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How to Save Money and Draw a Crowd

draw-crowd.jpgFeeling shorthanded these days? Wondering if your business is truly meeting your customers' needs? If you answered yes to either of those questions, have you asked all your customers to help you?

Increasingly, companies big and small are doing just that. It's called crowdsourcing--enlisting the help of a large group of people to do company work or shape the company agenda, rather than delegating tasks to an employee or two, or perhaps an ad agency.

The growth of social media has enabled crowdsourcing, making it easy for companies to connect with huge mobs of customers. A couple of the key benefits: saving money and making customers feel more connected to your company.

A great recent example of crowdsourcing came during the Super Bowl earlier this year, when Doritosannounced a consumer video contest to create its Super Bowl ads. More than 2,000 applicants made their own proposed 30-second ad spots for Doritos and aired them online. Doritos gave out $5 million in prize money--likely not more than they would have spent having an agency design the campaign.

And do you think any of those customers will ever forget how much fun they had entering the contest?

Netflix has used crowdsourcing to engage the tech-geek crowd (possibly they stay home a lot and rent many movies?). This month they wrapped a contest to design better movie-recommendation technology for them, with a $1 million prize.

Wins for Netflix? More engaged customers, and better movie recommendations for all its customers, without the expense of putting their own dedicated team on the task of improving their software. The company immediately announced another $1 million contest to improve on the company's "taste profile" software.

Crowdsourcing can be as simple as Dell's IdeaStorm website, where customers can leave suggestions for new products or services they'd like to see. Rather than just a few engineers sitting around in a conference room, now they're tapping their entire customer base's brainpower.

Some entrepreneurs are even building small businesses entirely from crowdsourcing. As a reporter, my favorite example has to be Peter Shankman's Help A Reporter Out, an online service that allows experts and PR people to see a daily feed of sources journalists are seeking. Through HARO, reporters can essentially ask a global crowd to answer their questions. All I can say is--it's beautiful. Experts get the press they want, and reporters get the best available source for their story.

It's free so far, but I've got to believe that at some point, he'll start charging PR people a few dollars a month for these valuable reporter leads--and he'll be rich. For now, he's hooked a huge audience on using his service, and who knows how many ways he might leverage that in the future.

Are you using crowdsourcing in your business? If so leave a comment and let us know about it. If not, consider whether there isn't a way for your business to benefit from crowd power.

Carol Tice, a freelance writer, is chief executive of TiceWrites Inc. in Bainbridge Island, Wash. She blogs about freelance writing at Make a Living Writing. Email her at carol@caroltice.com.

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