Posted September 16, 2013 by

When Crowdsourced Employees Tarnish Your Brand

Network of people representing crowdsourcing icons

Network of people representing crowdsourcing icons. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

There are many advantages to crowdsourcing your staff. You are able to split large projects into tiny tasks, and activate thousands of workers across every time zone to complete your work quickly and efficiently. You are able to work with individual independent contractors, skipping the expenses associated with full-time employees. You are also able to work remotely, saving office and overhead expenses.

However, working with thousands of anonymous employees has its hazards. When your crowdsourced staff feels slighted or underappreciated, they take their complaints far and wide. Suddenly, your brand is being identified as a bad place to work, and is also being associated with an inferior product.

Take freelance writer Jessanne Collins, who in 2010 wrote an article for online magazine The Awl titled My Summer on the Content Farm. Collins registered with popular crowdsourcing site Demand Media, the force behind thousands of online content products including eHow. After completing only three tasks for Demand Media, she wrote that Demand Media staff were robotic, and its guidelines for task completion were “sprawling and contradictory and confusing and repetitive and overwhelming.”

Not everyone gets as large an online forum as Collins, but a simple web search for some of the largest crowdsourcing organizations produces hundreds of thousands of tweets, blog posts, and forum rants against Mechanical Turk, Write.com, TaskRabbit, and other so-called offenders.

If you are running a crowdsourced site, how do you handle these complaints before they ruin your brand? Here are a few options:

Stop complaints before they start

Unless you have a clear policy set in advance, it is difficult to fire crowdsourced staff for complaining about your brand. Facebook speech is considered protected speech, although corporations and employees are still battling how much can be said online. However, you can avert these arguments by requiring employees to electronically sign NDA agreements before joining your workforce. In these agreements, clearly state that employees are not allowed to share internal practices on public forums, and are not allowed to publicly comment on clients, tasks or other aspects of your company.

This will not stop all of the complaints – a tweet like “Had a bad day working for Company X” is still legal – but it will prevent tell-all essays like the Demand Media example. It will also provide a legal way for you to take action against any employee spreading proprietary or damaging information.

Control what search engines find

Many crowdsourced organizations work directly with SEO. Why not use it to your advantage? Reputation management companies like Reputation.com, Brand.com and others help you make sure your best results are at the top of an online search and the complaints get pushed to the bottom. (They also help you develop strategies to prevent future complaint outbreaks.)

Encourage positive reviews

It is illegal to sockpuppet for your own company, but it is not illegal to encourage your workers to spread positive reviews. If you are integrated with Twitter and Facebook, consider a bonus program in which workers receive bonuses and badges that they then post to their social media profiles. Invite high-producing crowdworkers to review your company online, and ask your clients to publicly acknowledge your contributions. Brand.com reviews note that both employee and customer reviews are essential to branding success.

Treat your staff fairly

Lastly – if you find you are receiving continual complaints about confusing directions, lack of response, or general unfairness, take note. There will always be a few crowdworkers who are unsatisfied about something. If large sections of formerly-positive staff start complaining about one aspect of your company, consider an internal fix before it becomes a brand disaster.

In the end, remember what you learned in kindergarten: you can’t control what people say about you, but you can control what you do. Act like the brand you want people to see, and the good reviews will follow.

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