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13 reasons why crowdsourcing can't be trusted

Paranoid people like to say that you can't trust anyone. Turns out, you shouldn't trust everyone, either.
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Beware of the crowd

Paranoid people like to say that you can't trust anyone. If your company is dabbling in crowdsourcing, that warning may not go far enough. Turns out, you shouldn't trust everyone, either. Here's why the lure of crowdsourcing should be treated with a huge grain of salt.

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1. The crowd has an agenda

Example: Restaurant review sites such as Yelp. A Yelper once claimed falsely to be a writer for SFWeekly in a restaurant review, but the publication's editor caught the lie. Turns out, the reviewer worked for a competitor of theirs, SF Weekly Voice. When SFWeekly's editor requested the review be removed, Yelp refused, calling its content "personal opinion."

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2. The crowd can be bought

Restaurants have digital marketing tactics, and that includes pandering-say, treating the "Yelp Elite" to private events, free products and numerous perks.

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3. The crowd is a bunch of lemmings

Online reviews aren't always an accurate way of determining a business's value. Harvard Business School economist Michael Luca analyzed the evolution of Yelp restaurant reviews and found that existing reviews appear to influence new ones. He found that the bias this created led to ratings that were inaccurate by a quarter of a star in either direction.

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4. The crowd's goals are not your goals

The crowd is fun. The crowd is creative. But the crowd doesn't necessarily have a stake in the future design of a brand. A graphic designer working for free is more likely to be seeking instant fame and gratification than a lasting relationship with a company.

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5. The crowd is losing its novelty

Consider: Twenty percent of the most common Super Bowl advertisers, most notably Doritos, have already used crowdsourcing, and pretty soon they will all be looking for the next new thing.

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6. The crowd doesn't know you

Contributors from the cloud may be nice and all, but they don't exactly follow brand guidelines to a T, and that can cause confusion with consumers. Think of it this way: Would you poll a random group of people to come up with the perfect name for your future child? A brand is like a baby, with its own identity, language and visual aesthetic. You can't trust just anyone to take care of it.

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7. The crowd is out of demo

If your brand caters to an older demographic, crowd surfing likely won't work. A strong social media presence is needed for crowdsourcing to be effective, and the younger crowd is 10 times more likely to be hip to all that.

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8. The crowd can be trouble

PR nightmare! In 2006, GM ran a crowdsourcing contest to help promote the Chevy Tahoe. What the carmaker got instead was a slew of consumers criticizing the Tahoe's environmental impact, with slogans like "It's Global Warming Time."

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9. The crowd sends an insulting message

Crowdsourcing has the tendency to make your company look cheap. By following the "consumer contest" model, you're essentially saying you don't trust your own employees to handle a task.

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10. The crowd isn't necessarily cost effective, even if you do pay it something

As Forty.co's founder and CEO, James Archer, points out, if you pay a fresh-out-of-college worker $1,000 to design a logo for you, at an average $50 an hour, that employee is putting in 20 hours of work into your design. Alternatively, you can put the same amount of money into receiving 100 different designs from various people, none of whom have put in even close to 20 hours.

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11.The crowd steals

The more designs someone enters into a crowdsourcing contest, the better their chances of getting picked, so why should a business be surprised to find that these contestants tend to steal from other sites?

If a business chooses the logo, and finds out later that it was ripped from another site, the damage has already been done.

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12. The crowd reflects an unethical business practice

Why would you want your business to have a reputation for making flaky compensation guarantees? This is essentially what crowdsourcing is. Also known as 'spec work,' crowdsourcing is essentially about businesses giving little to no compensation to freelancers, and that's not playing fair.

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13. The crowd is inexperienced

When you open up a contest, or ask for a task or design to be created out in the ether, you are seeking the work of people with little to no experience. Even if they do have chops, it may be hard to tell who knows what without a resume, or background check.

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The bottom line

Crowdsourcing is like ordering chicken nuggets when what you really want is a well-cooked piece of steak. You don't want to wake up in the middle of the night from nugget indigestion.

Investing in your designers and creatives is not only safer for your brand, but also better for client relationships, and your company's reputation.

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