Since 2007, Bulbstorm has been at the forefront of smart thinking about ways that companies and brands can tap into powerful ideas online and then transform them into new products or services. In this exclusive interview with Endless Innovation, Bulbstorm CEO Bart Steiner shares his views on how brands must continually move to where their fans are, highlights a few success stories from Facebook, and gives a hint of what's next in the "online ideas" space. 

Steiner photo Endless Innovation: Can you talk a little about the way that Bulbstorm has evolved over the past 12 months in terms of helping brands bring their best ideas to light? Has there been any shift in focus from "online communities" to "social media"?

Bart Steiner: You have to be willing to go to where the people are. You cannot count on them coming to you. So, we want to provide the platform of ideas wherever ideas strike – whether that’s in our own online community or in communities on social networks like Facebook.

In 2007, we launched, a social community where people could share their ideas for products and businesses and solicit feedback from other community members. has grown to become one of the world’s most popular idea-sharing communities, surpassing combined traffic figures for idea-sharing sites owned by Starbucks and Dell.

As grew, we recognized that consumers were aggregating on Facebook – and that brands wanted to engage them there. So, we translated our philosophy of ideas into Facebook applications that enable brands to engage fans around the fans’ ideas. Our flagship Idea Challenges application for Facebook provides a branded, game-like environment for the sharing and rating of those ideas and has yielded tremendous results for every company that's used it.

Endless Innovation: In what ways is Facebook becoming an increasingly important platform for brands to tap into the combined wisdom of their fans?

Bart Steiner: Today, the party is on Facebook. The party’s been on other platforms in the last decade. But right now, Facebook is where consumers are spending their time and Facebook is where brands are seeking to build communities of fans and engage them.

We've demonstrated that the best way to engage with your brand’s fans is to ask them for their ideas. And innovative brands are discovering they can tap into the tremendous passion fans bring when they contribute. We are seeing more and more brands recognize the value of Facebook as a platform for harnessing the power of their fans’ ideas.

Endless Innovation: What are some of the success stories from Facebook that brands have had by implementing the Ideas Challenge application?

Bart Steiner: We recently executed our first idea contest for Intel, which sought to gather ideas for an upcoming phone product. The promotion attracted over 47,000 participants, who engaged in the experience for 7 minutes per visit. Fans submitted 5,200 ideas, which in turn drew 195,000 idea views, 108,000 ratings, 8,100 comments, and 2,900 wall publishes. The fan who submitted the top idea – as selected by community voting and Intel's judges – will actually visit Intel’s facilities to share her idea with Intel engineers.

Another example is our work with Ruiz Foods. We recently helped them crowdsource their 2011 product line for the Tornados snack brand. The company had already identified desirable flavor categories (such as breakfast and dessert), but wanted consumers to contribute specific flavor ideas. So, the top flavor submissions in those categories will actually hit the market next year. In just over a month, they received over 1,400 ideas for new flavors, plus 70,000 idea views, 48,000 idea ratings, 5,000 idea comments, and hundreds of thousands of valuable engagements with the brand.

[editor's note: There are more Facebook case studies on Bulbstorm's website]


Endless Innovation: Once brands are able to crowdsource ideas, what is the process for executing and implementing the most successful of them?

Bart Steiner: The process for implementing these ideas is as diverse as the ideas themselves. In the Intel example, they’re scoping the feasibility of implementing the best ideas around functionality. But they’re also mining the consumer ideas in aggregate for insights into how products can be developed on their platform by their partners. In the case of Ruiz Foods, the most popular Tornados flavors will move into their R&D kitchens and will actually be added to the product mix in 2011.

The marketing benefit in both cases is potentially huge. Intel’s partners will be able to develop and market a wide variety of solutions, each with audiences of consumers anxious to try them out. When Tornados’ new flavors are launched, they’ll encounter a market of consumers ready to taste what they helped create, and excited to tell their friends.

Endless Innovation: What are some of the things that we can look forward to in 2011 from Bulbstorm? What's next?

Bart Steiner: For 2011, we’re really focused on the concept of providing the platform of ideas wherever ideas strike. We want to be there when the light bulb turns on – and it doesn’t always turn on when you’re browsing photos on Facebook.

What that means for us is expansion of the platform into new channels such as mobile devices and corporate web sites. But the philosophy will remain unchanged. It’s all about the ideas!