A Perfect Pairing: How to Use Crowdsourcing and Social Media to Benefit Your Business

By Missy Sheehan

You’ve no doubt heard the term “crowdsourcing” being thrown around in recent years. In fact, I mentioned it in a post last year on big-brand social media strategies that small businesses can use.

For those who may not know, crowdsourcing is simply a tactic to obtain services, ideas, or content by requesting contributions from a large group of people. The term is said to have been coined by Wired Magazine contributing editor Jeff Howe in an article published in June 2006.

Since then, the growth of social media has made crowdsourcing an extremely powerful tool for individuals, businesses of all sizes, and nonprofit organizations. Today, it’s easy for anyone to crowdsource ideas from people all over the world using social media.

For businesses, crowdsourcing offers the most benefits when coordinated with social media marketing efforts. “Coupled together, a social media-led, crowdsource-controlled innovation initiative can be a speed and force-multiplier that a company would never achieve within its own four walls,” writes sales and marketing executive Nicole Gillen in a post on the company blog for CSC, a global leader in information technology services and solutions. “Joined at the hip, these two social universes can redefine what it means to create new ideas to transform a business.”

For businesses, crowdsourcing offers the most benefits when coordinated with social media marketing efforts. 

Read on for tips on using crowdsourcing and social media together to benefit your business.

Test Ideas and Conduct Market Research

When you’re considering carrying or developing new products, it can be maddening trying to predict how your customers will respond. Avoid playing guessing games and investing time and money on a product no one will buy by conducting some research using your social media channels.

Krista Bunskoek, in an article for Social Media Examiner, suggests simply asking customers what they want. “Use your Twitter feed to give consumers a choice and ask them to tell you which product option they’d most like to buy,” she writes. “This is a method of crowdsourcing your wholesale buying decisions, while you show that you really do listen to your customers.”

She also advises offering prizes such as the product itself to encourage customers to share their opinions and using Facebook vote contests to conduct research on consumer preferences like favorite product colors and shopping methods.

Get Fresh Ideas

Crowdsourcing can bring all kinds of innovative ideas right to your company’s Facebook or Twitter feed. Remember the Lay’s “Do Us a Flavor” contest I mentioned recently? The potato chip company couldn’t have asked for a better way to come up with creative new flavors like Wavy West Coast Truffle Fries and Southern Biscuits and Gravy.

Involving customers in the brainstorming and product development processes like Lay’s has done in the past few years also has the benefit of creating customer loyalty and cultivating a deeper connection between brand and consumer. Bunskoek advises hosting contests to name new products as another way to connect with customers through crowdsourcing. “The name of your product can make or break its selling success,” she writes. “Engage your customers in an important business decision like this and you will make them feel like they are an essential contributor to your business.”

Generate Content

Your customers can be a valuable source for social media and blog content as well as ideas and consumer preferences. Ask them to post photos of themselves with your product, for example, and request that they tag your business page and use any special hashtags your business uses. Make it a photo contest and offer a prize to increase the fun and sharing potential.

Steve Olenski, in an article for Social Media Today, recommends inviting customers to share a story to use on your company’s blog or social media pages. “You could have them recall a childhood memory, write about the first time they used a particular product, or ask them to share a story about what a concept related to your product means to them,” he writes.

The opportunities are endless when it comes to crowdsourcing ideas and content from your customers. And the best part is that while you're getting great ideas you never would have thought of otherwise, you’re also inspiring loyalty and building lasting connections with your customers. You’ll get plenty of bad ideas along with the good, of course, but that’s just part of the crowdsourcing process.

Have you ever used crowdsourcing for your business or organization? Let us know in the comment section!

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  • Author: Missy Sheehan
  • About Me: aka Media Marketing contributor, freelance writer for regional publications like Blue Ridge Country, WV Living, and Hagerstown magazines. I write articles on food, travel, and outdoor adventure as well as marketing materials for businesses. Connect with me on Twitter @SheehanWriting.