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Harnessing the power of customers

Unleashing the power of the collective.

Eric Edelstein, Entrepreneur, 09 August 2012  Share  0 comments  Print

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Does your brand have a Facebook page? Do you ignore it except for checking how many ‘Likes’ it has so you can brag about it on the golf course? If so, here’s some straight talk your social media manager might be too scared to give you: You’re missing a major opportunity.

The hard truth is, it’s easy to get someone to hit ‘Like’ on a Facebook fan page – especially if you force them to do it before commenting. But once you have an audience, can you retain and engage it? Can you extract value from that attention?

Harnessing fan value

Realising value from fan engagement goes way beyond simply hoping more people will buy your product, more often. If that’s all you’re aiming for, you are underestimating the value of your fan base. Intelligently harnessed, your customers are one of the most powerful sources of ideas and innovation you have.

The idea that there is wisdom in the crowd is hardly new. One of the first people to notice and talk about it was Victorian-era statistician and polymath Francis Galton. Galton, who coined the term ‘eugenics’, had little faith in the intelligence of the average person.

Trying to prove how incompetent most people were, he did some statistical work on 787 entries to a ‘guess the weight of this ox’ competition at a country fair. Once slaughtered and dressed, the ox weighed 1,198 pounds. The average of all the guesses was 1,197 pounds.  As Galton wrote, to his credit: “The result seems more creditable to the trustworthiness of a democratic judgement than might have been expected.”

More recent examples abound. On the hit TV show ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire?’, asking the audience produces a correct answer 91% of the time. One of the most moving documentaries I’ve ever seen, Life in a Day, was stitched together out of 4 500 hours of crowdsourced video from 192 countries. Companies like Kickstarter crowdsource funding for start-ups, Threadless and Springleap decide which T-shirt designs to manufacture based on user votes.

Using the opportunity

This is the big opportunity in social media: Ask the members of your community what they think, and what they want. Ask them what you could be doing differently, or better, or cheaper. Why not take it all the way and ask them to create new products and services for you?

Let’s say you’re a wine maker, hoping to launch a new wine. You could start by asking your community whether you should cultivate Chenin Blanc or Viognier, Cabernet or Pinot Noir. Then offer a vote on bottle shape and colour; then hold competitions to name the wine and design the label.

Doing that kind of market research the old-fashioned way could cost millions. But your Facebook and website audiences are waiting to give you access to the most detailed marketing information you could ever hope for. When things work as they should the collective becomes the creator, dictating exactly what it wants to buy, where and what it should look like.

It’s not even hard. There are plenty of software tools out there that you can easily download and use to gather and interpret the information that’s going unharvested on your social media platforms.

Let’s stop underestimating our customers — and start harnessing their collective creativity to empower them to create and participate in products and services they truly will love.

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About the author

Eric Edelstein, Entrepreneur

Eric Edelstein is the Co-founder and CEO of, a social engagement platform that grows, monetises and engages customers.

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