social media how toAre you familiar with crowdsourcing? Do you know what the benefits are?

Social media has changed the way businesses engage with consumers—fans and followers don’t want to be told, they want to discover. It’s no longer a one-way (or even a two-way) conversation.

It’s now a multiplayer experience that relies on collective, thoughtful engagement.

Consumers have the tools, time and desire to be involved on a much deeper level than we’ve ever seen before. There are several distinct ways that you can take these ideas and build social media campaigns that use existing tools and technologies to achieve powerful results.

Today, brands big and small are homing in on the tactic of crowdsourcing, defined as the act of outsourcing tasks traditionally performed by an employee or contractor to an undefined, large group of people or community (a “crowd”), through an open call. Hidden within this utilitarian definition are powerful cultural drivers that can be catalyzed to achieve powerful social engagement and activation.

What’s the benefit of crowdsourcing?

As the evolving relationship between consumers and brands brings everyone closer together, interactions and relations will continue to become more and more complimentary each time, giving and taking equally and fairly. You can turn consumers into brand advocates by getting them involved and engaged.

It’s at the intersection of these ideas where a powerful and new way to socially activate and engage consumers exists. It’s time to get your consumers talking—so connect with your crowd when you’re using social media.

Alex Bogusky and John Winsor wrote in their book Baked In about organizational intelligence, saying, “The intelligence of the whole can differ wildly based on who is connected and to whom and how.” By extension, we can say that if a company is disconnected from its consumers, the organizational IQ suffers.

smiling crowd

Open up your social media sites to the input and feedback of your "crowd." Image source:

Below are three principles of crowdsourcing that can be used on or in tandem with social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blogs.

#1: Ask for feedback (then do something with it)

Your business might say, “We listen to our customers, and your feedback is always welcome.” Well, that’s great, and listening is the first step, but without follow-up action, you’ll leave your customers feeling short-changed. The gap between satisfied and disappointed is easily closed, yet it’s often left wide open. This is a wasted opportunity.

Asking open-ended questions on your social media sites is a way to not only close the gap, but also create a program that turns the act of collecting and reacting to feedback into a marketing campaign of activation and engagement.


Biore Skincare asks their consumers questions to facilitate a conversation.

For example, ask fans when or why they first had a need for your product or service. You’ve not only connected with your online audience, but also gained valuable insight into the thought process of your constituents.

Starbucks executed this idea of using consumer feedback with “My Starbucks Idea.”

starbucks vote

Starbucks fans can share, vote, discuss and see ideas on My Starbucks Idea.

The site allows users to submit suggestions to be voted on by Starbucks’ consumers, and the most popular suggestions are highlighted and reviewed. Starbucks then took it a step further and added an “Ideas in Action” blog that gives updates to users on the status of changes suggested.

#2: Create contests and giveaways

People love winning, and when they win prizes or discounts, they’ll share the news with their friends. Consider implementing trivia promotions and offering reduced-price or free products or services as prizes to fans who identify the correct answer first. Using a contest application can give you everything you need to implement and manage a campaign.

One thing you want to be sure of is your ability to capture contact information for participants. Getting users’ contact information allows you to plan for a post-event promotion. You’ll know the participants have your brand top of mind at the end of your event, so having a special promotion ready to offer immediately following the event while you have the attention of the participants is critical.

You also want to be sure the platform you choose has all the social media sharing tools built in so participants can use Facebook and Twitter to let their social networks know about the contest. After all, turning participants into promoters is one of the main reasons to run a crowdsourcing campaign in the first place.

For example, create contests with a seasonal twist to get people talking, like a costume photo contest for your consumers and fans during Halloween. A brand that executed this concept is Graco baby products. They implemented a Halloween Costume Contest in 2010 on the brand’s Flickr page and gave away a sound machine to the winner as an incentive for fans to participate.

halloween costume contest

Here's a promotion where people sent their child's cutest Halloween photo.

Another great big-brand example of crowdsourcing with social media is Dunkin Donuts. DD created the “Create Dunkin’s Next Donut” contest in 2010. The contest was a huge success, generating more than 130,000 donut submissions and 174,000 votes.

dunkin donuts

Dunkin Donuts asked fans to design the next donut.

#3: Poll or survey your fans

Consumers love to give their opinion. They want to share their ideas, feelings and opinions in a quick, easy way that makes them feel like they’re connecting with a brand. You can poll fans on anything; it makes them feel like their ideas, thoughts and feedback are appreciated.

facebook question

Facebook Questions lets you submit an open-ended question and create custom multiple-choice polls.

For example, if you’re a restaurant owner, consider polling fans on what seasonal dish they would like to see for the upcoming summer season. Polling or surveying fans and followers is the fastest way to structure an active conversation on a topic that you encourage.

Whether you’re collecting user feedback, running crowdsourcing contests or polling your audience, you’ll benefit greatly from making these types of campaigns recurring fixtures in your business’s social media strategy.

While participation may not be where you’d like it for the first attempt, by repeating the programs on a regular basis, you’ll condition your community to anticipate what’s coming next and this will cause a steady increase in participation. So don’t give up in the beginning. Trust that you have a clear understanding of the behaviors you’re trying to solicit and that your community is eager to participate.


In this video interview you can learn how to turn your customers into raving fans and you can also read here how to use Twitter to connect with local customers.

Are you connecting with your crowd? What ideas or suggestions do you have? Leave your comments in the box below.

Photo from iStockPhoto.
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  • Jency Jockob

    Thanks and I appreciate you for the nice post which is best to be followed to launch a new ideas with great analysis..I agree with you..and I want to follow you.keep sharing.

  • People love sharing their opinion, good or bad. So as you ask for feedback, don’t be discouraged by negative feedback. Instead view it as constructive criticism to better your services and products. Most of all, have fun with it. Engage people in a variety of formats. A poll here, a contest there, a question here. Mix it up to keep it interesting.

    Thanks for the post!

  • Richard, great post! One of the best I’ve read in a while. Real nuts and bolts stuff with good real-world examples. Our company ( has recently started offering social media management and this is exactly the sort of thing we’re having clients do.

    We also always push the authenticity angle–your business has a personality, and it needs to come out, so just be yourself. I think these are some great ways to help business owners do just that. And it all goes hand in hand with the idea you touch on at the beginning, that social media users are very leery of being sold to. I think that’s one of the toughest ideas to sell businesses on. They want their marketing dollars to be used to sell and it just doesn’t work that way anymore, at least not with social media.

  • Kmcilhargie

    It is important that we recognize “The Human Condition” with respect to our interaction with customers/people.  The need to be involved, to be a part of something, an association or affiliation with a group/product/company.  Also the need to be heard, recognized, and appreciated for our input – valued.

    All of this is magnified by the speed of interactions with customers via the internet and social media exchanges. 

    It is a tremedous opportunity if taken seriously.

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  • Excellent point.

    Keep in mind a negative or unflattering opinion/comment is an opportunity. Since the person making the comment clearly cares enough to go through the trouble to speak up, this is a chance to win that person over, letting them know you agree with some or all of what they’re saying and/or explaining why things are the way they are is the way to handle it. Show them that you care enough about them to comment back.

    I just witnessed a great example of what not to do–what amounted to a missed opportunity. A client of CrowdTogether’s just ran a photo contest, one of the participants had an issue with another participant’s submission which happen to end up winning. They felt that according to the contest rules the winning photo should have been disqualified. The contest administrator, rather then agreeing the contest rules could have been clearer and humbly acknowledging they will endeavor to improve the experience for the next contest, chastised the user. Often it’s a confrontation that people are looking for so don’t take the bait, take the high road, this leaves nothing else to be said.

    So I completely agree, don’t be discouraged by negative feedback and do your best to look at it as an opportunity.

  • Jason,

    Thanks for the positive feedback. I’d love to learn more about what your doing. If you’re interested in talking more  you can reach me by email: Rich at CrowdTogether dot com.

  • Social media crowdsourcing is all about offering company value over just product value.  You can present yourself as an expert and provide a platform for existing and potential customers to engage, learn, and entertain.

  • I think consistency is a big thing as well.  If you post “Fridays Freaky Facts” every Friday. Customers associate Fridays with “OOH! Let me stop over and check out F.F.F. on their site.”  It becomes a reutine.  Humans fall into them fairly easily with consistency.

    Also, with so many different aspects to online marketing, there needs to be a cycle.  A natural flow from one source to another.  Why not have an interesting tweet that has a link to your facebook page.  Where they land on a great FBlanding page that asks them to fill in a form to “Receive 5 jaw dropping magic trick secrets.” Which then leads them to your website.  A domino effect.

  • P K C Rajah

    Excellent, well said.

  • Really good post Richard. I think all marketers should read your post. I often witness that business owners still do not know how to use Facebook and what kind of information they should put on their Facebook page in order to attract more people/fans. Sometimes we (marketers) have to look at things outside of the box which is, of course, not always easy and we have to ask ourselves: If I was a customer what would I want to see on a brand<code>s Facebook page? What would make me become a fan on a brand</code>s Facebook page?  Am I interested in how much profit X company made in the first half of this year, or if X company merged with Y company? I might be but I can read about that in the papers or on any of the news sites. From a Facebook page people expect to get something else. It is important to know which marketing channel should be used to distribute certain information. I am not looking for industry news on Facebook.  What I am looking for when I become a fan of a brand is information I can benefit from (like promotions as you said), a place where I can share ideas, where I can be heard and where I can exchange information with like minded people. Each of us is very different but there are certain human characteristics that we all share and these must be taken into account. 

  • Looking to create a fanpage for online gamers but have been looking for creative ways to make the site a success. You have over delivered with your article. I am defintely bookmarking and sharing the post with my VAs to get them thinking on creative contests we can run.  Thanks again 5 star article

  • Crowdsourcing is destroying our already fragile economy, not to mention taking work away from talented professionals that have dedicated their lives to design/marketing. Peel beneath the surface and really it is a way for corporations to exploit poor students and cheap overseas workers in order to pad the wallets of a few executives. Any American that is involved in this practice should be ashamed of themselves. All of these so called benefits of social media crowdsourcing are explored in great detail with any good agency where it can be professionally quantified and turned into a successful marketing campaign. Crowdsourcing is just training us to accept mediocrity and I for one will not settle for that.

  • Glad you enjoyed it and thank you for the positive feedback. Please don’t hesitate to reach out directly at any time–I’m happy to help brainstorm about contests. In having so may conversations with brands, event organizers, promoters, etc I’m flooded with ideas happy to share.

    rich at crowdtogether dot com

  •  You might be surprised to hear this but I agree with most of what you’re saying. There are many different types of crowdsourcing, so many so the term is being taxed and we might need to add to the nomenclature—maybe we can crowdsource a new name!

    I come from an agency background and have worked with some of the top creative talent in the world, in fact most of my dearest friends are creatives. As you can imagine I wouldn’t want to see jobs or opportunities taken from my friends. Let me explain how the brand of crowdsourcing I endorse and that my company CrowdTogether supports differs from the types of crowdsourcing that may cause some of the negative effects you’re citing.

    First, if you know much about advertising and marketing, and it appears you do, you understand the sheer number of creative tasks that need to be done to launch a campaign are staggering. You need designers and copy writers to birth the campaign, then you have to create a visual identity, then you need designers to create the mountain of assets requrired for the brand’s digital presence, there are website images, banner ads, rich media banner ads, print ads, product brochures, packaging, you have copy writers and user experience designers, flash developers, programmers etc…you get the point.  There’s a lot of work that needs to be done, and most of this work requires highly skilled professionals who are part of a cohesive team working towards a common goal. I don’t endorse, support or believe that this type of work can be augmented in any meaningful way by crowdsourcing.

    Here’s what I do support. The use of crowdsourcing as a social marketing tool to activate and engage a community of fans, giving them the ability to connect with their favorite bands, brand, events, causes, groups, etc. Lets use a photo contest as an example. Timbuk2, the bag manufacture from San Francisco, invited their community to submit photos of their pets in their Timbuk2 bag.  No creatives were harmed in the execution of this crowdsorucing marketing campaign. Lets look at design contest that recently ran on our platform for the Summer Camp Music Festival. They invited fans to submit and vote on the design of an official piece of merchandise, a bandanna. I know not one creative working for the festival that lost their job because of this campaign—they still needed  creative folks to design the 50 other merchandise items they sold at the event. They still needed folks to do their newsletters, logos, website updates, online ads, etc… Yet the community was delighted and excited they were given the opportunity to design and vote on one simple little item.

    The point is, it’s easy to go on about how crowdsourcing is taking jobs away from creatives, but the reality is there’s plenty of work to go around for the pros and plenty of other tasks for fans. Consumers want to be involved it’s undeniable. Alvan Toffler wrote in his book the Third Wave “People don’t want to consume passively; they’d rather participate in the development and creation of products meaningful to them.” They want to “participate” in, not take over the creation of products.  Can’t we throw them a bone? I hope this helps to put the whole thing in perspective and so you can see how crowdsourcing and professional creatives can coexist peacefully.

  • Nancy (Stearns) Burgess

    I am familiar with crowd sourcing. It’s a way to exploit strategic and “real” talent, while creating a boatload of amateurish concepts.

  • Nancy (Stearns) Burgess

    I am familiar with crowd sourcing. It’s a way to exploit strategic and “real” talent, while creating a boatload of amateurish concepts.

  •  Hi Richard,

    Great info. I think the key is for businesses to not just ask for feedback, but to take action with the information that they gather. It does not good for them to say, “Tell us what you think,” then do nothing. Many are still getting adjusted to the interactive world. Your suggestions help us all think in those terms.

    Steve DeVane

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  • Great suggestions, Richard!

    My only feedback is on your Graco contest example. It was definitely a great concept as it was able to engage Graco’s community, but contests run on Flickr don’t deliver on the other important points you shared: they don’t capture contact information and they lack trackable social media sharing tools. 

    There are several contest platforms that offer metrics and social integrations that Flickr can’t support. I work at Our platform allows marketers to build and run branded, measurable and successful promotions. (We proudly powered Mike Stelzner’s recent ‘Launch’ Facebook contest!) Using a specialized platform will allow you (and your participants) to get more out of your contest campaign.

  • I thought Cindy King is the only writer in this site. I’ve read lots of her posts about social media. But then Richard you are great too. you have great suggestions here about crowdsourcing. I remember a site for parenting which has forum, daily articles, weekly posts, daily birthday greetings, contests, and a lot more. So those are their ways to do social media crowdsourcing. Now I understand and learn how they make great numbers of members. Thanks a lot.

  • This was a great post.  Some good ideas here that are causing my brain to buzz with creativity.  Can’t wait to get started.  Thanks for sharing!

  • Jeremy Musighi

    Great post, Richard. You’ve laid out specific suggestions that I think a lot of people would find helpful. Too many articles on social media are more abstract, leaving the reader thinking “OK, that sounded smart, now how do I go about doing that?”

    With regards to crowdsourcing, our new startup enables content marketers to crowdsource their marketing, reaching vast audiences via word-of-mouth. Let me know if you have any thoughts, I’d love to discuss!

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  • Hardee’s capitalized on fan enthusiasm around the new advertising campaign for the Little Thickburger and
    got increased fan engagement, brand/product awareness, publicity and new commercials. Sans talent fees. 

    The new ads illustrated the size difference between the classic 1/3 Thickburgers and the new 1-4-lb Little Thickburgers in various humorous ways. In one ad, The Original Thickburger is described as “Badonkadonk” while the Little Thickburger earns the “Badinkadink” title. When fans started sharing their own tag lines with friends on Twitter and directly to the chain’s handle, and also posting on the brand Facebook page, the team knew they had a hit and an opportunity.

    So a Little Thickburger online “Ad Generator” was developed and put on so fans could create versions of their own. The application allowed users to put their copywriting skills to the test by creating the descriptive words that appear above each respective burger in the ads. In addition to allowing users to share their creation with friends, the budding creative directors could submit their ads to Hardee’s to be considered for upcoming ads.

    With no big cash prize or other inducement to participate, about 30,000 entries were submitted by the deadline. The quality of the ads far exceeded expectations. So much so that 16 original user-designed commercials made the cut instead 1 or 2 as was the original plan. The chain even ran the credited ads in the markets from which they were submitted, so the creators were hometown heroes with the media and also earned maximum street cred.

    The Little Thickburger launch was so successful that instead of a limited time offering, it remains as part of the permanent core menu. And now, 2 years later, we still receive commercial suggestions. #crowdsourcing #winning

    Disclosure: Hardee’s PR. Obviously. 😉

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  • Great info, Richard, you’ve given a ton of useful info

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  • Sherlykarakawa

    content you create very helpful and give information about the strategy for social media campaigns. thanks for sharing the knowledge that you have with us 🙂