Tapping in to the collective knowledge of the Internet is something that business communities have taken advantage of for some time. Forums, help desk communities, Q&A sites all tap into the collective knowledge of the crowd. But how do you actually make any money from your connections? Knowledge is given for free, advice sought, connections and discussions made. But not revenue.
Well the National Trust in the UK has hit upon an innovative way to tap into the collective knowledge of the community of experts and earn enough revenue to run the farm for a year. This is not Farmville or a virtual game. It's a real farm attached to Wimpole Hall - a National Trust property in Cambridge. The project is called MyFarm.
Its an ambitious project. They want 10,000 farmers, or members of the community, to each pay £30 membership subscription for a year. That's potential revenue of £300,000 per year to run the farm. They get to make decisions on the farm. They're not easy decisions either.
In addition to deciding what crops to grow and where the community will have the say on which cow gets slaughtered and when, whether the sheep have their tails docked. Every major decision on the farm will be opened up for discussion. Here's the trailer for the initiative.
There are videos for voting - for example whether to sow the grass seed or not and 'farmers' are introduced to the financial implications of making a wrong decision. Crops might fail. It might not rain. it might rain too much. It might freeze. The Weeds might smother the crops. We all know what to do. or do we? Getting the crowd to do some work for you. Its a very good idea.
On the site the polls and discussion threads are active - although with the project in its early stages, there are a few teething troubles at the moment. Nothing that can't be sorted out if the momentum is maintained and the project keeps moving forward in this collaborative way.
Its a great way of generating revenue for the farm. Its a great way of getting people involved with actually where their food comes from and the challenges of growing the materials for food. It's a great way of keeping people involved using the social tools that they engage with already. Blogs and YouTube videos, forums and polls keep people engaged and active.
And it helps people know where their food actually comes from. Not from the supermarket in the chill cabinet. Not from McDonalds or Pizza Hut. From farms.
And unlike Farmville, this is real life community farming. Real life decisions made by the community.
Just like they should.
Eileen is a social media consultant and author of Working The Crowd: Social Media Marketing for Business.