Posts | Unleash the masses: Crowdsourcing in Higher Ed
Unleash the masses: Crowdsourcing in Higher Ed.
higher education
Cameron Crazies 

Usually we think of crowds as being chaotic and rowdy. But crowds with a defined purpose can be influential, persuasive, and when given the appropriate tools and framework, a very successful advertiser for an organization. How you ask? The model is called crowdsourcing.

Daren Brabham was the first person to publish scholarly research using the word “crowdsourcing” in 2008 and describes it is a “deliberate blend and balance of a bottom-up, open, creative process with top-down organizational goals for a specific purpose.” Online communities make access to crowds and their collective intelligence/creativity much easier and several institutions of higher education are utilizing them in their marketing campaigns with great success.

The introduction of the term crowdsourcing is a testament to the evolution of how some consumers are choosing to absorb their information. Many consumers in the higher ed market, whether it is prospective students or donors, are eagerly gravitating towards the concept of transparency. They want to see all aspects of the university in an organic way and be their own judge of whether it’s worth their investment. As marketing and advertising professionals, we may be asked to adapt and help create campaigns that reflect this preference. In certain cases, we may need to give the collective community a chance to play the role of marketers, let them “reveal” the institution.

Duke University and Brown University are examples of institutions that are currently running unconventional campaigns that use the crowdsourcing model to capture the essence of their campuses in real-time. The crowd in both cases is the community of current and prospective students, parents, alumni, faculty, staff and donors. While the overall direction of the campaign varies slightly, one being fundraising focused (Duke) and the other an anniversary campaign with more emphasis on awareness and celebration (Brown), the means of getting there is similar—participation and active engagement by the crowd.

Use crowds. Relinquish some control. Unleash potential and possibility. Be transparent and current. It is possible…

Pros and Cons

In the spirit of transparency, here are a few pros and cons to consider when deciding whether to use crowdsourcing as a method to meet your communication and marketing goals.


1. Strength in numbers. It is much harder for 10 people to accurately portray the many facets of a university than it is for hundreds.  When casting the net wider and deeper through crowdsourcing, the potential for diversity in content and type of contributors is exponentially higher. It’s hard for one person to tell what campus image will resonate with a prospective student or what research story will pique the interest of a donor.

2. Opportunity for worldwide participation and engagement. Crowdsourcing offers local, national and international audiences an opportunity to engage and become actively involved with a university regardless of location. This method for aggregating content provides an unfiltered and intimate glimpse into current life at a university despite being miles away. Everything is being captured in real-time and immediately shared with the world.

3. Access to original content at a reasonable cost. Campus photographers and journalists can’t be everywhere at once, all hours of the day, to capture everything that takes place at a university. Not to mention how expensive that would be. When online communities, crowdsourcing methodology and social media apps converge, thousands of digital photojournalists can tell a university’s story through their own handheld perspectives…for free.


1. More content = more staff. Soliciting content from a crowd is a major undertaking. It isn’t a one and done deal. Rather, the online landscape is growing and shifting depending on current topics, events, major donations, research breakthroughs, etc. Additional staff is required to manage and sustain the content on a daily, if not an hourly basis.  If the top-down organizational framework isn’t up to par, then crowdsourcing content will not work effectively.

2. Risk of revolt. The crowdsourcing model does open the door to vulnerability. If an issue arises, it is vital to address the topic as early as possible with a clear and thoughtful response. University leadership should become a part of the conversation because it is probably an important one that is top of mind in the community. Dialogue around tuition increases often comes to the surface during higher ed campaigns. Remember that obstacles are not fatalities if they are handled well.

3. Navigate user permission, privacy concerns. When the content comes pouring in, organizing permission rights requires dedicated staff time in order to catalog the obtained information appropriately. A detail-oriented person is preferred. Other institutions have done it so talk to colleagues or legal counsel and tailor procedures for your organization.

Pros and cons aside, two distinguished higher ed institutions built upon centuries of tradition, selected a modern marketing and communications approach rooted in transparency and as a result, the community is not only proud, but participating at a whole new level.

    Posted ByIngrid Tripple
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