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Crowdsourcing Trends: Putting Your Customers to Work With Social Media Technology, Part 1

Your customers will join your customer service team, produce content for you, answer other customers’ questions, and give you the best ideas for new products if you let them; if you enable them.

Crowdsourcing isn’t new, but it is becoming a much bigger opportunity because it has become more effective due to advances in social networking technology and changes in consumer behavior (tweet this). In other words, consumers now expect to be able to participate more with brands and social networking allows them to do it.

Authentic Dialogue, So What?

Wikipedia, YouTube, and Starbucks have all built social platforms that enable people to communicate, share, build relationships, be entertained or informed, and participate in.

Historically, brands created content and pushed it out through a one-way channel like traditional TV. Then they pushed out that same content with that same one-way mindset through new channels; like through Facebook for example. Many brands have matured and now facilitate an authentic dialogue on social channels like Facebook (Stage 3 in the diagram below).

This however, is not the destination we should be looking for. It is an early step in the social media revolution to come. What will this authentic dialogue enable? How will it benefit the customer in the end? How will the brand use that opportunity to be able to elate and delight their customers?

Companies can certainly capitalize on all of the existing social networking sites (ie. Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc.) and many are talking about that. I would like to build on what I’ve already laid out about the opportunity of custom built social networking platforms. The last stage in the diagram above is a big maturity step enabling crowdsourcing, efficiency and scale. Wikipedia, YouTube, and Starbucks built their own platforms and are capitalizing on this trend.

Crowdsourcing With Custom Platforms, Beyond Free Labor

YouTube did not become popular because of the videos that YouTube produced. Wikipedia hasn’t become the 5th highest trafficked website on the web because of the content their staff wrote. They provided the platform and the enablement for communities to form and provide valuable content for each other. The content the users produced is what attracted everyone.

As a result, Wikipedia has been able to aggregate far more content than a traditional encyclopedia could have had their employees professionally produce. The same goes with YouTube.

With only these examples, it doesn’t seem crowdsourcing is particularly profitable or applicable to most businesses. After all, Wikipedia has launched donation campaigns because they can’t make enough money to cover their costs without advertising and YouTube hasn’t been profitable until recently when they were able to introduce advertising since they account for over half of all videos viewed online now. However, there are now examples like Starbucks.

Starbucks has built a custom platform to crowdsource new ideas from their customers about anything from improving the ordering process, to corporate responsibility (tweet this). Could they have done this on Facebook? Yes, but in a much more limited way. After all, you would have to fit everything into Facebook’s limited template and play by their rules (like Edgerank). Starbucks was able to improve engagement, participation, and the overall quality of the ideas by customizing the platform to meet the needs of this specific community.

Starbucks is able to glean far better ideas and ideas that are more relevant to their customers because of this. Hearing real feedback from your customers is far better than guessing what they’d say. Getting that feedback in real time, enabling customers to vote on which ideas they like the best, and providing an environment where one idea can lead to several other ideas is much better than traditional surveys or focus groups.

Lastly, it creates a sense of ownership and community. This platform capitalizes on some of the key aspects of Gamification that I explain in my video blog post. Namely, it gives people status when their ideas can be featured and become popular with votes from the community. Additionally, it gives customers power. It allows them to actually affect the experience, product, rewards and every other aspect of Starbucks’ offerings.

This is far more important than even saving some payroll costs. This is building a much better, stronger relationship with their customers (tweet this). This is the future, and life blood of any company. This is what will build a competitive advantage that will fend off competitors.

What Do You Think?

Have you seen or participated in crowdsourcing? What opportunities do you see for it? How could it apply to your business or industry? Have any questions for me? Comment below or tweet me at @MrobertsOnline.

A Teaser: Part 2 Next Week

Check out part 2 where I go into more depth about this crowdsourcing trend. I’ll get into explaining how to become more efficient and scale social efforts (ie. how online classes can scale to facilitate 90,000 students), that the biggest missed marketing opportunity is after your customers make their purchase, and why it is critically important to facilitate your customers getting to know each other. Stay tuned for it all next Thursday!


Follow me on TwitterGoogle+YouTube or my digital marketing video blog: http://AllegorieDesign.com.


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