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Overestimating the Wisdom of the Crowd

The Gap's attempt to launch a new logo was a failure – at least judging from the comments about it online. Within hours of its release, the retailer hinted on its own Facebook page it might be willing to scrap the two-year project in favor of a design submitted by the public. "We know this logo created a lot of buzz and we're thrilled to see passionate debates unfolding! So much so we're asking you to share your designs. We love our version, but we'd like to see other ideas."

Days later, its intentions are clear: it is scraping the work of Laird and Partners, the Gap's long-standing design firm, and staying with its old logo. It is difficult to say what factored into the company's decision and just how much of it was influenced by the Tweets and comments. Certainly there is a place for listening to social media when formulating a strategy - as there is for crowdsourcing in a marketing campaign. However, there are limits to these tactics that must be considered as well.

Sometimes the Crowd is Really a Mob

It is one thing to turn to crowdsourcing - especially if it is a commercial offering such as Trada.  But allowing the crowd make a strategic decision, especially on the fly, is unwise. Fact is, sometimes people just Tweet to Tweet - especially if there are a string of similar Tweets already out there - and then forget about it 20 second later. "How does the company know if the negative reactions are coming from loyal customers, or just folks who like opining on various topics via social media," writes Michael Roberto, a professor of management at Bryant University writes in a blog post.

There are other unknowns as well that were drowned out by the comments, he said. "How does the firm know if the negative reaction will translate into any lost sales? Will this move make it difficult for the firm to work with professional designers in the future? Won't they be upset by the rapid abandonment of something created by one of their professional colleagues and the turn to free crowdsourcing instead? Initial reactions from some in the design community have not been positive. Finally, won't the very same people who chose this logo be sifting through all the submissions in this crowdsourcing effort? What makes the firm feel that they will make a better decision this time."

Other reasons to think twice about crowdsourcing:

  • If you are a high-profile company you can count on being inundated with ideas and shifting through them will be more work than actually coming up with the design on your own.
  • Right now you may find people willing to give away ideas for nothing or a small cost, but as the economy improves that may no longer be true. "While the recession is making high-quality participants more available in many categories, companies that adopt crowdsourcing now - become dependent on it now - face a risk that these people will become far less available when, or if, economic conditions change for the better," says Rick Brenner, principal of Chaco Canyon Consulting (via LinuxInsider).  "What might seem like a viable business model now might become unviable with dramatic suddenness, if the 'crowd' gets jobs elsewhere."
  • True professionals are likely to keep their best ideas to themselves anyway. They realize that in most cases, once they put out an idea they lose all rights to it.

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