This sponsored post is produced in conjunction with Ford.

The internet is harnessing crowds like never before. Nowhere is this more evident than in the recent crowdfunding movement. Sites like Lending Club, Indiegogo and Kickstarter show just how powerful crowds can be in turning ideas and dreams into reality — sometimes paying dividends at the same time.

But the wisdom of crowds is manifesting itself in other ways too, namely through initiatives run by larger brands. And in many cases, they’re making bold moves to give people the tools they need to take action en masse for social good.

These tools come in all different shapes and sizes. Some are social media campaigns. In the last year, L’Oreal, Dove and Secret have all run social media campaigns to acknowledge women role models and help raise self esteem for women and girls. Dove made hundreds of headlines with its Real Beauty Sketches video campaign, and then continued the conversation on its Facebook page, drawing reflections, anecdotes and advice from thousands of participants on topics of self-respect, beauty, and confidence. In all three cases, the passions of customers helped shape brands’ perspectives on what it means to be and empower a woman.

Other brands help crowds do social good simply by making a purchase. “BOGO” — shorthand for “buy one get one” — is quickly being redefined as “Buy one, give one.” This business was cracked open by TOMS shoes, and really took the spotlight with the launch of philanthropic eyeglass seller Warby Parker. Essentially, when you buy a pair of shoes or new glasses, these companies give the same product to someone who can’t afford it in the developing world. Many of these recipients are children. Most of the attention both TOMS and Warby Parker have received have been about these programs — they are a major brand differentiator, encouraging even more companies to explore similar opportunities.

Getting more technical, some brands have opened up APIs to their customers and developer communities that can be harnessed for good.

A prime example of this is Ford’s OpenXC platform. A package of open-source hardware and software, this toolkit gives developers everything they need to build Android and web applications for their vehicles. Users simply install a small hardware module that can read real-time metrics — like speed, GPS position and over a dozen other measurements — from the car’s internal network. This information can be used with other connected devices for a variety of purposes.

Already, the platform is being put to use for a social purpose: fuel economy. Ford launched its Personalized Fuel Efficiency Challenge this March, asking the developer community to create a range of applications for drivers to better understand and improve their fuel efficiency. Developers still have 16 days to submit their applications, which can be for mobile devices, tablets or the web. This is just one example of a major automotive company leveraging the crowd to make driving a better, more environmentally-friendly experience.

The incredible news here is that crowds are driving all of this positive action. Brands wouldn’t be investing in these sorts of programs, initiatives, challenges and giveaways if their customers weren’t asking for them. Increasingly, consumers are voting for more socially-driven companies simply by voting with their dollars. The more this happens, and the more innovative outlets companies give them to express themselves, the more big brands that will jump in and get involved with important, meaningful causes.

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