There’s bee a lot of talk lately about what has become known as the collaborative economy. In short, it’s an economic model,

that leverages communities or crowds to rent, share, swap, barter, trade, or sell access to products or services.

In other words, consumers pool their resources in order to benefit everyone in a group, while at the same time, promoting sustainability.

The collaborative economy is what fuels things like crowdsourcing and crowdfunding. At it’s heart, it empowers consumers. The latest study from Altimeter digs deep into the implications of the collaborative economy, and how social technologies disrupt business as usual.

Smart businesses and nonprofit will recognize this, and the power of the crowd, and will embrace it. A quick look at how traditional media has tried to adapt to a new media world is proof that you can’t force a round peg into a square hole. Traditional business and marketing methods won’t always work. There is a need for adaptation, which in some cases might be radical and disruptive. We can’t be afraid of that type of change, especially if it means survival.

Traditionally, organizational theory has treated external forces and factors as, well, external. Now we find we need an entirely new way of looking at things (and this would make a great thesis topic for any organizational grad student. Oh, to be in grad school again…). The new business model takes collaborative consumers into account. The new business model treats the consumer as a part of the team, not merely an external factor. The new business model includes the consumer in internal discussions.

In a collaborative economy, the consumer has a place at the table when it comes to marketing, customer service and experience, research and development, and more.

When consumers are included, they have a greater interest in you, your products, and your success. When consumers are included, you’ll gain a better understanding of what true influence is, how influence works, and who your influencers are. You’ll learn how to reverse engineer influence marketing.

Recognize that your customers are a part of your team, and treat them as such. Let them guide you into a business model that embraces the collaborative economy. Let them help you grow.

How can your business (or nonprofit) adapt to the collaborative economy? Are you prepared to make the necessary changes to your business model?