Crowdsourcing as a Small Business Marketing Strategy - Page 2

By Jennifer Schiff
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Turn Your Website into a Community Forum

When she started Minted in 2007, founder Mariam Naficy’s goal was to “bring the best in design on paper to consumers.” And she planned on doing this by selling invitations and stationery from high-end stationery companies. Then Naficy heard about a t-shirt company called Threadless, where visitors voted for their favorite t-shirt designs, and she fell in love with the concept of crowdsourcing.

Soon after, she decided to experiment with “the wisdom of the crowd” on Minted, inviting designers from all over the world to submit their card designs and inviting customers to vote on them right on Minted’s website.

The experiment was so successful that over the last two years the company has shifted from being a middleman with some crowd-sourced products to an almost entirely crowd-sourced model, “Ninety-nine percent of our sales come from products that are crowd sourced,” said Naficy. Today, Minted is a community-centric company where any designer can submit an entry (or several) to the site's monthly design challenges, and anyone who has registered (for free) can vote for their favorite designs.

Moreover, Naficy added, crowdsourcing has yielded better designs, more visitors and fans (on Facebook), and more sales than if Minted had continued to just sell cards produced by other stationery companies. 

Tips on When and How to Use the Crowd

Clearly, using the crowd -- whether it’s your employees, your customers, your Facebook fans and/or your Twitter followers -- can be a good idea, as well as good for business. But is crowdsourcing a good idea for every idea or for every business?

“I think that using the crowd, in particular using your customers, is a great way to get a lot of [good] ideas,” said OfficeDrop’s Jones. “And it builds excitement for what you are doing. So it’s a great way to build a little bit of buzz before you launch.”

“I think it’s the future of the retail,” stated Minted’s Naficy. “Retailers who produce goods for consumers need to become much more open to consumer input in their decision-making process.” Though she admits that it’s much easier for nimble startups to try or shift to a crowdsourced model than for larger, more established retailers.

First and foremost, though, 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 Krueger.

For example, “don’t just go out and randomly use Twitter or Facebook,” cautioned Jones, “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 Naficy. And you risk overwhelming or alienating the very people you are trying to attract.

For both OfficeDrop and SitStay.com the optimal number of choices for consumers to choose from to achieve a single winner was around 10, whereas Minted typically gives visitors hundreds of designs to vote on, from which they often choose hundreds of winning designs.

Jennifer Lonoff Schiff is a regular contributor to SmallBusinessComputing.com and writes a blog for and about small businesses.

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!

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This article was originally published on August 19, 2010
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