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Brands: Why are you crowdsourcing your own PR crisis?

Brands: Why are you crowdsourcing your own crisis?

Crowdsourcing today is what leg warmers were to the 1980’s: an off-fashion peculiarity that was lauded early on for their magical properties but unsurprisingly, turned out to be less useful than first thought. Only we’re not just crowdsourcing someone’s dream or project anymore — we now crowdsource pretty much everything from decision-making to marketing campaigns to hashtags. Case in point, I crowdsourced my AFL team back in 2014 on Twitter. #GoTiges

With PR professionals quick to point out that there is an element of free market research achieved in these endeavours and large amounts of money can be saved by asking the public to essentially come up with what you’d pay an agency to achieve; handing over control of your decisions to the internet seems like a no-brainer. Until you do the math of how much a self-induced crowdsourced crisis will cost you… !

If you Google the UK’s ‘Natural Environment Research Council’ right there on the first page is Boaty McBoatface, their attempt at crowdsourcing the name of their newest research vessel. Not as dignified a name as they’d hoped.

In their long-term ‘Do us a flavour’ campaign American potato chip brand Frito-Lay has crowdsourced new flavours from cheesy-garlic to wasabi-ginger. And then there was cappuccino. Unsurprisingly after spending money in R&D the cappuccino chips tanked when they got to market.

Closer to home, we all remember how the #QantasLuxury campaign ended; Aldi’s recent “fill in the blanks” campaign encouraging people to tell the supermarket giant about why they loved the brand was quickly deleted when they got a bargain bonanza of unanticipated feedback; and Boost Juice’s ‘Name Game’ ended up in censorship territory when those tricksters on the interwebs figured out names weren’t the only thing you could type into that auto-generator.

A crowdsourced crisis is much like any other crisis: only organisations have no-one to blame but themselves.

5 ways to prevent a crowdsourced crisis

1. Don’t trust the internet. Ever.

Would you trust your accountant with your medical needs? Your dentist to fix your car? Then why would you trust the internet with making decisions that could cost you your reputation, time and money?

Agencies can be expensive, but they are experienced professionals that will conduct due diligence on your campaign — and this costs far less than a crisis agency after the fact.

2. Give people options, not free-text reign.

Never give people the ability to dream up ideas that are outside your scope. Give them defined parameters to choose from, and not auto product generating free-text fields or the ability to label anything they want with your logo or likeness.

3. Test your crowdsourcing ideas before you go to market with a focus group.

And by focus group I don’t mean the people in your office who generally agree with everything you suggest anyway. I mean people you don’t know and who have no vested interest in your brand. An agency can help you here. Again, this is cheaper in the long run when compared with the costs of a crisis agency after the proverbial hits the fan.

4. Have an exit strategy.

Both legally and from a PR perspective. The terms and conditions of entry should always give your organisation first right of refusal for any voter-elected product and similarly, your PR plan should include a robust crisis strategy for if (when) the trickers on the interwebs start stacking the deck against you in jest or with malicious intent. Know your audience, but don’t count on others joining the crowdsourced crisis too.

5. Give the fun police a license to thrill.

Crowdsourcing ideas in organisations that have a high aversion to risk equals a recipe for disaster. Creativity is part of the process and if you have an executive that tends to take the fun out of everything and doesn’t cope well with criticism, do not crowdsource!

On the flip side, if they are prepared to give you some creative control and communicative leeway, you need the time and space to be able to do that so agree on parameters that give you what you need to demonstrate results.

Crowdsourcing projects and innovative ideas is, and has always been, a valid means of raising capital. Crowdsourcing out your other organisational needs isn’t so clever — nor original.

With so many crowdsourced #PRfails now littering the internet, have we reached peak crowdsourced marketing? Or will we continue to see organisations crowdsource their own crises?

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