If you can excite people with your idea, there will be plenty of help.
Kirsten Kuehl, Senior Manager, Nokia: Nokia and CNN teamed up to create a crowdsourcing app called CNN iReport. The app enables anyone to report news as it happens. The consumer creates an iReport video and can upload it as news. CNN knows that there are far more consumers than journalists who can capture events as they happen. [With] the right tool, people who are in the right place at the right time can capture emerging events around the world. It enables a consumer witnessing a major event to become a journalist in the moment and capture it in real time.
I have a great deal of admiration for the project funded through Kickstarter for the Protei, Open Hardware Oil Spill Cleaning Robot. It is a great innovative approach and the community has helped to refine the idea to design a more effective solution in creating a robot to clean up oil spills. There are many positive benefits from the project, which include technology innovation, environmental benefits, and community building to address unexpected disasters with effective solutions.
Sharon Chiarella, Vice President, Amazon: Crowdsourcing requires that the project is well defined, the incentives between the organization (or project owner) and the crowd are aligned, and the context and information necessary to be successful is readily available. When these are aligned, great things can happen. But when they’re not the results suffer.
For example, there have been a number of projects attempting to crowdsource work to low-cost labor markets in Africa and Asia that have not been successful because the projects require cultural context. Photo moderation of “what’s appropriate” or “acceptable to show to a child under the age of 13” varies by region even within countries. Context is really important and is often overlooked.
Another very visible crowdsourcing call that failed to gain momentum was the Kony 2012 campaign. It had an ambitious goal of plastering most of the U.S. with posters to raise awareness about Kony. From the outside, it appears that they had a well defined project, but there was controversy about the accuracy of the video portraying the situation. The Kony campaign tapped into people’s desire to have an impact and make a difference. But as debate erupted as to whether the project would be effective and change the situation the crowd’s incentive was dampened. Success requires clear definition, context and aligned incentives.
Peter Lamotte, President, GeniusRocket (a TK KIND OF COMPANY): Late last year, Sylvan Learning Centers used GeniusRocket as a one part of a crowdsourcing-based campaign. They decided to crowdsource a small collection of television ads from our crowdsourcing agency.  The ideas were solicited through our curated crowdsourcing model and a total of four were produced by award-winning production companies in Nashville and Las Vegas. Continuing the crowdsourcing theme, Sylvan turned to their internal crowd of franchise owners to vote on which ad would be their lead national TV spot and would later be customized for local markets.  Over 600 franchisees voted and selected an ad entitled “Running Away.”
Adding yet one more layer of crowdsourcing to the campaign, Sylvan launched their own contest for fans to create their UGC ads inspired by the original “Running Away” national spot. This YouTube contest generated numerous ads from all over the country and was able to engage their core demographic like never before. It is rare to see a brand that uses crowdsourcing in so many different ways within one campaign.
Stephen Shapiro, Author, Best Practices Are Stupid: There are many incredible platforms for crowdsourcing. It depends on what you are looking to do.
InnoCentive is great for solving complex technical challenges. TopCoder is designed to help find solutions to coding and algorithmic problems. I’ve used for design work. Kickstarter is great for fundraising and insight gathering. There are also tools like Spigit, Imaginatik, or Brightidea that are excellent for collaboration. Each is best served for certain environments, challenges, and processes.
David Bratvold is editor of the Daily Crowdsource and founder of the Crowdopolis conference.