Epic fail - How crowdsourcing can go wrong

Epic fail - How crowdsourcing can go wrong

Epic fail – How crowdsourcing can go wrong

A growing number of software companies offer tools which claim to deliver the benefits of crowdsourcing.  These range from highly customisable, complex, integrated social technology platforms, to simple, turnkey, hosted software tools. Yet, when poorly designed, implemented or managed, these crowdsourcing systems can bring more harm than good.

Indeed, leaders that buy such platforms or tools often fall victim to three dangers:

  1. Internal system hijacking. An over-reliance on undirected emergence in the hope that ideas will “bubble up,” leaves a system vulnerable to tenacious, off-centre groups. Such groups can hijack the system to promote their own niche ends at the expense of others. For example, Barack Obama’s website, change.gov, was Hijacked. It was designed to crowdsource ideas during the election, to focus the hopeful president’s attention. Yet, at his inauguration, the top rated subject on this platform was the legalisation of medicinal cannabis - hardly a priority for a president in the middle of an economic crisis and a war.
  2. Failure to engage. People always need a compelling reason to use new IT systems.  However, unlike software platforms that enhance established and familiar activities (e.g. software for CRM and ERP), crowdsourcing tools seem alien to most people.  Without a carefully designed engagement strategy these tools are likely to fail. What happens next is almost always the same - the technology is blamed, and 'engagement' remains an item on a strategy until the next software vendor comes along. In the meantime, the best staff are frustrated for not having their voice heard, while leaders make decisions that don't consider all relevant information. When we examine the intranet in client organisations, we often find that it's most active discussions are about parking and kittens for sale - hardly a good use of the software.
  3. Failure to deliver. If an organisation can overcome Hijackers and engage its target crowd, two questions remain: (i) how can we best encourage great ideas to emerge and (ii) what do we do with them? When emergence is held in dynamic tension with top-down direction great ideas always surface – leaders can do this by providing an appropriate environment and setting their people challenges. Yet, without effective integration into existing systems and managerial practices, crowdsourced ideas, no matter how good, will fail to gain support and struggle to succeed. Whether Boaty McBoatface was the right name for a research ship doesn't matter - what we saw was the Natural Environment Research Council faced with a strong view from the public that they felt they can't respond to. Given this happend, we wonder whether they asked the right question, given that what they wanted to achieve was public support.


At Clever Together, we are proud to offer some of our customers a licence to use our software. We are even more proud when we say no - having seen the dangers of crowdsourcing, we only sell software to clients who we have trained, or those who have demonstrated a capability to use crowdsourcing.