More ecommerce businesses are using the crowd (i.e., their customers, Facebook fans and/or employees) to help them develop new products and build brand loyalty — and the strategy seems to be working, at least for some online businesses. But is crowdsourcing a viable marketing and/or product development strategy for every small business? And how do you successfully harness the power of the crowd? I spoke to ecommerce businesses OfficeDrop, SitStay.com, and Minted, all of whom had experimented with crowdsourcing, to find out.

Their advice? First and foremost, before you do any kind of crowdsourcing, you need to consider your audience [e.g., age, gender, how likely they are to use or participate in social media] and make the determination whether it’s going to help or hurt, said SitStay.com’s Chief Dog Spoiler, Kent Krueger.

For example, don’t just go out and randomly use Twitter or Facebook, cautioned Healy Jones, the head of marketing at OfficeDrop, because you can get a bunch of 22-year-old people who’ve never used your product before. Get people who are your target demographic, the people who will potentially be using your product.

It’s also wise to limit the number of choices you make available to consumers. There is this issue of paradox of choice, where if you show somebody a thousand items … that it might be too daunting, said Minted founder Mariam Naficy. And you risk overwhelming or alienating the very people you are trying to attract.

To find out more great tips, as well as how and when to use the wisdom of the crowd, please read my article titled “Crowdsourcing as a Small Business Marketing Strategy,” which is featured on SmallBusinessComputing.com, a terrific publication for and about small businesses.

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