As an extension of this month’s ebook, Building Stronger Customer Relationships: Making Your Brand More Personal With Social Media, we’ve sharing one social media rich idea over the last 30 days. Today is Day 30.

Crowdsourcing simply means getting your community to pitch in with work and ideas. For example, Fluevog Shoes (“Unique Souls for Unique Soles!”) invites customers to submit their “Open Source Footwear” design ideas. Should Fluevog adopt and manufacture your napkin sketch, they’ll name the shoe after you, and send you a free pair.

(Curious about how to get going? Here’s 4 Simple Steps to Do-It-Yourself Social Media Crowdsourcing.)

Done right, crowdsourcing can strengthen your customer relationships and make you a more human brand. Done wrong, and crowdsourcing will fuel resentment and anger at your laziness and greed.

Jeff Howe writes in his book Crowdsourcing:

Those [companies] that view the crowd as a cheap labor source are doomed to fail. What unites all successful crowdsourcing efforts is a deep commitment to the community. This entails much more than lip service and requires a drastic shift in the mind-set of a traditional corporation. The crowd wants to feel a sense of ownership over its creations, and is keenly aware when it is being exploited. The company, in this context, is just one more member of the community and you don’t have to watch Survivor to know that people who act duplicitously are kicked off the island.

Here are 4 ways crowdsourcing can benefit your community and make them love you even more.

Listening

It used to be companies could ignore their customers, or placate them off with a half-hearted “Hmm mmm”. Social media means customers will demand your attention, and if you brush them off, they’ll complain loudly and take their business to the community. Crowdsourcing is deliberate, active listening. Instead of just responding, you’re initiating the conversation because you value what your community has to say.

Crowdsourcing says to your community, “We care about what you think and feel about our products. Please tell us how we can do better.”

Delight

You spend millions of dollars and thousands of hours designing, manufacturing, marketing and selling your products. But your community may be even more passionate about your product than you are, because they’re the ones who actually use it. If they could help you improve your products, it would make their daily life more enjoyable.

Crowdsourcing says to your community, “We care about the product experience. Please tell us how we can make it more useful and more delightful.”

Ownership

Crowdsourcing increases the stake your customers have in the product. Instead of being docile consumers whose only contribution is their money, they become active partners in the company and the product. (Imagine the thrill of seeing the LEGO set you designed on store shelves!)

Crowdsourcing says to your community, “We don’t own the brand, it belongs to all of us. Please tell us where you’d like to see your products grow.”

Appreciation

Gifts and money are nice rewards, but the love language of true fans is gratitude and recognition. If crowdsourcing turns up a brilliant and unexpected idea that will make your brand millions, call out the entire community (not just the individual) for their contribution and keep them up to speed as you implement the idea.

Crowdsourcing says to your community, “We’re amazed by the passion, ingenuity, and talent of our fans and friends. Because of you, we’re growing in ways we never thought possible. Thank you!”

Are you implementing or participating in any crowdsourcing projects? Tell us about what it did for your community in the comments or on Twitter.

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