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Crowd-Sourcing Hijacks: An Opportunity for Marketers?

Digital engagement, in particular social media, has given marketers an unprecedented new way to participate in a two-way dialog with consumers. As we often coach our clients, with earned media channels such as PR and social media, a company needs to be comfortable giving up a certain amount of control of its message to be able to have authentic conversations online.

Recently, our newsfeeds have been rife with a number of examples of companies relinquishing control of their brands’ message and the outcomes have been somewhat mixed.

Performer Pitbull and retail behemoth Walmart recently earned kudos for rolling with the punches when a contest didn’t go quite as planned. The promotion offered a visit from Pitbull to the store location that received the most new Facebook likes, but Facebook users rallied to send the artist to perform in Kodiak, Ala., the most remote Walmart in America. The company and performer responded with enthusiasm and made good on their promise.

Mountain Dew recently asked consumers to select a name for its newest soft drink flavor. Instead of clever, feasible options, the top trending name suggestions were at worst disgustingly inappropriate and at best simply unusable, with entries such as “Diabeetus.” An online hacking group also established inappropriate banner messages throughout the brand’s microsite, which was later taken down.

The branding/PR world has erupted into debate on how to view these types of situations. Some warn against performing any crowd-sourcing campaigns, saying they put too much control in the hands of the public. Others say marketers should loosen their controls on such sites to encourage tinkering with the hope these antics could potentially provide the campaign with more media exposure.

While it certainly depends on the clients’ overall goals, I think with a solid understanding of the public perception of your brand, a good grasp on current issues/challenges facing the industry, the right technological safeguards in place, and a plan for if/when things change course, crowd-sourcing is still an opportunity worth pursuing.

What are your thoughts on the future of crowd-sourcing? Will brands see this as an opportunity to extend their reach or as a canary in the coalmine for digital campaigns gone awry?

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