4 Innovation Tools To Help Your Business Tap The Wisdom Of The Crowd

Brainstorming is useful--but try tapping into the brainpower of your customers or partners, and see what ideas arise.
CEO, Small Business Trends LLC
October 17, 2011

Last week I wrote about brainstorming—but brainstorming doesn’t have to be limited to the people in your own business. There are many tools to let you tap into the brainpower of your customers, target customers, partners and, well, just about anyone, anywhere.

Here’s a look at four useful tools for building your own “innovation community,” wherever they may be.


Bulbstorm’s focus is on all things social, and its innovation tools are closely tied in with social media, making it a good fit for any small business that’s active in the social media space. Use Bulbstorm to create your own innovation community by sharing ideas and getting feedback. Bulbstorm works two ways—you can post your own ideas (“bulbs”) and get feedback, or reach out to innovators in your industry to get their ideas.

Basic access to Bulbstorm is free and you can create micro-communities for your employees, customers or other partners to collaborate securely with private-group settings and idea-sharing controls that protect your confidentiality and intellectual property. Bulbstorm also offers additional services for businesses, including Idea Contests and Fan Idea Challenges you can use on Facebook to get customers interacting (and innovating) with your business.

Big Idea Group

Big Idea Group uses its existing innovation community, the Insight Club, to come up with insights on the issues facing your business. The group can help you identify problems with existing products, services or programs; pinpoint innovation opportunities; and evaluate and refine proposed innovations. Once you’ve identified issues, get a fresh perspective with Idea Hunts. Big Idea Group will put out a call for specific product or service ideas to its 13,000-member inventor network, deliver the best entries to you and even help you develop the ideas and negotiate contracts with the inventors.

Want to get your own customers or employees engaged? Try an Innovation Contest. These can be open to the public, or closed to all but your team and stakeholders. Big Idea Group designs and manages the concept, helps you judge the ideas and can even you're your company develop the winning concepts. Because Big helps narrow everything down to the best concepts, you don’t have to sift through hundreds of bad ideas. Once you’ve finally got the big idea, Big offers a Rapid Review program that lets you get consumers’ opinions on a new concept or product in just a few days. Big Idea Group recruits an online panel of consumers in your target market to evaluate your product or service.


Rightnow, which offers a wide range of business services focused on the customer experience, enables you to create your own online innovation community to involve your customers in coming up with ideas for your business. The service takes advantage of the fact that your customers are increasingly knowledgeable about products and services and increasingly picky about what they want—so if you’re developing new products or services, why not go straight to the source to get ideas?

RightNow’s innovation communities include an Ideation Center where customers can submit ideas; a Concept Tester that captures feedback; and Discussion Forums where customers can share their experiences, with moderation tools to help keep the conversation going. It all ties in seamlessly to your Facebook page (RightNow also offers a range of Facebook tools). Pricing for RightNow is customized but you can get a Pilot test program set up by contacting the company or take a free demo.


Chaordix handles crowdsourcing of ideas from start to finish, including developing a crowdsourcing plan, recruiting your crowd, moderating the process and providing technology that enables collaboration and innovation. Crowds can be used to help your business with everything from idea creation to problem-solving and product testing. Everything, including idea submission, discussion, voting and ranking, is done online, and Chaordix can use your existing employees, customers, subscribers or partners to form the basis of your community.

You can brainstorm to capture freeform ideas and pinpoint new market opportunities; use Solution Hunt to solve more complex problems such as product design, R&D or engineering issues; and use Pick of the Best to get the community’s input on which option is the best and how to make it even better. Chaordix monitors your community and provides you with regular updates so you don’t miss an opportunity. With a full suite of services, Chaordix may not be a fit for the smallest companies, but even they can benefit from the array of articles and resources on the site.

CEO, Small Business Trends LLC