It takes a village. Or a crowd.
5 things you need to know about crowdsourcing your next marketing campaign

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Crowdsourcing. It’s a buzzy social media word you’ve read in blogs or business pubs; basically you ask your customers to give their input or ideas on your brand. It seems so easy and the results stretch out as PR talking points for weeks. But is it right for your company?

In most instances, yes. If you have a marketing problem that needs solving or are short on resources, crowdsourcing is the way to go. Before you get on your social outlets and solicit the next big idea for your company, here are five things you should keep in mind first.

Prepare to be overwhelmed
Everyone has an opinion and some people have two. Point is, when you ask questions, be prepared for a glut of responses and weed through them all with a critical eye.

Before you engage with customers and invite discussion on all the ideas, truly seek out those that will achieve a specific business objective or provides a product improvement.

If you have a spotless wall/timeline/comment trail, start asking your customers questions. Again, guide the conversation to a specific topic or you’ll get a hundred different comments. Embrace the valid ideas and concerns even if they don’t fit your original topic. These can become integral for later projects.

Hire your customers as creative directors
Outsourcing creative to your fans is smart, especially if you’re a small business. Internal marketing resources are often over-taxed and your agency budget is approaching the red. Engaging with your customers in the creative process frees up your time, alleviates money woes, and often produces stellar work.

Of course, most brands offer something of value in exchange for customer-generated creative. Lay’s gives $1 million to the winner of the 'Do Us a Flavor' contest. The promise of $1,000 in free merchandise sends design students in a frenzy to create the latest ad for Fluevog Shoes. A tit for tat approach entices your customers to produce quality work.

If you choose to crowdsource creative, take a note from other brands: Provide clear communication of your goals and requirements to customers in a creative brief, have legal assist you with the fine print (i.e., the winning creative becomes company property), and have a platform for your customers to send and review competing work.

Start with the inside
B2Bs benefit the most from internal crowdsourcing. Asking your leads for marketing ideas is a huge no-no for a couple of reasons. You are the leader in the services you provide; asking leads to solve your problems is just bad form. Employees understand company dynamics, your competition, and objectives. For best results, B2B crowdsourcing should start (and end) with your employees.

When State Street Retirement Services needed a refresh on their corporate messages, they took to the company intranet for ideas. Employees provided their suggestions by way of a contest. Winners receive prizes and bragging rights, which go right to their HR file for review time.

Follow up with results
If you go public with your appeal for creative, advice, or ideas, be prepared to follow up with the results. This could be as easy as posting links to videos your customers produced for your brand, or a simple thanks and acknowledgment for participation. Your customers deserve to be part of the entire process, including the end.

In the case of Lay’s contest, customers are part of the flavor development process, purchasing/voting, and get to experience the decision-making moment via a telecast event. This transparency during the entire crowdsourcing program not only keeps customers engaged (voting, selection, and reveal), but gives the brand something to continually communicate through the end of the contest.

Use crowdsourcing sparingly
Engaging with your customers about your brand should be a daily practice, but relying on them to assist with your marketing should not. Using crowdsourcing as a marketing tactic more than once or twice a year is a sign of a lazy marketing or worse, that you have no marketing staff at all.

Like all your marketing, crowdsourcing needs to fit in with your overall strategy and follow a plan. Crowdsourcing for crowdsourcing’s sake will fall flat and produce lackluster results.

About Socialty:

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Socialty is a full-service social media marketing and social recruiting agency in Chicago.  We create content, websites, blog posts, email marketing and strategic marketing plans for small and medium size businesses. Our social recruiting team helps you attract talented candidates via social media outlets.  Socialty connects you to your audience and potential employees.  We'll keep you social while you carry on with your business.  Keep Social and Carry On!