7 Ways Crowdsourcing Can Boost Your Brand and Customer Loyalty

Businesses share their crowdsourcing success stories and explain the different ways to enlist and use the crowd (communities of professionals, customers and employees) to improve and even help market your products and services.

Ah, the wisdom of the crowd. It can help companies (attracting new customers) -- and it can also hurt them (those pesky negative reviews on sites like Yelp). So how can your business harness the power of the crowd for good? Dozens of business owners and executives and marketing experts offer the following top seven suggestions for how to effectively use crowdsourcing.

crowdsourcing

1. Use the crowd to expand your graphic and Web design pool/options. "Crowdsourcing graphic [and Web] design work can help a business get a wider variety of looks than simply working with one designer," says Kevin Jordan, the owner of Redpoint Marketing Consultants.

"Sites like 99designs.com, crowdSPRING or elance are great places to crowdsource graphic [and Web] design projects," Jordan says,

[Related: Crowdsourcing Offers a Tightly Focused Alternative to Outsourcing]

You can even use your customers and followers to help with specific design projects.

"This year, SCOTTEVEST crowdsourced our holiday card," says Scott Jordan, founder and CEO, SCOTTEVEST. "We reached out to our customers and followers via newsletters and social media channels to crowdsource our 2013 holiday card. We offered $500 cash or $1,000 in SCOTTEVEST products to whoever could Photoshop the best holiday card for us," he says.

"This was beneficial in many ways. We encouraged entrants to look through our website for photos to use in the card, getting them more familiar and aware of our broad product selection, and we came up with a LOT of content from the entries to post throughout the week," Jordan says. Not only did crowdsourcing help SCOTTEVEST create a great holiday card, the process endeared the company to its customers.

2. Crowdsource your marketing/advertising photography. "We use a photo collection tool that allows customers to upload their own photos of themselves wearing SCOTTEVEST products onto the product page of our website," says Jordan. "This makes them feel like one of our models, as we then feature them on the product page to show off that item," he says.

"It also makes potential customers more comfortable with our products, seeing them in average sizes on real people," Jordan says. Moreover, the company "save[s] money on photo shoots and models while our current and potential customers get to be a part of the brand."

[Related: Crowdsourcing Offers a New and Wider Path to Innovation]

3. Crowdsource new product development. "Crowdsourcing (and Kickstarter) is a lean startup founder's dream because it allows you to do development and build a fan base before ever investing in a physical product," says Ricky Choi, cofounder, Nice Laundry, which sells and recycles socks.

"We wanted validation that people would actually buy what we were selling. Additionally, we were able to establish exactly what demand looked like: We knew how many socks people wanted and the distribution of the various patterns we offered," Choi says. The result? "The campaign broke a fashion Kickstarter opening day record and generated about $120,000 in four weeks from over 2,000 customers, proving there was something special about our idea."

You can also use your existing customers and social media followers to crowdsource new products.

"We asked thousands of fans on Facebook to choose from three shades of white for a handbag hanger we're coming out with in February," says Trish Sweeney, vice president, Marketing, Topcor, the maker of the Clipa instant handbag hanger. "Within 72 hours, we got dozens of responses back. Sure beats waiting for the focus group data." It was more cost effective, too.

4. Tap the crowd to speed up application development. "As the digital and mobile world continues to grow, companies are realizing that in order to stay competitive, they have to step up their application development game," says Dave Messinger, chief community officer, topcoder, an online community of more than 600,000 software developers, algorithmists and graphic designers.

"Instead of hiring multiple developers with limited skill sets, businesses can turn to the crowd to create multiple apps in less time and for a fraction of the cost," Messinger says. "Weve seen companies turn to the crowd for many different skill areas, including mobile/device integration, Web APIs, JavaScript and even Google Glass to [successfully] bring their ideas to market."

[Related: Crowdsourcing a Crisis: How to Use Twitter in a Tragedy]

5. Use crowdsourcing to test products (for bugs, functionality or simply crowd appeal). "Ensuring the flawless performance of a new product is [often] a nightmare," especially if you plan on selling in international markets, says Dori Albert, business process crowdsourcing practice manager at Lionbridge Technologies, which operates a business process crowdsourcing practice that leverages a global crowd of more than 100,000 educated, pre-qualified professionals.

"Crowdsourcing allows for fast and efficient in-country testing for products in the final phase of production to ensure a seamless user experience at launch," Albert says.

"Let's say the business is testing a mobile phone. It's impossible to hire employees in every country to ensure compatibility with local mobile apps, wireless networks and security for online transactions," Albert says. "However, a strategically assembled crowd can complete this testing without any overhead to ensure a company isn't spending millions to be tripped up by a glitch."

"Crowdsourcing provides access to qualified and talented labor for companies that might otherwise be faced with economic challenges or impossible business decisions," says Matt Johnston, chief strategy officer, uTest, which provides software testing services.

"For instance, uTest's community of 100,000 professional testers enable companies to test what they need, when they need it, and to test beyond the QA lab, closer to where their users work, live and play. This is immensely valuable in the modern era of mobile, social and location-intelligent applications," Johnston says.

[Related: Pioneer to Crowdsource Car Navigation, Add Augmented Reality]

6. Use crowdsourcing to foster innovation + build community within the organization. "Make internal crowdsourcing more than a suggestion box," suggests Ken Perlman, engagement leader with leadership and strategy firm Kotter International.

"Leaders should use their internal crowd (employees) to get new ideas, hear innovative [solutions] to business problems and see which ideas gain momentum," Perlman says. "This engages employees and gives them an opportunity to contribute, which helps convert interest to action while letting management identify those in the organization who best understand the opportunity or problem at hand. Plus, it accelerates the formation of the team who can make the proposed idea a reality."

7. Consider crowdsourcing as a form of customer outreach. "Crowdsourcing feedback from your customers lets you know what you can improve [about] your product and how to serve them better," says Will Chang, director of Product, Fundly, a crowdfunding-for-all platform. "Listening to your customers will help you learn about their frustrations and what parts of your product don't work as intended. It also shows your customers you care about them and want them involved in the process."

Jennifer Lonoff Schiff is a contributor to CIO.com and runs a marketing communications firm focused on helping organizations better interact with their customers, employees, and partners.

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