Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach

You Sunk My McBoatface

Back in 2016, the UK’s leading supporter of environmental science bought a $300 million ship to explore the arctic. And asked the internet to name its state-of-the-art explorer.

Shackleton. Endeavour. Adventurer. These were just some of the names that were naïvely suggested as the naming campaign launched.

But the British public wasn’t planning on calling the ship anything that sensible. So when a radio presenter jokingly suggested the name Boaty McBoatface, the internet went nuts.

Boaty McBoatface didn’t just become the subject of hundreds of millions of retweets, but it also made the headlines of newspapers across the world. Including The New York Times.

Everyone is thrilled to see Boaty McBoatface emblazoned on the side of the 128 metre-long ship.

But there’s a problem.

The English science minister is not pleased and torpedoes Boaty McBoatface, claiming the vessel needs a more ‘suitable’ name.

So the vessel was eventually named after famous TV presenter and naturalist, Sir David Attenborough. 

A missed opportunity.

The British people were primed to watch their ship go on scientific adventures in the arctic, but the science minister blew Boaty McBoatface out of the water. And the excitement of the crowd with it.

What does Boaty McBoatface teach us about engaging with the crowd?

Firstly, never ask the crowd to name anything. But besides the obvious, Boaty McBoatface also teaches us how to engage with the public properly.

Do you even need a crowd?

The council who bought the arctic explorer didn’t need any help naming the boat. They already knew what they wanted to call it.

Next, do you have the right to talk with the crowd?

Right after the financial crisis in 2013, J.P. Morgan started a Twitter campaign called #AskJPM to build trust with the public. You know, to make up for the $30 billion-plus in fines and legal costs the bank got since 2009.

Although the Q&A was designed to answer career related questions, J.P. Morgan was quickly made painfully aware that nobody liked him.

Thirdly, are you ready to give up control to the public?

In the case of Boaty McBoatface, the people behind the campaign weren’t prepared to embrace the outcome. 

Lastly, are you committed?

You can’t invite the crowd to have a say once and shut the door for the rest of the year. If you want to get valuable input from the public, you have to be engaged round the clock.

If you’re not willing to offer the public a genuine chance to participate, don’t bother.

By Jeroen Elsing
Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach