Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Crowdsourcing Caveats: NASA Learns The Hard Way

Colbert's chutzpah created colossal cosmonaut calamity.

In the spirit of modern brand engagement, NASA decided to invite people to vote for the name of a new room in its space station. Crowdsourcing is in vogue because soliciting participation encourages involvement and belonging (hence enhanced attachment). It's also part of a wider democratization, a trend fueled by the internet and social media in which people participate in brands rather than them being formally planned and imposed by anointed architects.

It comes with risks however, as NASA discovered. Its failure to stipulate that choices were only among those listed gave Colbert the latitude to encourage his devoted followers to write-in HIS name, which thousands duly did.

In an additional failure to understand the cultural climate in which it exists, NASA has announced that it reserves the right not to adopt the winning name and select an alternative. Asking people for their opinion and then not listening to it is a sure-fire way to evoke a backlash. Better not to be involved than actively ignored. One hopes that NASA will come to their senses and that next time it will frame participation in a way that avoids unanticipated - and in this instance unwelcome - contributions.

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