Technology

Tech Tuesdays: The power of the crowd.

Technology
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Mention crowdsourcing to members of the pre-Internet generation and they’re liable to imagine scenes from old Frankenstein movies of angry mobs carrying torches and waving pitchforks. But the fact is – crowdsourcing can be a powerful and inexpensive collaborative tool to help your small business involve customers and experts at large with the successful development of your products or services.

First, let’s start with a definition from Jeff Howe, author of Crowdsourcing: Why the Power of the Crowd is Driving the Future of Business:

“Crowdsourcing is when a company takes a job that was once performed by employees and outsources it in the form of an open call to a large, undefined group of people generally using the Internet…. The cocktail version is very simple: Crowdsourcing is Wikipedia with everything.”

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In essence, it’s a virtual focus group community of potentially millions, instead of 8 or 10 people in a small room, where no one needs to be intimidated or swayed by what that one loud guy across the table is saying.

Dell’s IdeaStorm website is a great example of the power of crowdsourcing. The Texas-based PC manufacturer has used the forum to solicit hundreds of new product ideas and suggestions from customers.

Apple’s iPhone apps are another great example. Once you buy an application, you have the ability to send messages to the developer offering suggestions or complaints if something is not quite right.

And perhaps the tool with the greatest and most immediate crowdsourcing potential is Twitter. If you have enough followers, it’s easy to tweet a question and wait for the replies to come in.

Here are a few ways you can start using crowdsourcing for your small business today:

1. Generate ideas for products – social media tools like blogs and Twitter are ideal for asking for suggestions and it costs nothing to ask.

2. If you don’t know, ask – You may have started your business because you were good at sales or design but know nothing about marketing. You can use sites like LinkedIn or Yahoo! Answers to solicit crowdsourcing advice.

3. Is the price right? – If you’ve developed a new product or you offer a service, crowdsourcing can be an effective way to gauge a fair price for it. Again, ask away and see what people are willing to pay.

Are you already using crowdsourcing tools to promote your business? Please send in your advice.

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