I recently started receiving numerous emails from a development database system that neither I, nor any of my nfp contacts, had ever heard of. Wondering what list they’d gotten my name off, I dug a little and discovered that it was connected to one of those crowd-sourcing “award” sites. The Pepsi Refresh Project is the best known, but they’re springing up like mushrooms on the web.  You post a project and then try to mobilize your social network to vote for you. The project with the best social network marketing wins, regardless of the quality of the project. It’s all about the power of the crowd.

And also, it turns out, about collecting emails of the people who vote.

Now, using social media to drive traffic to your site is the name of the game. It’s just the latest version of the loss leader–put something out there to gather interest, and hope that some small percentage sticks. Fundraisers and direct marketers have been doing this since the dawn of time, pretty much, and even have statistics to help figure out what the return will be. (Generally 1-2% return on a cold mailing, 5% on a more targeted one, is considered pretty good.)

One of the difficulties of gathering data on the web is the phenonmenon of the “opt in” or “opt out.” A privacy and junk mail protection that somehow became the norm, and even the law, we all know that it protects you from unwanted or unsolicited use of your personal information, starting with your email address. Some sites offer the option right when you sign up, some when you get the first unsolicited email from them (opt-in at the front end, opt-out at the back end.) Consumers now have opt-out rights in all direct marketing forums–phone (the Do Not Call Registry), US Mail (various mail preference registries), and of course email.

Seems like someone has figured out a brilliant way to circumvent this. Put up a crowd-sourcing award. Attach an attractive prize. Make voters register in order to participate.

Voila! Instant email list with valuable secondary information (location, since you’re voting for local organizations; interests, based again on who you vote for; network, as you forward the request for votes around the web).  Brilliant.