Wisdom Of The Crowd Or Idiocy Of The Crowd?

Last night I attended a presentation by Tom Purves entitled How “Augmented Reality” and the Mobile Web Changes Everything. One part that stood out for me, and really got me thinking, was the issue of how applications can leverage the “wisdom of the crowds” rather than being the victim of the “joke of the crowds.

Joke of the crowds?

Purves was referring to the potential for serious events to get sabotaged by Internet memes – such as the Greenpeace contest to name a humpback whale which ended up with 78% of people voting for the name Mr Splashypants. Other examples include the naming of a treadmill on the international space station after Stephen Colbert and the skittles website fiasco.

The bottom line seems to be – when significant numbers of people get involved in something with no restrictions, there is the potential for the wisdom of crowds to sink to the idiocy of crowds. Just check out the comments on an average CBC.ca or Globe and Mail story, or a YouTube video, to see this in action.

Purves’ solution, with which I tend to agree, is that organizations need to design their initiatives to funnel people into valuable action rather than allow them unrestricted freedom.

For example, rather than offer a widespread list of potential names for a naming contest, run some initial screening and narrow the potential winners down to responses that are acceptable.

Some mainstream outlets have started to move towards this angle by allowing people to vote comments up or down. Others are playing with ways to reward appropriate behaviour by allowing enhanced access to additional content for people who participate “correctly.”

The bottom line seems to be, if your organization is looking to participate in social media, you need to set parameters. At a base level these can consist of a set of social media policies and guidelines to set the foundation for social media engagement by the organization. At a more advanced level, organizations need to design and develop social media programs to support constructive interactions rather than destructive ones.

What do you think?

Dave Fleet
Managing Director and Head of Global Digital Crisis at Edelman. Husband and dad of two. Cycling nut; bookworm; videogamer; Britnadian. Opinions are mine, not my employer's.