This is “Crowdsourcing: Unleashing the Power of the Online Community”, section 8.4 from the book Online Marketing Essentials (v. 1.0). For details on it (including licensing), click here.

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8.4 Crowdsourcing: Unleashing the Power of the Online Community

Learning Objectives

  1. Learn how to use the online community in eMarketing efforts.
  2. Learn when it is appropriate for marketers to use crowdsourcing.

A term first used in Wired magazine back in 2006, crowdsourcingHarnessing the skills, talents, and ideas of a broader community, usually through social media. has become a powerful and cost-effective method of achieving business goals through the use of the masses. Simply put, business and corporations invite the public to submit ideas and innovations for new and existing products in exchange for a one-off or a small percentage of future royalties.

Social media have spurred on this innovation and have allowed the business world to tap into the consumer psyche with little financial outlay.

Idea Bounty ( is a perfect example of crowdsourcing in action, utilizing a potentially massive online global think tank in order to come up with innovative ideas according to briefs submitted by brands that register on the site.

Connecting: Social Networking

Social networking refers to the forming and substantiating of online social networks for communities of people. The communities are people who share interests and activities or are interested in exploring the interests and activities of others. The building of these social networks requires the use of software. Social networking is all about using the tools of the Internet to connect and build relationships with others. Social networking sites such as Facebook (, MySpace (, and LinkedIn ( allow users to create personal profiles and then interact with their connections through sharing media, sending messages, and blogging. Social networking sites not only allow you to interact with the members of your own virtual Rolodex but also allow you to extend beyond your personal network.

Social networks have created new meaning for the term “friend,” as many connections exist solely online. In the realm of social networking, it is unnecessary to have met someone in order to connect with them. Personal profile pages remove much of the anonymity of the Internet. Users of social networks reveal a great deal of information about themselves, from basic demographics such as age, gender, and location, to nuanced and detailed lists of likes and dislikes. Although explicitly made known to a user’s connections, users are also divulging this information to the networks, and hence to the networks’ advertisers. Users tend not to be aware of the data that are amassing regarding their online profiles, and it takes features such as Facebook’s Beacon to reveal just how much information users are making available.

In 2007, Facebook launched Beacon, a service that shared a person’s online-purchase activities on select Web sites with their list of Facebook friends and with Facebook. This caused an outcry, as Facebook users did not want to have freely available the list of purchases that they had made. Facebook quickly amended the way Beacon works, but the fact remains that it is able to collect these data about its users.

Social networks can be general, such as Facebook, or niche, such as LinkedIn ( or Dopplr ( LinkedIn is a network for professionals. Members connect to others that they know professionally and are able to recommend members that they have worked with. Dopplr is a social network for frequent travelers. Members can share their trips and make plans to meet up when schedules overlap.

How is someone’s Facebook profile likely to differ from his or her LinkedIn profile?

Many social networks, including Facebook, Orkut (, and MySpace, have opened up their platform to outside developers, allowing the development of applications for the members of the social networks. Generally, use of an application requires a member to allow the application developer access to their personal information.

Social Networking as a Marketing Tool

Social networks, free for their members, tend to rely on advertising for their revenue. Because of demographic information collected by the social networks, advertisers are able to target their advertisements to a particular audience.

Just because it is a social network does not mean it is the right place for every company to be marketing in. First, determine if your target market is using the social network, and then determine if it is the right place to be marketing to them.

Applications are another way to market products. Creating a useful application that is relevant to a product can expose a whole new audience to a company’s offering as well as allow the company to collect detailed information on their users. However, although Facebook applications were the big marketing story of 2007, there are few success stories to emerge from the buzz. It is very much a developing market.

Profiles are not limited to people. Bands, for example, have found immense success creating MySpace profiles and using the profiles as a means of connecting with their current and potential fan base.

Facebook pages provide a venue for an online presence for groups, organizations, and small businesses. Quirk eMarketing has a page at

Marketers can also use social networks to identify how users are perceiving or interacting with their brand and open up new avenues of communication with them. For example, if you are marketing a bar, look to see how many people are using a social network to organize events at your bar. Find a way of rewarding those who are bringing you extra customers.

Social networks are also an avenue for members to voice frustrations and annoyances, and these should be closely watched by marketers to gauge sentiment.

Key Takeaways

  • Social media have allowed the business world to tap into the consumer psyche with little financial outlay.
  • Social networking sites allow users to not only create personal profiles and then interact with those they already know but also extend beyond their personal network.


  1. Find an example of how a brand uses a social networking page, such as Facebook or MySpace. Compare it to an individual user’s profile. What comparisons can you make?
  2. Think of how these different types of companies may use social networking: A nonprofit? A restaurant? An automaker?