Crowdsourcing is something that I’m a very strong advocate of and something that I believe benefits a whole host of different companies. The term itself is quite lose and can apply to a multitude of different tasks, but in a sense, that is exactly what I like about it; the fact you can use crowd sourcing to help with everything from design to product manufacturing and everything else in between.

Crowdsourcing is an incredibly effective way for companies to cut costs as well as generate ideas, and in an age of digital communication, it is also a great way of connecting with customers or advocates. To more ‘traditional’ old school heads of business I can understand why it may take some explaining. Why would a company chose the masses over hiring top talent to handle a problem?

I’ll tell you why. Look at the success of sites like Crowdspring which let’s you post design projects or brief copywriting assignments, name your price, then pick from a wide range of solutions submitted from around the world. On average, projects get 68 submissions and to date there have been over 25,000 and in my opinion, 25,000 people can’t be wrong.

What you have to understand if you want crowdsourcing to work for you though, is what your ‘workers’ are after. Are they after money? A chance to impress their peers? Recognition? If you want find out what motivates your community, you will always get good results.

Facebook has used crowdsourcing since 2008 to create different language versions of its site. The company claims this method offers the advantage of providing site versions that are more compatible with local cultures. Another favorite use of crowdsourcing; IBM collected over 37,000 ideas for potential areas for innovation from brainstorming sessions with its customers, employees and their family members in 2006.

For smaller companies however, there are also significant opportunities, especially for companies with a passionate customer base. The key is finding a way to solicit their ideas directly, evaluate their ideas efficiently, and then implement the best ideas as they make sense for the business.

There are several ways to use social media for crowdsourcing your next big idea. You might start small by engaging customers in a direct two way conversation on your company website or blog. If you have active customers following you, you can pose questions there and invite feedback and ideas in the form of comments.

To achieve a higher level of engagement, you might consider creating an online community similar to Dell’s idea storm. Dell IdeaStorm is a website launched by Dell back in 2007 to allow Dell “to gauge which ideas are most important and most relevant to” the public. Off the back of the site the tech company made over 600 changes to processes and products; yet another great example of tangible, valuable results.

One of the most important things to remember is, if you are going to consider using crowdsourcing for any aspect of your business, make sure you have the support of senior management before starting. You can’t crowdsource for show, instead the company has to be ready to seriously consider all ideas and be genuinely open to change. If this is the case I truly believe crowdsourcing can make huge and cost effective improvements to companies both large and small.