We've all heard about the wisdom of crowds, with Wikipedia and even entire industry of television voting shows attempting to prove the paradigm.
By involving their audience to make them feel like their input is listened to, a brand can build advocates and perhaps come up with ideas they wouldn't have had on their own.
However, it doesn't always go right.
Unsuspecting marketers who blindly attempt to take advantage of the crowds may find themselves causing more issues than benefits for their brands.
The Wit of Crowdsourcing
Dinna dinna dinna dinna, dinna dinna dinna dinna Durex
Earlier this year Durex decided to offer a new service where their condoms would be sent directly to couples in need in cities across the world, either on the web or using an app. Their marketing team decided that the best way to kick this campaign off was to ask their users to pick the first city this would launch in.
Unfortunately for them they didn't think ahead and left it open for any city to be submitted. Thanks to the wit of the crowds, this resulted in Kuala Lumpur ending in second place, and the predominantly conservative, Muslim, although amusingly named, city of Batman, Turkey.
Durex closed the campaign down without offering the service anywhere, let alone in Batman.
Ha ha ha, hee hee hee, I'm David Bowie
In 1990 David Bowie decided to do a greatest hits tour "Sound+Vision". In order to determine what songs to play he let the crowds decide.
As it was in those prehistoric, pre-Internet days, the votes were collected via telephone. Music magazine NME heard about it and asked their readers to vote for one specific Bowie song – "The Laughing Gnome". The vote was scrapped with that song in the lead.
(The author would like to apologize for getting that stuck in your head).
D'oh the Dew
Last August Mountain Dew was ready to launch an Apple version and decided to get the crowd to share their wisdom by asking them to name this new variant. As you'd expect, the crowd decided to show their wit instead, by submitting and voting up names that wouldn't be allowed anywhere near a bottle of soda.
The vote was quickly cancelled, and the soda was imaginatively named… "Apple Mountain Dew".
I'm Not Loving it
Early last year, over on Twitter, McDonalds decided to use the hashtag #McDStories to get customers to share their stories of McDonalds. Apparently they thought that nothing could go wrong...
Ask Jonny… About Pedestrianisation
Last year English soccer player Jonny Howson transferred from his hometown team, Leeds United, to Norwich City. The Leeds United fans weren't thrilled that he was transferred, given that he was the team captain, so when Norwich announced that they were taking questions for Jonny on Twitter...
…the Leeds fans took over the chat, completely.
How Can You Avoid These Mistakes?
The first thing you should do is set boundaries. If Durex had picked 20 cities around the world for their condom delivery service, and asked people to vote on those 20 cities, then this would have worked for them. They'd have been able to control the situation by preventing the crowd adding in cities that they'd not be able to deliver to.
Similarly David Bowie's people should have restricted the options to a subset of his work, perhaps all of his songs that charted except for any gnome related ones.
Monitor and Moderate
If you truly want to make sure that the crowd can submit what they want, then you need to ensure that you firstly have the T&C's in place that inform users that you have the right to take down anything derogatory, defamatory or just plain dumb. Then you need to actually enforce it.
Monitoring the suggestions and deleting inappropriate ones would probably have helped Mountain Dew with their issue. If the voting was taking place on their site, and they had the development resources, then implementing a filter of some kind, to not show any suggestions with "Hitler" or other words that had no place in the crowdsourcing, would also have been a good idea.
Don't Be Stupid. Step Outside the Company and Think
There are lots of people that have a beef with McDonalds, from PETA to anti-obesity campaigners. While inside McDonalds corporate HQ the concept of getting customers to share their stories may have resulted in high 5's all around, stepping back and thinking about prevailing sentiment around the company may have given them pause for thought.
While Norwich City wanted to engage their fans (and they have over 3x the number of followers than the Leeds United official twitter account), they should have realized that there was a prevailing sense of anger amongst the Leeds fans about the Jonny Howson transfer, and should perhaps have either waited for that to die down, had the Q&A sessions somewhere where they'd have more control, or just simply used another player.
What to Do When Crowdsourcing Goes Wrong on You?
If, despite your best planning, crowdsourcing heads off in a bad direction, and you have no way to steer it back in the right direction, then pulling the plug is the best way to go. Just take whatever you've learned from the experience and make sure to apply it the next time you try to do something similar.