Hey, I’m looking for someone who eats hot dogs for breakfast and whose last name starts with a C. Anyone out there fit that description? Anyone out there know someone who fits that description?
OK, so that’s a strange example, but I was just trying to demonstrate one of the best uses of social media and Web 2.0—crowdsourcing. In very basic terms, crowdsourcing means leveraging your audience to find solutions to your problems—or, in my case, answers to very random questions.

Here at Hammock, we do our fair share of crowdsourcing:

  • Since 2007, we’ve sent out monthly surveys to the MyBusiness Reader Panel, a group of about 1,500 readers of the magazine we publish for the National Federation of Independent Business. We use these surveys to find members to feature in upcoming articles, as well as to gather data on our readers. It’s an inexpensive and effective way to do both. Sometimes we even ask the Reader Panel to choose the cover of the magazine. While it may not always be the cover we’d choose, we appreciate their participation and feedback, which helps us understand how our readers see the cover.
  • You’ll often find Megan Morris, our Web site-building guru, asking obscure programming questions to her Twitter followers. And you’ll often find that someone has an answer for her in minutes.

But crowdsourcing isn’t just about finding solutions. It has a second purpose—to keep your audience engaged. When we ask the Reader Panel to pick the cover of the next issue of MyBusiness, don’t you think the panelists feel a little proud when the magazine comes and it has THEIR cover on it? And since they had a positive experience with that, don’t you think they’ll be more likely to participate in the future?
Ready to start crowdsourcing (and engaging) your audience? Allow them to choose the color of the banner on your newly designed Web site, encourage them to submit their photos for an online gallery, or ask them to chime in on what works and doesn’t work about your business or association publication. It might sound like simple feedback, but it’s actually so much more.