Creating a Facebook page has become a standard practice among small businesses as a way to communicate and interact with customers and professional contacts. As a way to explore your customers' wants and needs even further, Facebook has expanded its Questions features, so that in addition to asking your Facebook friends questions, your friends' friends can respond as well. Facebook has also added other new features.
"With the updated Questions you can agree with an existing answer with a single click, or you can add a different response. This makes it easy for many more people to respond to you. It also helps us show you the most popular responses," Adrian Graham, a Facebook product manager wrote on his blog.
"Questions will also enable you to cast a wider net. Now, when your friends answer one of your questions, their friends can answer it too. For more unusual questions, you can get advice from a broader group of people, but to keep it most relevant we filter the answers to show you first what your friends think."
While Facebook primarily targets the consumer sector with its applications, Questions has a lot to offer small businesses. For example, are you straddling the fence over two ways to change a product or service but can't make up your mind? Use Questions to ask your business' friends list or followers whose opinions, of course, you care about. Their friends' opinions are worth a lot as well since they very likely share similar wants and tastes with your businesses' network. The polling results that Questions offers can also help you quantify and analyze responses.
However, in the big picture sense, Questions is but one small example of the potential that crowdsourcing can offer. An immediate way to use crowdsourcing as a way to gain insight into customer needs and wants is to take polls on your business' own Website or blog.
Instead of boring your customers with a customer satisfaction survey, why not ask their input about really interesting and important questions? Using Facebook Questions to do that can't hurt, but you will not have the same degree of freedom to ask what you want and to interact in more creative ways by using Facebook's stodgy and limited interface. Get creative and think of interesting and exciting ways to solicit help with your business' own Website and e-mail list.
Some small businesses might fear that the use of crowdsourcing could be seen as a weakness, in that if you are an expert in a particular area, why do you need to ask for help from non-professionals?
That worry sure has not held back major international companies from advertising for out-of-house advice. The Peugeot division of France-based PSA/Peugeot-Citroen, one of the world's largest carmakers, holds an annual car design contest. Some of the elements from the design that won the contest in 2007 sure look familiar when you compare it to models Peugeot is unveiling today, especially the EX1 electric race car.
The U.K.-based Guardian newspaper asked its readers a couple of years ago to help scrutinize the expense reports that Britain's prime ministers filed. Once Guardian created an interface on its Website with which readers could communicate what they found, over 20,000 readers were able to dig up information from 70,000 pages of documents in less than a week that journalists from major newspapers were unable to do. Some of the findings resulted in the disclosure of questionable expenses that Britain's prime minters were charging with taxpayer money.
Putting Facebook Questions to your customers is certainly not a bad idea. But the Peugeot and Guardian examples show how crowdsourcing can serve as a creative, powerful, and ultimately fun tool to gather information or to generate excitement about what you are doing. A small business obviously does not have the same resources that these two European companies have, but that is the point: The crowd is the power source.
Bruce covers tech trends in the United States and Europe.