It’s interesting what strikes executives at Boot Camps. That’s why it’s never wise to assume and put my own filters on things, especially in the dynamic and ever-changing realm of Social Technologies.

At the last Boot Camp in Columbus, based on the feedback I received from the 14 people in attendance, Crowdsourcing was the big Aha!

Curious about that. I had another conversation with a CEO in Toronto about Social Tech. Same thing: Crowdsourcing was a big flash of insight. I heard him shoutout to his CIO as we left his corner office, “Hey, we need to talk about Crowdsourcing!” A perplexed look flashed across the CIO’s face.

So I thought it might be helpful to do a podcast on Crowdsourcing. And who better to interview than an experienced insurance veteran with specific experience in Crowdsourcing? Not sure what Crowdsourcing is? Listen in and read along. And then Register for an upcoming Social Tech Boot Camp for Insurance Executives where we talk more about it – as well as a host of other Social Tech opportunities that are transforming business. Or better yet, organize a private camp for your team or distribution partners.

Episode 36 – Crowdsourcing, with Ken Hittel

Read along as you listen. Perhaps grab and share Comments on Twitter.
WebWisedom Transcript courtesy of

Mike Wise: It’s May of 2012 and time for a much-needed podcast on a new concept which holds much promise. To further illuminate the concept, I’m speaking over the phone with an insurance industry veteran who has “been there, done that, bought the T-shirt.” This is Mike Wise, president of WebWisedom and I’m helping insurance companies leverage Social technologies within the unique environments of the organization, markets and regulatory guidelines.

On the podcast today, we have a very special guest, Ken Hittel. Ken, would you like to introduce yourself to the listening audience?

Ken Hittel: Sure. And thanks, Mike, this should be, in fact, a very engaging conversation. As you mentioned, I’ve been in the insurance industry for quite some time, working for New York Life, consistently, for 25 years. The last 15 or so have been in the Internet space and have been involved in running their Corporate Internet department. Currently, I’m working as the Digital Strategy Advisor for the Board of Advisors of Fairwinds Partners, in Washington DC.

Mike: Great. We’re podcasting today on Crowdsourcing as it applies to the insurance space. By the way, just a word on technology, we are recording this via Google Voice. We are editing it in a tool called Audacity. It will be uploaded to WebWisedom.com and on iTunes, with a companion article.

The goal of the podcast is to educate the insurance community on what we consider to be an essential element of Social technologies, Crowdsourcing. I understand, Ken, there might be some noises in the background. You’re podcasting from New York City and as anybody knows, New York City has noises. So, there’s a little bit . . . What’s going on there?

Ken: Well, for one thing, we have a dog who likes to bark whenever anybody walks down the hallway. Right now, he is quiet. Then, also, some work is being done, so you’re liable to hear some pounding in the background and also occasionally drilling.

Mike: Those workers, they just don’t care that we’re doing a podcast on Crowdsourcing for insurance executives. [laughs]

Ken: That’s exactly the case.

Mike: Well, life is full of little things that have a tendency to create noise, and we just have to work through them. Right?

Ken: Yep. Exactly.

Mike: Okay. So, let’s get started. What I’m going to do is, I’m going ask Ken questions about Crowdsourcing because he’s coming at this from a point of experience. He’s actually done Crowdsourcing in previous jobs. And I know a lot about it from a philosophical and a strategic standpoint, but I thought it might be interesting and better for the listeners to hear some perspectives from somebody who’s actually done Crowdsourcing.

So, first of all, let’s start off with the definition. For those, where this is a relatively new concept, Ken, how would you define Crowdsourcing?

Ken: Well, Mike, there are several different ways that you can come at this. Crowdsourcing, as a term, has become somewhat amorphous. So, actually, I decided why not check the dictionary and the dictionary, in this case, being Wikipedia. So, let me just read you a couple of sentences from Wikipedia. “Crowdsourcing is a process that involves outsourcing tasks to a distributed group of people. This process can occur both online and offline and the difference between Crowdsourcing and ordinary outsourcing is that a task or problem is outsourced to an undefined public, rather than a specific body, such as paid employees.” I think that says it pretty well and, in fact, since this is taken from Wikipedia, that is itself, probably, the most prominent and best example of Crowdsourcing. But, I think the important part here is that, from a company standpoint, you’re not necessarily relying on your own employees. Although, as we talk some more, I’d like to actually give you some examples of how, in fact, you can use your employees, very, very effectively for Crowdsourcing.

Mike: That’s right. They can be the crowd.

Ken: They can definitely be the crowd and their Social network can be additive to that, but let’s get into that a little bit later.

Mike: Okay. One of the things I’m talking about in my social tech boot camps for insurance executives . . . and side note, a little plug, the next one is scheduled for July 12th, in Chicago, at the Aloft Chicago O’Hare, which is going to be . . .
[Dog barking]

Oh, there’s the dog.

Ken: [laughs]

Mike: Somebody must’ve walked by the street.

Ken: It’s the hallway here, actually. Anytime anybody comes or goes past the door, which he regards as his territory, that’s when he starts up.

Mike: [laughs] This hallway is mine.

Ken: Exactly.

Mike: [laughs] So one of the things that I talk about with people about Crowdsourcing, there’s a couple of good, really good examples of Crowdsourcing in our space, that can really make some changes. One of them is from an IT development standpoint. There’s a couple of websites, actually several websites, out there like TopCoder’s a pretty prominent one, one of the first ones, where you can submit the specifications of a programming project, traditionally an IT project like a quote engine or an e-application, workflow or who knows what, that you have that needs to be done from an IT standpoint, and you can submit that project, the scope of work for that project, and put a bounty up with it. So, in other words, you’ll pay X amount for the code, the finished code, for this particular specification and put it up on TopCoder. Whoever wants to bid on that, or try to program that and compete for the bounty, can do that, as a registered user of TopCoder.

And so what you’ll get back as… Let’s say you’re the CIO and you’ve got a raft of projects that you need to get done, that you just can’t get done because you don’t have the bandwidth, you don’t have the expertise or whatever the situation is. What you’ll get back is several really good results where the actual code has been placed in a way that you can download it and test it and these people are competing for the money. So, you only pay for the one that you choose. So, you get what you need out of this process and it conforms to your specifications. Your programmers test it, etc., etc. So, it’s a beautiful way to use Crowdsourcing to get that bottom third of your IT projects done, that you’ll probably never get to, and if you do get to them, they’ll be done quickly, probably haphazardly. Not that I’m slamming anybody. That’s just the way it is in the business world these days. And it will be expensive. So, that’s a really good example.

Another example that I use is actually your example of video and Poptent. So, I won’t steal your thunder, but I like the Wikipedia definition. Be sure to go to Wikipedia and search on Crowdsourcing. Go to Google and search on Crowdsourcing. There’s tons of information out there.

So, turning the conversation back to you, Ken, what has been your experience? What comments do you have to start out with?

Ken: Well, you mentioned the experience that we had with Poptent. That turned out to follow, essentially, the same type of model that you just spoke about. In early 2010, we had launched a micro-site called guaranteesmatter.com, which was a little bit out of the ordinary, in itself, for New York Life. It was meant to be a platform for rich media experimentation. Along those lines, we thought, “Is there a novel way that we can promote this website that is outside of the normal ways that we might promote a micro-site?” And we came up with the idea of producing some online videos that we could perhaps post on our Facebook page, send people to from our Twitter account, obviously post on our YouTube page as well.

So we went to a company called Poptent, which is a Crowdsourcing video site, and we engaged their community to come up with short videos, under a minute, 30 seconds if possible, to promote the main creative behind Guaranteesmatter, which of course is that guarantees matter. We supplied them with a short creative brief and set, I believe it was, a three-week time limit to come up with ideas and submit actual completed videos to promote the website. In three weeks, we ended up with over 100 submissions. It was our choice as to which video would be the overall winner and would receive the prize money. In fact, we ended up paying for five of the videos. We probably could’ve paid for ten of them, but we did end up paying for five of them. So, five creative individuals actually received a bounty for their work. The others, as it always works in the Crowdsourcing process, we didn’t have to pay for at all.

So, we managed to get five extremely creative, funny and, in some cases, actually quite profound videos around the idea of guarantees. It took us only three weeks. If we had done this internally, it would almost certainly have taken us three weeks to simply write a script and get it approved by our compliance and legal people.

But, like I said, we had five complete videos. Unfortunately, they never were used publicly. We did use them internally and, in fact, we actually used a process called “crowdvoting,” that is, obviously, an example of Crowdsourcing itself. We placed the five videos on our employee Intranet and asked employees to vote for their favorite and actually to rank them one through five. And then, that way we were prepared, actually, to release the videos in that order to the public. Unfortunately, as I say, it was decided that we wouldn’t unleash the videos publicly.

Mike: OK. Let’s come back to that lesson learned. Let me just recap what you said. So, you put this project into Poptent, which is a Crowdsourcing site for video creation, Poptent.com. You have the script for the videos or essentially, what you were looking for. You had the bounties. You have the timeline and within three weeks, you got back over 50 submissions, five of which you found to be spot-on and brilliant, which you paid for. At that point, you were pretty much done with Poptent.

Then, you rolled those videos into your, probably, intranet, and rolled them out to your internal employees and ask for them to vote and rank them, which is another form of Crowdsourcing, internally. Which, by the way, further cemented exactly what you were trying to accomplish with GuaranteesMatter, with the employees, if they haven’t heard about it already. It sure is a great way to learn and get buy-in on that. OK. So just net it out. How much did that part cost you, in total?

Ken: Well, for anyone that knows anything about video production, producing scripts, hiring actors, filming, postproduction work, I think the figures will be quite astonishing. We ended up spending $35,000 for five winning videos.

Mike: So, that was probably about, what, three to five minutes of content?

Ken: It was roughly four minutes, in total, between the five winning videos.

Mike: If you strung them all together?

Ken: Yes.

Mike: So, I’m more than happy to say that the average price of a five-minute video is usually about, somewhere between $5,000 to $10,000, per minute, when you throw everything all in, depending on how sophisticated and polished, etc. or how much money you want to spend on this stuff, but that’s a good rule of thumb, wouldn’t you agree?

Ken: Yes. That’s a fair amount. Working here in New York, the figures are a little bit higher. But, yes, at the end of the day, $35,000 for roughly four or five minutes of video is . . .

Mike: Very cheap.

Ken: Yes. It’s just a tiny fraction of what it would’ve cost us to use their own internal video production talent, by the way.

Mike: Yes. Your own studio, etc., etc.

Ken: Yes.

Mike: And it was done in three weeks.

Ken: And it was done in three weeks. And it was done in such a way that the ideas that came in were ideas that simply would not have originated within New York Life itself. I think that’s one of the most important aspects of Crowdsourcing to be able to point out. Certainly, I’m not saying that you want to use Crowdsourcing for everything or anything, but certainly, when you have a need or desire to bring in outside ideas that you know, simply, were not going to originate within your own organization, Crowdsourcing is the way to go.

Mike: Yes. And by the way, if you go to crowdsourcing.org, there’s just an unlimited amount of information on ways you can use Crowdsourcing. As I mentioned before, IT, you can use it for marketing. Crowdfunding is a really big, hot subject right now. There are laws being considered at the national level about crowdfunding, crowdideation, crowdscribing. There are books. I contributed to a book, “Enterprise Social Technology,” that was crowdscribed. So, I wrote a chapter of the book and a bunch of other people wrote another chapter, very neat way to create books and, of course, these videos. There’s just so much that can be done.

Now, this project ran into a barrier. Let’s talk about that because that’s a very important subject, as well.

Ken: Well, without getting into a lot of the details, I think, my experience would say that while you always have to be somewhat politically aware of any endeavor that you end up in, within a corporation, I think it’s particularly the case when it comes to Crowdsourcing. Getting buy-in from the very beginning, from any of the major executives that can be impacted, or believe that they can be impacted, by a Crowdsourcing project, I think, is absolutely essential. And perhaps, we didn’t do that as well as we should have because at the end of the day, while pretty much every single person that saw the videos loved them, at the end of the day, it became very difficult for our executive management to approve unleashing these videos to the public. So, they never actually were.

As I said, we did go to our employees. They were extremely happy with them. We probably had the highest level of voting for anything we ever asked employees to vote on. But there were still some executives who were, I think, unnerved by, let’s say, the non-New York Life stance, of these videos. It seemed to some people, to conflict with our established brand. I felt it was more of a brand extension than a conflict, but clearly, there were people who saw it as a conflict.

Mike: Yes. So, like anything else, change is hard. There’s a certain level of lack of understanding and confusion about Social technologies at the executive level, and Crowdsourcing, even more so. It’s often a term and a concept that people know very little about. That said, Ken, what would you recommend to other people in terms of overcoming some of these issues?

One of the things that I talk about, in the boot camps, is that Crowdsourcing is really an essential part of an enterprise social technology strategy. And in order to really pursue it, a deep understanding of it needs to be had by the executive, by the decision-makers, by the stakeholders of any project. So, in my mind, if they haven’t already, I think it would be a really good idea to get all of these stakeholders, and all means all, right, get all these stakeholders in a room together and spend a couple hours going through what Crowdsourcing is. What are the issues that need to be addressed? So, you definitely want to have compliance in the room and talk about intellectual property, legal and you want to have marketing and branding in the room, customer service. You want to have, really, all of the critical stakeholders in the room to talk about these issues. That’s my perspective. What’s your perspective on best practices in terms of rolling out a Crowdsourcing initiative?

Ken: I think you’re absolutely right. And I think we may have been a bit premature. We certainly, when we did our venture with Poptent and its creative community, we really didn’t wrap it up in terms of our overall social media strategy, certainly not as convincingly as, looking back on it, we should have. We did go to all of the individuals, executives, and groups that you mentioned. Our five winning videos were, in fact, all approved by our Compliance Department. The Brand Manager at New York Life had some qualms about one of the five videos. We decided to not use that one. But I think our mistake was in doing those separately and individually, as opposed to bringing everybody together at one time and explaining what we were up to and why, how the process worked, and what our plans were then for a future rollout.

Mike: Okay. Interesting. Let me ask you a question, Ken. Knowing what you know now about Crowdsourcing, what kind of urgency, how important is Crowdsourcing? What do you see down the road in the future of Crowdsourcing in the insurance space? If you were talking over breakfast at an industry association meeting, with an executive from another company, what would you talk to them, how would you encourage them, looking forward, regarding Crowdsourcing? Is it really important? Is it moderately important? Is it going to change our way of doing business?

Ken: I do think that it is an extremely important aspect of a Social strategy. I think that it can be extraordinarily productive. It can be an extraordinary cost savings for things that you might otherwise attempt to do internally. To me, the most important aspect of Crowdsourcing is precisely being able to harness the so-called “wisdom of the crowd” and, obviously, you can only do that to a certain extent, in terms of your own staff, your own department and your own company even. So, there are just tremendous advantages to Crowdsourcing.

As I said earlier, I don’t believe we need to crowdsource everything, but certainly, there are so many things that can be crowdsourced in one way or another that it almost seems silly to me not to take advantage of it.

Mike: You mentioned a really big brand. What about some of the smaller brands and medium-sized, even down to local agencies, is Crowdsourcing applicable?

Ken: I think it definitely is. Quite enterprising sales agents that I know, that are willing to invest a little bit of time and a fair number of dollars promoting themselves, advertising themselves, I know many agents who have gone out and used professional videographers to create videos for themselves. Why not, instead, use a video production company such as Poptent, and there are competitors out there as well, obviously, to crowdsource a video for yourself in your practice? For the amount of money that it would cost you to do that, it’s going to be far less than anything that you dream up yourself or that you and your videographer dream up together. And you’re likely to get much more creative solutions than you ever could just pulling them up out of your own mind. So, yes, I think even down to the individual agent level, I think there are certainly lots and lots of opportunities for Crowdsourcing to work productively for you.

Again, I think the crucial aspect of this, even if we’re talking about a case of individual agents, is enabling the creativity of the wider community, so it isn’t just you coming up with an idea, which may be a perfectly great idea and maybe that’s the basis for your creative brief. But allow the creative community to come up with the idea and give you the realization of those ideas. I think that’s where the real strength lies.

Mike: OK. Well, this has been very interesting, Ken. Again, thank you so much for spending some time and talking about your experiences in the area of Crowdsourcing. I really appreciate it. Just a plug for Ken. I got to know Ken through the blog, when I was talking about his former brand a couple of years ago. In fact, I’ll put a link to that story on this podcast article. But, Ken is really one of the brightest lights in Social in the insurance space and it’s a real treat and a privilege to have him on the podcast talking about some of these things. Ken, how can people reach you?

Ken: Well, the easiest way right now is either through my page on LinkedIn, which would be Kenneth Hittel, but also Gmail … khittel@gmail.com.

Mike: Great. Any closing thoughts about Crowdsourcing or Social, in general?

Ken: Yes. Definitely. I think, clearly, we are going to see more and more creative investment in social space within the insurance industry. We certainly started seeing it a couple of years ago with companies like State Farm and Allstate. New York Life has come in, I think, very strong from the life insurance industry perspective and is doing some very successful things. But, clearly, there’s a huge future in Social.

Mike: Great. Well, thanks for listening. Please comment on the podcast on WebWisedom.com , where the podcast will be hosted. Please share this with your network as you see appropriate.

Again, this is Mike Wise, President of WebWisedom, and I’m helping insurance companies leverage social technologies within the unique environments of the organization, markets and regulatory guidelines. Connect with me across the social web via MikeWise07 and learn more at WebWisedom.com.

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