Relying On the Wisdom of the Crowd

As Emily Balkan, 21, looks at a pair of light blue ballet flats on her computer screen, she swiftly moves her mouse to click on the product reviews. The shoes received a four-star customer review and approximately 400 “Love Its” from previous shoppers. “Look at how many people love the shoes!” she exclaims. A senior at New York University, Balkan says that she often shops at Modcloth, a popular online shopping destination, because the site offers extensive product reviews from fellow shoppers.

Like many other GenYers, when Balkan wants advice and recommendations she relies on more than just friends and family. Her network spans the globe. While seeking advice from a large group of people rather than one source, or trusting in the wisdom of the crowd, is not unique GenY, this age group has expanded the “crowd” to include the virtual world, where everyone has an opinion. . GenY relies heavily on those opinions for helpful recommendations on everything from shopping to business start-up ideas, more so than older generations

GenY was raised with values of teamwork, creativity and positive affirmation, which are all key features of the wisdom of the crowd.  “GenY is a generation born with Intel inside,” says Sara Bamossy, a marketing expert and group-planning director of Saatchi & Saatchi public relations firm  “They’re just used to using social networks as a shortcut to find information.”

The wisdom of the crowd extends to personal music preferences. Chris Mooney, head of artist promotions at TuneCore, one of the highest revenue-generating music catalogues in the world, explains that GenY simply loves to share their own opinions. “While GenY tends to focus on individuality, they also love to share that individualism with their peers, making it nearly impossible to escape the music interest of others,” Mooney says. Which is why so many apps, like Pandora, rely on the wisdom of the crowd to function.

“[The apps] offer the unpredictability of the radio but also ask for listeners’ input, creating a listening experience that is random yet personalized, appealing to their penchant for customized and intelligent technologies,” he says. Mooney explains that Pandora becomes more “intelligent” based on listener feedback. Users can click a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” to indicate songs they like or dislike, and Pandora will take that into account, more frequently playing “popular” rated songs in the future.

The benefits of the wisdom of the crowd extend to academics, as well. StudyBlue is a new site that creates a network connecting students studying a particular subject at a particular time of day, so they study together online and benefit from bouncing ideas off one another.

Becky Splitt, CEO of StudyBlue, says that the wisdom of the crowd is effective, because it is inclusive. GenY wants its opinion to count. “When students know their presence matters, they will participate,” she says. “They will give feedback and create an opportunity to reply and discuss and argue and create.”

She also agrees that the accessibility of a wide range of responses draws student users into the site. “When we use a network, the most important asset we get is access to one another,” she says.

In fact, there’s even an app for the wisdom of the crowd. Dr. Scott Testa, a professor at Cabrini College and marketing expert, recently used “Thumb,” the wisdom of the crowd app, to ask the masses if they thought that his latest business project idea was worth pursuing.

“Within a day, I had great feedback and a pretty good idea I was on to something of significance,” he says. Dr. Testa says that the ability to tap into a “large and specialized audience” simply did not exist 10 or 15 years ago.

He says that while this idea of using the wisdom of the crowd to fuel important decisions is something considered “common” to GenY, it is a novelty to his older generation, but something he values and appreciates.

“I think we take for granted how powerful these networks are,” he says. “It’s quite frankly interesting that you can have these people around the world to tap in to voice an opinion.”

And as our networks continue to expand, one could wonder where this wisdom of the crowd will lead us in future years. Ms. Bamossy, marketing expert, says that while there will be a surplus of information; it will continue to prove beneficial.

“The most truly creative people are the ones who most freely give knowledge away. They are confident that they will have more ideas and are rewarded by the contribution of new ideas from the people they inspire,” she says.

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