Special Segment: Join the Crowd

March 2, 2010 9:12:21 PM PST
Companies are tuning in and using social media like a modern suggestion box. And they're putting ideas from their customers into action.

"This came just at the perfect time," said Audrey Rowe, stay-at-home mom and artist.

When the economy tanked, Rowe's suburban design business dried up. But soon she found the Web site Crowdspring.com where companies post projects so anyone can submit design ideas. A company picked the second design Rowe entered for their logo.

"It was kind of like winning the lottery. It's exciting, it's just a rush," said Rowe. "And it's kind of affirmation that you have something."

Now, Rowe manages the community of designers for Crowdspring part time connecting her with designers all over the world.

"It's everybody. It's college students, It's grandmothers. It's a lot of stay at home parents," said Rowe. "This is a chance for creative types to go somewhere and practice and enjoy."

"Social media has changed everything," said Mike Samson.

Samson co-founded Crowdspring.com in the West Loop.

"The idea is that a large group of people can find the solution to a problem more accurately than a small group of people," said Samson.

His co-founder, Ross Kimbarovsky, says as the crowd submits ideas, companies provide feedback so designers can refine and submit more ideas hoping to win the contract.

"At the end of the day, the buyers on Crowdspring pick their favorite designs. It doesn't matter where you went to school. It doesn't matter what your title is. It doesn't matter who you were. When we bought our logo, it happened to be designed by a janitor," said Kimbarovsky.

Rock bands, the pasta company Barilla and LG cell phones have all used Crowdspring for design. It's part of a growing trend called crowdsourcing where companies are looking for ideas by turning to crowds of people on the Internet.

"Everybody has their own super power, and if you just put the right team together you can do amazing things," said David Kamerer, professor of communications, Loyola University.

Kamerer says an increasing number of companies are turning ideas from social networks into real products or practices.

"In the old days, the company would communicate outward and the customers would listen," said Kamerer. "But today it's a two-way conversation and the customers really collectively have a voice."

Dunkin' Donuts is crowdsourcing the idea for its next donut and the computer company Dell has a separate Web site just for brainstorming ideas. On MyStarbucksIdea.com you can follow your suggestions as the crowd improves your idea and see if the company puts it into practice.