Crowdsourcing for Small Business and Start-Ups

The following is a blog post that I originally wrote for www.365daysofstartups.com

 

Crowdsourcing is a practice through which organizations can tap into the collective intelligence and skills of their crowds – employees, customers, or the public –  for product or service innovation, problem solving and performing specific tasks and achieving specific goals, leveraging online communities. Crowdsourcing is becoming widespread as companies, both large and small, non-profits and government become more familiar with the practice and how it can enhance their own internal resources and knowledge base.

How does crowdsourcing work?  First, it should always start with a sound business strategy and objectives. Typically, an organization either recruits its own online community of participants (the crowd), or gains access to a community that already exists. The organization then invites the crowd to contribute ideas and solutions related to the tasks it needs accomplished. The crowd is encouraged to collaborate and provide constructive comments on ideas that are posted, and vote on their favorites – enabling crowd-preferred ideas to be identified for the organization. Often times, incentives and rewards are provided to the crowd to entice participation.

Large corporations, such as Dell, Starbucks and Pepsi have been using crowdsourcing for a number of years, however it is now entering a place of maturity – related companies and services geared towards small business and start-ups are arising. Although small businesses may not have the following required to recruit their own crowds, they now have access to a wide range of opportunities to leverage crowds created by crowdsourcing service providers.

Efforts that a small business might consider crowdsourcing include:

  • Graphic and logo design
  • Product innovation and development
  • Marketing and communications
  • Computer programming

Small businesses and start-ups can benefit from crowdsourcing in several ways. Crowdsourcing enables companies to gain access to a large talent pool and resources that complement and build on their own internal expertise.  For time-starved business owners and entrepreneurs, crowdsourcing can help ease the burden of a heavy workload. Also, depending on the task at hand, crowdsourcing can be a very cost-effective solution.

Despite the name, a “crowd” doesn’t have to be that large.  Crowdsourcing projects can result in excellent output with as little as a few hundred participants, so small businesses and startups shouldn’t be turned away from considering crowdsourcing for fear of having to recruit thousands of participants.

For an example of crowdsourcing in action, check out Genius Crowds – www.geniuscrowds.com.  Genius Crowds is a new crowdsourcing initiative through which participants have an opportunity to submit ideas for new products, as well as vote or comment on ideas that others have submitted. Ideas that turn out to be Genius Products, as selected by the crowd and reviewed by a panel of experts, could actually be brought to market  – with the participants who submitted the ideas earning royalties.  Not only that, but their logo happens to be crowdsourced too!

Stand for Something

One way a brand can stand out and build a stronger bond with customers is to become aligned with a relevant cause that truly benefits the greater good.

Consumers, and even customers in business to business environments, certainly expect the companies they purchase from to be good corporate citizens. Fair and ethical treatment of staff members, giving back to the local community, and adherence to green practices just make good business sense. But imagine how your customers might perceive your brand if you *WOW* them by setting a gold standard for social and environmental practices.

Digital technology is making it easier for companies to engage with consumers and support causes in new and unique ways.

Here are several examples of companies that are making a difference.

TOMS Shoes – For every pair of shoes purchased, a pair is given to a child in need. Since the program launched in 2006, over 600,000 shoes have been given to children in the United States, Argentina, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Guatemala, Haiti, and South Africa

Pepsi – Rather move forward with a traditional Super Bowl TV spot, Pepsi launched the Pepsi Refresh Project. Through the $20 million crowdsourcing initiative, which will no doubt be a marketing case study, people are enticed to submit and vote on ideas that will have a positive impact on society. The best ideas will receive grants ranging from $5,000 to $250,000 each.

CauseWorld – CauseWorld is an iPhone and Android app that is similar to Foursqaure and Gowalla, in that it enables users check into check into locations they visit. For each check in, users earn “Karma” points, which they can then redeem using the app to donate money to select charitable organizations. The money is provided by sponsors including Procter & Gamble, Kraft and Sears.

Have you thought about how your company can leverage digital in making a difference?

Engaging Online Communities with Your Brand

Companies can increase the likelihood of achieving success with their marketing programs by more deeply engaging specific groups within their target market. It’s no secret that the most effective marketing strategies typically have a well-defined target. However, the proliferation of online groups over the past decade has created significant opportunities for companies to become more focused with their brand communication efforts.

In his book “Here Comes Everybody”, Clay Shirky details how the web has brought down barriers to group formation. Costs and geography, amongst other factors, have reduced risk and provided opportunities for people with extremely specific and unique interests to connect.

Consider the website Meetup.com, an online social networking portal that facilitates group meetings in various locations around the world. Founded in 2001 by Scott Heiferman, Meetup had 66,725 groups as of September 2009. Many of these groups are very focused in nature – for example, there are over 200 Pug Meetup groups. On a local level, what a great opportunity for a pet food store to become involved, perhaps organizing dog walking events so that pug owners can meet and connect.

Beyond Meetup, many companies are now creating their own brand communities online. Urban Reserve is an online and offline community for wine enthusiasts, sponsored by RJ Spagnols and Vincor (disclaimer: I am a Community Manager for Urban Reserve in Vancouver). Urban Reserve enables people to share their love of wine – with the enticement of belonging to a fun and unique community. People have the opportunity to connect online, and offline through wine tasting events.

There are many groups of people out there who might have an interest in your brand. What are you doing to connect with them?

Marketing Ideas for Small Businesses

Often times, small business owners underestimate the value of marketing in growing sales and generating revenue. As such, they don’t devote nearly enough resources – in terms of talent and money – to the marketing function. To be fair, many small business owners juggle a multitude of tasks, making it easy for marketing to get lost in the mix. However, even small investments in marketing can make a large difference.

Here are some ways in which small businesses can build awareness about their products and services.

1. Build a presence on social networking websites. Create a group for your business on Facebook. Invite all of your friends and contacts to join,and send periodic updates about your business (for example, new products or services offered) through the group. It’s entirely free, and fairly easy to manage.

2. Think out of the box, and be creative with your marketing strategies and tactics. Maybe you’ve always ran an ad for your business in the local paper. Instead, perhaps consider investing an incentive program that will entice your current customers to invite others to sample your products or services. Remember, the most powerful form of advertising is word-of-mouth!

3. Sponsor a community event that is relevant to your business and your target market. Show your customers, or potential customers, that you care about your community, and you will help bond them to your brand.