The Skinny on Using Crowdsourcing for Your Business

Of all the marketing buzzwords that have been floating around cyberspace over the past few years, crowdsourcing (and all of its “offspring”) has to be one of the most alluring to smaller companies and solo entrepreneurs.

The basic idea behind crowdsourcing is certainly promising enough: ask a number of people for their input free of charge or with minimal compensation, use only that which you like, need, or can easily implement, and then cash in on your success.

What could be better?

Crowdsourcing: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

As you might expect, crowdsourcing has lots of benefits. There are so many different platforms you can use to save a whole lot of money in your business and do things that would otherwise be impossible. More on this below.

But crowdsourcing also has its downsides. The first is that finding the right system that works for your business will take some time to develop and often put in to practice. Be prepared for a little trial and error. Also, don’t forget, if you are soliciting ideas or submissions from many different people then you need time to sift through all the results.

Sometimes, though, crowdsourcing can get ugly. You can start a crowdsourcing campaign looking for input or funding and no one shows up to the party, or even worse, the wrong people show up and they “hijack” your project. It’s not the norm, but it has happened. Finally, you can get a lot of good response, but the input you receive ends up not being useful or you do use it, but it ends up hurting your business.

Despite the downsides, though, the benefits of crowdsourcing can be too good to pass up if you know what you are doing. I’m going to share with you seven great ways that crowdsourcing can really save money and improve your business. There are several different crowdsourcing sites online, and I know you probably haven’t heard of most of them. So, for each way to use crowdsourcing, I’m also going to tell you the best places to go for it.

Seven Ways Crowdsourcing Can Work for Your Small Business

1. Get Comprehensive Feedback.

One of the most powerful ways to use crowdsourcing is as a testing ground.

Have you ever wished that you could understand exactly how your customers view your website, brand or product? Crowdsourcing allows you to ask them.

Crowdsourced feedback is particularly useful for testing site usability. If you’re getting high bounce rates or low time-spent-on-site, surveying a crowd can really help you see what’s wrong. It will literally let you peer into the mind of your average reader. I probably don’t have to tell you how powerful that can be.

There are several ways you can get crowdsourced feedback: you can directly ask the people in your social networks for feedback if you have a critical mass of followers; you can go to micro job sites like Mechanical Turk and hire people to give you feedback; or you can use a service that will do the work for you, such as Feedback Army.

2. Generate Content Ideas.

Idea generation is another simple but effective task to crowdsource. Instead of trying to come up with ideas for your blog, website or product all on your own, why not simply ask potential customers what they’d like to learn about?

For example, you could ask “What are 10 obstacles keeping you from losing weight?” and pay the crowd $0.25 to $1.00 per answer (depending on how in-depth you want them to be). With $25 you’d have 25 to 100 different opinions and should be able to see a noticeable trend in what barriers people face with weight-loss. Some services even allow you to blatantly ask for product ideas.

You can probably see how this applies to product creation, blogging, social media, and just about anything else that involves putting content in front of readers. You’ll never struggle with writer’s block ever again! MicroWorkers is a good platform to use for this kind of idea generation.

3. Collect Survey Data.

Similar to the last tip, you can also create surveys with crowdsourcing. If you need a statistic but can’t find a study that’s already been performed online, why not ask the crowd? Best of all, creating your own surveys makes your brand look like an authority in your niche.

Here again you can turn to your readers, subscribers, or the people in your social networks. There are plenty of survey apps, such as SurveyMonkey, that you can use to create questions and design your survey layout.

Alternatively, you could use a site like MicroWorkers mentioned above to collect survey data.

4. Share and Promote Your Content.

Another way to tap into the power of the crowd is for sharing and promoting your content. There are many social sharing sites like JustReTweet and the blog amplification platform, Triberr, that you can use to promote your content among a very wide audience even if you don’t have so many followers yet.

You could also try the paid route. It’s also possible on some crowdsourcing sites to pay a group of people to share and interact with your content. Though your first instinct may be to throw this option out, it could actually be a really useful tool for newer websites and blogs that haven’t yet built up a strong following. With crowdsourcing you get real people sharing and responding to your content. It is a great way to get the snowball rolling for your readership.

5. Design Work.

There are two areas in crowdscourcing that have gotten a whole lot of media attention and overall interest above everything else: the first is crowdfunding (thanks to its mascot, Kickstarter), and the other is graphic design. Crowdsourcing is one of the most cost effective ways to hire a graphic designer for your small business because it’s gives you the best selection of custom designs for a very reasonable price.

Do the math: You could pay one designer for one logo with maybe three or four different drafts, if you’re lucky, or you could go to 99Designs or Crowdspring, post a logo design contest (starting prices are $299 and $269 respectively), and take your pick from dozens of different designers’ ideas and concepts.

This also works for ad banners, t-shirts, brochures, e-covers, etc… Anything related to graphic design.

6. Mindless Data Entry.

Mindless data entry is one of those tasks that no entrepreneur or business owner should ever do. Unless you value your time at less than minimum wage, you’re losing money if you do data entry yourself.

However, I’ll warn you that this is one area where crowdsourcing may not always be the best solution. For example, if you have a really big project that requires lots of research or intimate knowledge of your business, then hiring a virtual assistant is probably more cost effective than crowdsourcing.

On the other hand, if you have a project that can be broken into small parts – like account creation or keyword research or filling out tables or SEO evaluation – then crowdsourcing through micro job sites can be much cheaper and more efficient than hiring a VA. You’ll have to use your own judgment to some extent.

7. Test Software Usability.

Last but not least, testing software usability is a specific type of feedback that is extremely fast and easy to crowd source. Instead of begging for beta testers, simply pay a crowd to try and find flaws in your software.

Software testing is one of the tasks where crowdsourcing shines brightest, and it’s highly recommended you give this a try. The best software testing platform these days is uTest.

As you can see, crowdsourcing has many different uses. The seven I’ve talked about in this article are only the tip of the iceberg. Even if you don’t have any way to use these services right now, it pays to start looking at your projects with an eye for crowdsourcing. Get in the habit of asking yourself, “how could a crowd of people make this project easier, more comprehensive, or cheaper?” More often than not you’ll be able to find a way.

Whatever you do, I hope you’ve found this post useful. Thanks for reading!