Crowdsourcing is nothing new. Since the beginning of time, people have come together to accomplish bigger goals than they could achieve on their own.

Take the Oxford English Dictionary, which was the result of hundreds of volunteers compiling the first definitive record of the English language. Our modern day version is Wikipedia, which is also entirely crowdsourced.

Customers are more empowered than ever, given their access to review sites and knowledge of peers. And the crowd is more powerful than any one person. In this people economy, your only choice as a business is to embrace the crowd and its knowledge.

Embracing Crowdsourcing

Feeling hesitant about crowdsourcing is understandable. Opening up your business to the masses means relinquishing some control over what information is shared, how it's shared, and who shares it. 

In real estate, many brokers and agents initially resisted Trulia and Zillow because their advent meant potential customers didn't need to exclusively search private brokerage sites. These people were also concerned about inaccurate or misleading information making its way onto listings. Regardless, these websites have largely changed the business for the better, something I saw for myself as a homebuyer in an unfamiliar market.

When I spoke with my agent, he brought my knowledge to a higher level, offering nuanced information I hadn't heard before. But the fact that I, the consumer, did crowdsourced research prior to speaking with him gave me the confidence that what he was saying was accurate. It also helped my agent provide more value.

Websites that harness the crowd, such as Trulia and Zillow, may be different from what you're used to. But once you prepare for the slight loss of control, you'll find a new set of opportunities to engage your customers.

The Power of Crowds

Opening up your company to the crowd means having more transparent relationships with customers. Depending on where your company stands now, the first step may be small, like joining crowd-based websites relevant to your industry (The Hunt), or starting a business blog where anyone can leave comments (Marriott on the Move). Perhaps you'll take a bigger leap and invite the public to speak face-to-face (Marketo's JumpStart Tour).

One company that has successfully embraced the crowd is Anheuser-Busch. To tap into the craft-beer boom, they hosted a brewmasters' competition, allowing more than 25,000 customers to help develop the beer, Black Crown. The competition, announcement, and subsequent Super Bowl Ad increased the crowd's engagement immensely. And when Black Crown was introduced, the company's beer sales saw a nice boost as well. 

When Crowds Strike Back 

Of course, crowdsourcing doesn't always go according to plan. In 2012, Energy Sheets hosted a contest inviting the public to like their local Walmart on Facebook. The most popular store would win a concert appearance by the rapper Pitbull. But when a comedy site learned of the contest, they encouraged the crowd to send Pitbull to Kodiak, Alaska, of all places.

Fortunately, Energy Sheets and the rapper handled it well. They didn't complain or shut down the contest; instead they gave an Alaskan town of less than 7,000 people a show to remember. Sure, things didn't go as planned, but Walmart and Pitbull embraced the crowd, and customers were pleased with the outcome.

More Engagement, More Business

The crowdsourcing movement is more than a trend. It shows new ways of doing business that offer real, long-term results. Deep community engagement, customer interaction, and loyalty add up to a better business, plain and simple.

The crowd has knowledge, and the crowd has power. Listen to them and your decisions will be informed by their needs and reflect what they want. So be flexible--open up and join the crowd.