Some companies survey consumers informally just

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sheer passion or in return for the chance to win cash prizes or other incentives, he adds. Some companies survey consumers informally, just throwing out questions or ideas to followers on Twitter. Others use blogs or set up online communities where they ask customers to brainstorm or rate ideas. Local Motors Inc. of Wareham, Mass., a small-scale auto maker started last year, lets anyone upload design ideas onto its Web site. The site occasionally hosts competitions for cash prizes of up to $10,000 in which registered members -- who include trained design engineers and transportation experts -- vote on the designs they like best or other decisions related to building the autos and how the company operates. The winning ideas are then incorporated in the cars the company builds. Members remain involved after the competitions, offering criticism and suggestions throughout the cars' development. Others have gotten consumers even more involved. Linda Welch, a Washington, D.C., serial entrepreneur, decided in mid-2007 to seek input from potential customers for a vegetarian and vegan restaurant she was planning. She set up an online forum that invited members to help decide what the restaurant would be called, what its logo would look like, when it would be open, what would be on the menu, and what the place would look like, "down to the size and shape of the tables," she says. Members voted on various aspects of the restaurant, and Ms. Welch hosted monthly meetings where forum members could have face-to-face discussions.
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