How Crowdsourcing Can Help You With Ideas, Content and Labor This modern method is often the best -- and most inexpensive -- way to come up with new ideas, generate content and supplement labor for your business.

By Chuck Cohn

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

REUTERS | Claro Cortes

In today's world, it can seem as though crowdsourcing is everywhere, with a host of organizations using it to reduce costs, increase creativity and leverage outside ideas. While the largest percentage of users are startups and small businesses -- roughly 80 percent according to a 2012 study -- even traditional business-to-consumer companies like PepsiCo and Toyota have used crowdsourcing.

As is the case with all marketing strategies, crowdsourcing can help your business win big or fail. Yelp is a prime example of an organization that has come to dominate its industry thanks to its crowdsourced consumer reviews, but what about McDonald's #McDStories or SeaWorld's #AskSeaWorld campaign? These two Twitter campaigns are now famous examples of crowdsourcing initiatives that backfired.

Related: Treat Customers as Co-authors, Not Targets, and Hit a Marketing Bullseye

So how do you know when and how to best use crowdsourcing? Here are three main ways.

1. Ideation or problem solving

You have likely heard the saying, "Two heads are better than one." Crowdsourcing capitalizes on this concept, allowing you to harness the intelligence of hundreds --perhaps even thousands -- of people to generate ideas or solve problems. There are now a number of websites where you can solicit creative minds for help with simple tasks like designing a company logo. With crowdsourced design, a logo may cost $200 instead of $400, and with websites like Upwork, you can connect with multiple designers in a short period of time.

Crowdsourcing can also help you address more challenging issues. Take the XPRIZE Foundation. This foundation is one of the most famous examples of crowdsourcing that focuses on complex world problems like air pollution, adult literacy and cleaning the world's oceans. The first XPRIZE competition challenged teams from around the world to build a privately financed, manned and reusable spaceship for a $10 million reward.

While $10 million may seem like a steep investment, the benefit of crowdsourcing for idea generation or problem solving is not just the ability to leverage thousands of ideas -- it can also help you control costs. If you cannot afford your own research and development (R&D) team, or if you have a limited budget, offering a fixed prize can keep your project out of the red.

Related: Need a New Design? 5 Reasons to Crowdsource It.

2. Labor-intensive tasks

If your business is facing an issue that necessitates a labor-intensive solution, or if reducing your labor requirement involves an expensive operations shift, consider crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing can be especially useful for those companies whose labor-intensive solutions revolve around simple or familiar tasks. For instance, Acxiom, a business and consumer data company, used crowdsourcing to add a manual verification layer to its data workflow. Within just a couple of weeks, the company had a contracted team of 125 working to meet its manual verification requirements.

The key to this form of crowdsourcing lies in giving very clear directions -- which you should test in-house -- and in instituting quality checks. Aim to check your crowdsourced work at multiple stages, including randomly, early in the process and before the project is submitted. Certain organizations even crowdsource quality control. This is not recommended for all scenarios, but in some instances, you can ask participants to check one another's work.

3. Content creation

Sourcing the public for content creation is a common practice. Google does it, as do Facebook, Glassdoor and Wikipedia. It is worth noting that free or inexpensive content is just one benefit of crowdsourcing -- it can also help current and potential customers become involved and invested in your product or service. When used correctly, crowd-created content can also be more valuable to consumers, as information provided by the public is often seen as more believable or trustworthy than marketing content.

Crowdsourcing will not suit every company or situation, but it can be an effective and important tool when utilized correctly. Whether you are seeking content, ideas or labor, developing an in-depth implementation plan and continually monitoring your initiatives can help you take crowdsourcing from a great idea to a great result.

Related: Let This Company Make Your Concept a Creation

Chuck Cohn

CEO and Founder of Varsity Tutors

Chuck Cohn is the CEO and founder of Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement.

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