Social media has helped to change the way people communicate with each other – you may now talk to friends on Facebook, find people with similar interests on Twitter or ask and get advice from people you don’t know in online communities. Social media’s impact on communication is being realised by many, but the new technologies and new behaviours allow us to change much more than just the way we communicate with each other.

Brands and organisations have been exploring other uses of these technologies and behaviours for some time – from the use of data from social to help inform their understanding of a particular market, to using communities to help to create and shape ideas for their business. And now we are seeing individuals start to use social in these new ways.

There are many benefits to using communities online (‘the crowd’) to help you to make decisions. Starbucks has certainly found huge benefit from letting customers submit, rate and work together on ideas through My Starbucks Idea. It has helped them to launch products they might not have thought of, and to prioritise what they do when. Ultimately letting the crowd inform big decisions has helped Starbucks, along with many brands from Dell to P&G.

The future of social media is exciting, but to date some of the real, transformative effects of it are being felt mostly by brands and by platforms (such as Twitter or Facebook). Could individuals start to benefit from new technologies and consumer behaviours? Would they be willing to follow the examples of Starbucks and others, and let online communities make decisions for them?

Real change in social is seen where it takes an existing behaviour (such as asking friends for advice on where to go on holiday) and radically transforms this. It’s not about you now asking your Facebook friends where to go on holiday, but to ask a wider group of people you know and people you don’t know. Maybe using social data to create options but letting the crowd decide what you do, when and why? There are certain benefits to this approach – you will discover new and unexpected options, you will get multiple opinions and experiences and you will be getting many different people to work together crafting an experience for you.

But are we willing to crowdsource very personal decisions in this way? Would we be willing to let online communities inform our financial decisions, decisions about where we live, and decisions about big and important purchases and ways we spend our time (such as holidays)? And would we make better decisions if we did?

Would you crowdsource personal decisions in this way? And if so what sort of decisions?

Photo credit: the audience is shaking (CC) by marfis75