CROWDSOURCING ISN’T JUST FOR WRITING CODE or finding good products at discount prices. It’s also a source of customer input that can be used to drive product strategies. And that’s where you can get into trouble.

If you’re soliciting customers’ opinions, you can’t allow the inmates to run the asylum, says Jonathan Edwards, an analyst at Yankee Group.

“When you open the floodgates, anyone can talk about anything,” he says. “There may be people who don’t like the brand or are unhappy with the stock performance.”

To get around that, it’s a good idea to focus the discussion around one area and clearly define what you’re trying to achieve and what the community is all about. “The dialogue you get will only be as intelligent as the wisdom of the crowd,” he says.

And, Edwards says, be aware that participants may not be very diverse, trending toward the upscale, educated, technically savvy crowd. Companies need to be careful not to let these narrow groups have too much influence on their decision-making.