Treat Customers as Co-authors, Not Targets, and Hit a Marketing Bullseye Customer loyalty, positive word of mouth and inexpensive content generation are just a few ways you can benefit from crowdsourcing.

By Keith A. Quesenberry

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Do you know that feeling you get when you're walking down the street and a person stops you to deliver a canned sales pitch? You try to tell them you are not interested or what you actually want, but they don't listen and simply spit out their next tactic to get you to the close. This can happen in social media. When marketers target customers this way, often both parties are simply left feeling bad.

Businesses can benefit from seeking their customers' wisdom -- not just their wallets. This is called crowdsourcing, or outsourcing jobs like product development and advertising to the customers who populate the Internet through social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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

By asking customers for their ideas and opinions, a business or organization relinquishes some control over the online conversation about its products or services, but your customers are talking about you anyway. Soliciting feedback, listening to that conversation and making adjustments will result in a better product, an improved relationship with the public for increased brand loyalty and ultimately increased sales by asking your current and potential customers to tell you what they want.

Here are four reasons businesses should crowdsource via social media:

1. Customers' input can improve products.

Think of customer feedback as indispensable, not threatening. Individual customers may not always be right or have the best ideas, but as a whole their suggestions and comments will lead to better products and services. These will in turn get talked about and shared more.

The Razer Edge Pro Gaming Tablet was co-created via social media. Razer asked gamers to tweet or post on Facebook the features they would want in a Windows 8 gaming tablet. More than 10,000 people responded, ultimately helping developers decide on chipset, weight, thickness and price. This is leveraging the wisdom of the crowd.

2. It wins customer loyalty and positive word of mouth.

People want to be helpful, like to hear "thank you" and desire to be a part of a team or movement. Self-preservation theory explains that pleasing others makes us feel better about ourselves. Social media collaboration provides lots of opportunities for audience-pleasing.

Once your consumers have invested time in your project or business, they will want to tell their friends and are more likely to keep contributing to help ensure you succeed.

Related: 5 Ways to Maximize Word-of-Mouth Marketing

3. It's inexpensive.

Crowdsourcing via social media is especially beneficial for startups, entrepreneurs and small businesses with limited resources. Carl Esposti of says it is a great way to obtain low-cost input and feedback.

Social media monitoring and asking questions in social channels is quick, easy and less expensive than traditional surveys and focus groups. For example, design competitions run by TopCoder provided businesses development work for as little as 25 percent of the cost of the traditional methods.

4. Customers can create your content for you.

Faced with the task of generating engaging messages and images to promote its brand, the outdoor retailer REI crowdsourced content with their REI 1440 Project. REI asked fans to upload photos of themselves enjoying the outdoors to sites like Instagram, tagged with #REI1440Project. The retailer then filled the website with beautiful consumer-generated photos.

In a few months, REI gathered more than 10,000 photos and more than a half-million visits to its site. They never could have paid for that level of advertising on their own. They also received a lot of content they may not have come up with independently. Plus, each user-generated photo represented a person motivated to share the project with their friends and families.

What is the best way to get consumers to work for you? Here is a process from my book, Social Media Strategy: Marketing and Advertising in the Consumer Revolution:

  • Identify needs traditional research is currently serving and list how social media could support those efforts.
  • List marketing projects, such as product design and advertising creation, currently done in-house.
  • Identify top projects that could benefit from the crowd and choose the ideal social media channels to implement that campaign based on your target consumer.
  • Do you have a social media system in place to utilize those channels? If not, identify what is needed and the options out there that would serve your specific needs.

What social intelligence do you need or could you benefit from? Crowdsourcing is powerful because social media has made it easy and efficient, and sociology and psychology prove it quenches our desires as human beings to share and please.

Isn't it time you took the target off your audience's back and invited them share in your brand story?

Related: Star Ratings Matter Just as Much as (If Not More Than) Online Reviews

Keith A. Quesenberry

Associate Professor of Marketing

Keith A. Quesenberry is an associate professor at Messiah University. Author of Social Media Strategy: Marketing, Advertising and Public Relations in the Consumer Revolution and Brandstorytelling: Integrated Marketing Communications For The Digital Media Landscape.

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