One of the big trends in social media over the past several years is crowdsourcing. By tapping into your fan base, your brand can find new ideas, raise money, or improve awareness. It’s a great way to benefit both your business and your community.

There are many approaches a company can take in launching a crowdsourced or crowdfunding project. You’ll want to choose your platform based on the type of campaign. Are you generating funds for a new product launch? Are you looking for creative input for artistic designs? Or are you simply trying to get your fans more engaged with your brand?

Whether you use Kickstarter or Indiegogo, Facebook or Twitter, there are lots of crowdsourcing success stories that brands can learn from. Here are three brands that have shown how to mobilize fans to get stellar results.

1. Veronica Mars Kickstarter Project

Kickstarter is one of several crowdfunding websites that launched in the past few years. There have been many success stories on Kickstarter, but one of the most striking and most lucrative is the one launched by filmmaker Rob Thomas to create a movie based on his television show Veronica Mars. The TV series attracted a small but vocal fan base that was left disappointed by the show’s sudden cancellation during its third season in 2007.

After years of false starts and teasing rumors, the creative team behind the show turned to Kickstarter to gather the money needed to film a movie that would tie up the series’ loose ends. They set a goal of $2 million and hit that target before the end of day one in the campaign!

The record-breaking project has a couple of takeaways for other brands looking for crowdsourcing success. The first is to give fans what they want. Creator Rob Thomas and lead actress Kristin Bell fielded questions about a possible movie from their fan base for years before finally surfacing with a feasible path to success. If you have a passionate group of fans to draw from, then get them involved in creating the thing that they want.

Even if your business doesn’t have the same devoted fan base as Veronica Mars, you can still take some notes from the show’s success. The Kickstarter project was billed as a one-shot deal, the team’s one chance to really make the movie a reality. For a regular business, give your crowdsourced campaigns a similar sense of being special. Connect them to unique events or take a totally new angle. People may be more excited about participating in a project that might never happen again.

Finally, don’t underestimate the importance of an emotional investment. Veronica Mars was a smashing success because fans connected with the characters on the show and with the underdog story of trying to get a movie made despite the hurdles posed by the Hollywood movie industry. The perks given to Kickstarter pledges weren’t nearly as important to many backers as simply having a conclusion to a well-loved story. It’s near-impossible to manufacture that type of passion for a brand. If your business is lucky enough to have it or create it, then don’t let it go to waste!

2. Ben & Jerry’s: “Do the World a Flavor”

Ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s ran a contest back in 2009-2010 that let customers create new ice cream flavors. The “Do the World a Flavor” campaign allowed fans to invent new ingredient combinations and submit them to the company for consideration as a new flavor. The contest ran in 17 different countries, and one winner from each nation received a trip to the Dominican Republic for a final tasting.

The first lesson here is that to really engage your customers and fans, make your crowdsourcing campaign about more than just your product. Throughout the brand’s history, Ben & Jerry’s has kept its tenets of sustainability and helping society at the forefront of its business. “Do the World a Flavor” was no different. The program was designed to increase awareness of the Fair Trade ingredients the company used, a key part of its business philosophy.

Second, even though the “Do the World a Flavor” program was a one-time contest, Ben & Jerry’s is always open to suggestions from fans. Some of its most successful products, including Cherry Garcia and Chunky Monkey, were invented by customers. Being open to customer ideas and providing communication channels for them can yield surprising successes. Try to make your company available both during specific crowdsourcing campaigns and outside of those special promotions.

3. Coca-Cola: Using partnerships and Facebook

The world’s largest soft drink brand has several smart social media strategies at play, and crowdsourcing has been a major component of multiple Coca-Cola ideas. One angle the company takes is partnering across other industries. In 2011, Coca-Cola launched a project with pop band Maroon 5 to crowdsource material for a new song. During a live recording session, fans could give the band suggestions and inspirations through a platform run by Coca-Cola. The final result was posted as a free download, and Coca-Cola made a donation to its Replenish Africa Initiative on behalf of the first 100,000 downloads. This year, the brand has entered a similar crowdsourcing project with singer Carly Rae Jepsen and TV show “American Idol.”

Uniting with another brand for crowdsourcing helps give your project a larger audience. When crossing industries, such as soft drinks and pop music, both entities will be able to tap into their respective social media fans and generate a bigger response, hopefully yielding better final results.

Another important element to Coca-Cola’s approach is to integrate crowdsourced content into small parts of its public image. For example, the company has reached out to its supporters for a basic part of its Facebook Page — the cover photo. That image displays a regularly updated rotation of photos submitted by people who Like the Page. Even a small program like the cover photo is a way to keep constant fan engagement with your brand and your social profiles. People will want to see the new photos, especially when they’ve submitted one themselves, and that gives them extra incentive to spend some time on your social media pages.

Got any advice for success in crowdsourcing? Let us know in the comments!

[Image credit: Rocky Sun]