Be honest: You've experienced at least a touch of schadenfreude at highly public crowdsourcing fails. Who can blame you?

With hilarious mishaps including the government funded Boaty McBoatface, Pitbull's infamous Kodiak concert (brought to you by Walmart), or that time the Internet Rick-rolled Shea Stadium, sympathy is rarely going to triumph.

Do these epic fails mean that crowdsourcing is a marketing mistake for brands, though? Not at all. Social media crowdsourcing is a useful tool to involve consumers in your brand's decisions, turn them into brand advocates, foster actual conversations, and harness creativity outside your conference room.

If you want to crowdsource without becoming the next Boaty McBoatface, it's about having a guided conversation. These four strategies will help you tap the hive mind without getting stung.

Provide choices

Before launching a campaign, always ask yourself, "What could go wrong?" and use your imagination (because the internet sure will). Polling with multiple choice answers is a safe alternative to opinion surveys. If you're looking for new ideas, avoid announcing that a popular vote guarantees a campaign direction. That way, you won't have the negative press of reneging on your promise ala NASA's Stephen Colbert incident.

Make it easy

Twitter, Facebook, and--as of this month--Instagram make crowdsourcing easy through instant poll options, and they all display results in real time. On Twitter, just click the polling icon when you are drafting a tweet (it looks like a sideways bar graph), and create a poll with up to four options. Instagram's polls are through a sticker option in Stories. While creating a Facebook poll is slightly less user intuitive--accessed through the Polls for Pages app--it's just as user friendly for your audience.

Incentivize it

It's one thing to click a poll answer, but it's quite another to provide your entire brand campaign. Many consumers are savvy to any crowdsourcing that is really just an attempt at a free focus group, so reward when your consumers go out of their way. Doritos, for example, has  crowdsourced a 30-second Super Bowl commercial each year for nearly a decade, and in addition to the exposure for budding filmmakers, winners have also received substantial cash prizes. After a decade of the Ecomagination, GE opened the program up to consumers, offering $200 million in funding for top ideas.

Lacking a multi-million dollar incentive budget? Then use what you've got. Whether it's rewarding participants with social media exposure to increase their followers or doling out a few gift cards, a little incentive can go a long way in facilitating quality crowdsourcing participation.

When in doubt, moderate

If ever you find yourself trusting the internet, check the comment section of a YouTube video. Online anonymity emboldens many, and give your brand a real PR problem if offensive submissions or comments go unmonitored. No, you don't need to be a gatekeeper that ensures every bit of crowdsourced material follows your brand style guide--it is supposed to be organic, after all--but monitoring or requiring approval for anything posted to your brand's pages may save you a UGC headache. This is especially important anytime you have an open call for user-generated photo or video content.

Always reserve the right to overrule

As these people did, when they asked the internet to name their baby. Because "Cthulhu All-Spark" just wouldn't fit on those cute monogrammed baby towels.

Published on: Oct 25, 2017