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Crowdsourcing's Seven Deadly Sins

Crowdsourcing's Seven Deadly Sins

Crowdsourcing is in its infancy and like any emerging industry, there lies a great deal of learning ahead regarding the do's and don’ts of crowdsourcing. How to embrace the new opportunities, leverage the platforms, build your own, manage and incentivize the community if you are running a crowdsourcing business or discerning what work to crowdsource and what type of initiative not to crowdsource, you need to understand and avoid crowdsourcings seven deadly sins?

Web 2.0 enabled, the model that we now call crowdsourcing, for online community-based problem solving and production has been emerging for some time. When the practice was identified and named in 2006, after journalist Jeff Howe coined the phrase, the new branding and recognition surely fueled the debate and its adoption.

Many are still trying to grasp how to leverage the model and successfully deploy it from the perspectives of adopting crowdsourcing to both deliver and buy labor and services. Crowdsourcing can be a great way to bring fresh and innovative ideas into the workplace adding ideas and creativity that may not have been otherwise discovered. Crowdsourcing also provides new ways of connecting with customers and other groups, as well as new opportunities for connecting with a global workforce. However, if a crowdsourcing initiative is poorly designed or badly executed, as the following examples show, things may not always go to plan!

  • Coca Cola's use of public opinion and blind taste tests led them to bring in the “New Coke” while trying to dispose of their main brand, which is a national icon. Although the idea was developed with public input, Coke took it too far. You simply cannot erase tradition. Eventually, Coke brought back their “Classic Coke” and decided to sell both products.
  • The New York Mets left the choice of a new eighth inning anthem for their home games up to the discretion of their fans. This happened during the craze of “Rick Rolling” in which Rick Astley's Song “Never Gonna Give You Up” was widely used as an internet prank. Astley’s song dominated the competition, winning over 5 million votes, but was only played once during the game...and the entire audience booed!
  • NASA called on the public for help in naming the International Space Station.In addition to their own ideas, they also gave the general public the opportunity to vote for suggestions the public put forward as well as NASA’s own list of names. Stephen Colbert caught word of the contest and shared it with his fans. Soon the name “Stephen Colbert” had six times more votes than any other options! NASA decided not to honor the winning choice.
  • President Barack Obama tried crowdsourcing to collect questions for a press conference. His website, entitled “Open For Questions”, was soon overtaken by enthusiasts for the legalization of marijuana, their cause rising above that of jobs, energy reform, and health care.

So why did these crowdsourcing initiatives bomb? They each committed at least one of the Seven Deadly Sins of Crowdsourcing:

  1. Don’t overlook the importance of a brand or logo - When planning a change for your product, always take into consideration the effect this change will have on your current brand equity. The Coca Cola flop made it very clear that losing what has essentially become an American icon can be very disconcerting to the loyal customer base …..and bad for business.
  2. Be careful who you invite or be prepared to accept the consequences! - By openly crowdsourcing questions for his press conference, Obama essentially gave a platform to a vocal minority who were intent on pushing on their own agenda. Rather than questions being submitted that represented the current pulse of the American public, they were skewed in favor of issues that arguably were not mainstream. By establishing some parameters rather than launching an open-call for questions on any subject, concerns of more general public interest would have had a better chance to surface. Dell, for example, has been successful with their “Ideastorm” project, which is only open to Dell customers. Collecting ideas from those who are genuinely interested and invested in the outcome should lead to a better result.
  3. Don't ask consumers to brainstorm about business strategy - When your campaign is not consumer focused, but rather a business –to- business venture, public opinion is probably not the most relevant source to turn to. On the other hand, what color to make the newest M&M is a good question for the public to decide and the discussion can be opened up to pretty much the entire world. Whether or not your company should merge with another should probably be left to the pros.
  4. Don’t get too caught up in the numbers - Many times businesses will make the mistake of having a crowdsourcing project that is intent on collecting the largest number of responses possible, which might seem impressive but may not produce the best results. The amount of people participating in your request does not carry anywhere near the weight of importance that the quality of their ideas will bring. Focus on quality, not quantity.
  5. Don’t overlook the power of incentives - Not only should your crowdsourcing project carry incentives for those who are investing their time and work to it, but it needs the correct type of incentive for those involved. What do people want from this… money?Recognition? Something else altogether? Knowing the answer to this question will help you create good incentives that will yield profitable results.
  6. Don’t just focus on the end goal, the best idea! - It’s not just about the best idea, it’s also about the engagement of constituents and the generation of better ideas overall. Make the crowdsourcing project more of a conversation than just a simple contest. Be sure you take into consideration the ideas of everyone, all participants. Often it is not just the winner who has the best idea, but it is a combination of several great ideas that will ultimately create a truly unique and successful plan. Create an environment where brainstorming is encourage – in brainstorming there is no wrong answer!
  7. Last, but certainly not least, don’t forget the importance of appointing a leader to head your crowdsourcing initiative - Often businesses will use teams to crowdsource ideas and just let the most popular ideas that surface, generate the direction for the company. after all, other factors beyond opinion need to be factored in. Company culture, customer types, the nature of the business, past experience and history all need to be taken into account. A strong leader accountable for the initiatives success who is familiar with the needs of the company and its customers, will more likely lead the project in the right direction.


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