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3 How to Use Social Media to Build Stronger Community Ties

Thursday is guest post day here at Duct Tape Marketing and today’s guest is Joe Shervell – Enjoy!

photo credit: alexkess via photopin cc

photo credit: alexkess via photopin cc

Social media allows businesses to take their products and services to the next level by actively harnessing the power of the crowd. More typically this involved turning users into unknowing promoters, but it can also be an excellent way to target strategic business partners. Incentivized campaigns on major social media outlets give regular users a sense of ownership and involvement in the company and its products, but there are also emerging technologies which allow businesses to source advice and skills from the crowd.


‘Crowdsourcing’ is, in essence, using savvy members of your social sphere to help shape a product through design input and productive feedback. Think of it as holding a brainstorming session with an unlimited number of planners. is a good example of crowdsourcing on social media. A user expresses an idea, suggestion, or concept to a circle of industry experts using the Twitter interface. One popular conversation was the ‘save symbol’ discussion, started by design technologist P.J. Onori. This discussion swelled to include over twenty people and deconstructed the functionality and design of the existing save symbol. Because of its crowd nature, every person in the discussion became a co-creator for the “concept” save symbol in progress. is another crowdsourcing platform that breaks its sourcing communities into ever-increasing, broader circles. At the top and hence the smallest are business leaders and producers. In the middle are brand and idea groups, which discuss ways to make the products and services better and get the message out to the maximum number of potential customers. At the bottom, but still hugely important are the user-groups, or the potential customer/regular Internet user. Using a combination of analytic and CMS tools coupled with user incentives and feedback, Chaordix creates strategic dialogues between the top management levels and the consumer to permit more people to take a hands-on approach in shaping new products and services for public consumption.

The common factor in these services is the ability to give the consumer greater ownership and a more direct role in shaping the products and services they use, as well as the businesses they buy them from. The other advantage of crowdsourced intelligence is that for a fraction of the cost of a traditional digital advertising campaign, the crowd can feel involved and consequently more excited about a product. Natural, this will lead to greater social sharing and more traffic and eventually a higher conversion rate. Creating a buzz at the source means that users hear about the product from their friends, family, and their online community—in short, people they trust.

One of the most prominent brands built entirely from a crowd-sourcing perspective is Threadless, a service which encourages artists to design artwork that will eventually be used for t-shirts and other products. The best designs are decided by user-vote, ensuring that the entire process is completely sourced from the crowd. It’s a great way to make partners of both designers and t-shirt fans.

Crowdsourcing is also an excellent way to encourage co-creation and strategic partners through crowdfunding, such as through Kickstarter. By encouraging small investors in new projects, the company’s R&D budget is not tapped as heavily and the investors see a real return on their investment in the form of something new that they helped create, either through conceptual input, cash infusion, or both.

Treating User-Groups as Partners

Clever brands are starting to realize the power of the crowd as a marketing tool. By treating your users as marketing partners, you can create communities which perpetuate your message simply because they enjoy doing it.

RadioShack found a way to harness the power of Twitter with its #kindofabigdeal hashtag campaign. The premise was simple: A number of Verizon cell phones were arrayed on a table. As users Tweeted the hashtag, the phones would vibrate. The phones were ultimately awarded to the last person who made each one vibrate. In addition to promoting the RadioShack/Verizon pairing, it also generated a huge amount of online talk, netting over 80,000 mentions on this hashtag alone. Unwittingly, every contestant had become a promoter. By creating an online community, RadioShack had used the crowd as a strategic partner.

There are plenty of other examples emerging of companies realizing the power of social media for harnessing the power of online communities. Crowdsourcing is multi-faceted, but it’s becoming undoubtedly one of the most powerful methods of planning and promoting a product.

Joe PhotoJoe Shervell is a keen blogger and digital marketing enthusiast. He loves everything social online and tries to incorporate some element of social media in all of his work. He writes for, a London-Based Internet Marketing Agency.

1 How Threadless Nailed the Crowdsource Model

I had the good fortune to spend an afternoon at the offices of Chicago based graphic t-shirt printer Threadless recently and their story is one that I never get tired of telling.

Threadless built their business around a now commonplace model known as crowdsourcing. The basic idea behind the model is that you put some defined work out to a community and allow community members to compete to win the project.

This model differs from service offered by organization such as Elance as the projects are not bid on. Project specs and fees are usually agreed upon and then members compete to win the work.

Crowdsourcing has been used very widely in the design industry and has its detractors. In many cases designers are asked to submit fully developed spec work and compete against many other doing the same.

There is a free market argument to support crowdsourcing as well, but Threadless has assembled a number of dynamics that allow them to stay above the pro or con argument while building a multi million t-shirt a year business.

Two Airstream trailers act as thinking pods for Threadless staff

Below are the elements that mesh to make the Threadless model so effective.

Community first

Many crowdsource ideas start with the need to build a community. It’s the classic chicken and egg scenario. You have to come with a robust community in order to get member submissions and you have to have plenty of folks willing to submit projects and pay money.

Threadless started as an online forum for designers and had a supportive community before they ever started to create competitions. This community first mentality is evident today. One casual reading of comments and submission will give you a glimpse into how loyal and committed this community is to the idea of Threadless.

Socialist view

Threadless runs all of the competitions and is the buyer for each of the ten or so designs that get picked each week. This certainly allows them to create stable processes for how each competition is won, but they’ve also chosen to set a specific fee ($2000 + $500 store credit) for each prize.

This set fee model means that world renowned designers (yes they submit too) get the same prize as someone with a brilliant idea, but no design portfolio, if their design is chosen.

This further supports doing work and encouraging community members for the love of the game and removes class from the equation.

Customer forum

Think how many better products would be created and how much smarter those folks over in marketing would be if every time a new product was created it already had thousands of potential customer weigh in on the merits and their desire to purchase the finished product.

Threadless rarely if ever produces a dud t-shirt because the community and potential customer must cast votes of support for a design before it’s ever considered. In essence the Threadless customer produces the company’s product.

Brand filter

Threadless has also installed what I call a brand filter. Sure the crowd, meaning anyone, submits designs and the community votes to bring designs through the clutter of weekly submissions, but the Threadless staff also still makes the final call in a democratic process that helps ensure both quality and mission.

The model becomes the product

Recently, Threadless announced a new initiative, called Threadless Atrium, that is designed as project to take their crowdsource model to others and allow them to use it to produce designs for their needs.

The first two examples of organizations using Atrium can be found on Threadless Causes. The DNA (Demi and Ashton) Foundation is using Threadless to solicit T-shirt designs to raise awareness about child sex slavery, and the Oceanic Preservation Society is crowdsourcing the artwork for its upcoming documentary Singing Planet about mass extinction.

So, what market, industry, product, service or problem could you apply this model to?

43 Crowd

Croutsourcing Design

Marketing podcast with crowdSPRING cofounders Ross Kimbarovsky and Mike Samson – click to listen or right click and Save As to download

I know, I know – another goofy made-up word, but hey, it’s Friday so outsourcing design to the crowd became croutsourcing.

The point is that the web has certainly made it much easier to find great design from around the world and on the flip side created an unlimited market for those wishing to sell their design services.

Some smart folks have built businesses around corralling and managing the introduction and design process and made buying and selling graphic design a snap. As with most innovations, these services have their detractors. The most vocal being some in the design community that feel this drives the price of quality design down and cheapens the value of great design. Whether this is true or not, the web has impacted most industries in a similar fashion. The ultimate answer usually comes from the market’s assessment of the greatest value.

The process in croutsourced design is that you describe a project (in the greatest, brand oriented way you can) and designers in your chosen platform’s community compete for your project. In some cases the designers bid on your work, in others they submit designs in an effort to win a set award. Usually, you, the client, get multiple designs and alterations to work with on the way to a finished project.

The true strength, and possibly longevity, of these organizations lies in the professionalism of their design community. The one that keeps the designers the happiest wins.

The latest innovation in the industry is that your design competition can be open to public view if you choose. Some high profile brands have started to look to this model to get a design done in public view as a PR opportunity. Here’s an example of a public logo contest at 99 Designs and here’s a competition at crowdSPRING for a Tony Robbins web site design.

Here’s a run down of some of the croutsourcing design players that I’ve worked with:

LogoWorks – Actually LogoWorks, an HP company, wouldn’t really qualify as crowd driven in the same manner as these other three as they do offer your design project out for a bit of competition, but it’s a closed process with a fixed price.

99Designs – This was one of the first compete for an award players and has done a nice job putting designers and clients together at very affordable prices.

Elance – The first and biggest of the crowd sourcing community. Elance’s model is a bid for project model and certainly not just focused on design.

crowdSPRING – This is one of the newest players, but they seem to be capturing a lot of buzz and some pretty high profile projects. (I interviewed crowdSPRING cofounders Ross Kimbarovsky and Mike Samson for an episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast – click to listen or right click and Save As to download.)

7 The Continued Rise of Crowdsourcing

Jeff HoweJeff Howe is a contributing editor at Wired magazine, where he covers the media and entertainment industry. In June of 2006 he published an article for Wired titled “The Rise of Crowdsourcing.” That article has name grown to become the book – Crowdsourcing.

Jeff is a guest on the Duct Tape Marketing podcast where he shares this concept and discusses how the small business can take advantage of it.

Jeff has two definitions of the term crowdsourcing:
1) The Soundbyte Version: The application of Open Source principles to fields outside of software.

2) The White Paper Version: Crowdsourcing is the act of taking a job traditionally performed by a designated agent (usually an employee) and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people in the form of an open call.

One of my favorite ideas that came out of our discussion is the fact that branding is essentially a form of crowdsourcing.

Below is a video that Jeff created to promote the concept of crowdsourcing.

AT&TThis episode of the Duct Tape Marketing podcast is brought to you by Resources for the small business owner.