Things to watch out for when running contests19/Oct 2014
I see more and more contests ran these days that use various social media engagements as a voting mechanism. One of the most successful social media campaigns I’ve ever built was one for Schwinn where entrants would enter themselves as well as a friend. If an entrant won, their friend also won a bike. It brought Schwinn well over 25,000 likes over the course of the month and over a quarter million entries.
So there’s no doubt that a short contest can have a great turn out and even a great ROI. Also popular is the iPad give aways you’ll see all over. The thing is, these contests work! It’s often far cheaper than running an ad to get the same level of impressions and engagement (in most cases).
Where it all goes wrong
These contests don’t always work though and there’s a few specific things that can really end-up in a backfire. The biggest problem with online contests, utilizing social media or not, is the amount of cheaters. There’s people out there who have many fake e-mail addresses and social media accounts. They use these to increase their odds by entering multiple times.
You can, sometimes, combat this by recording IP addresses. Most scammers aren’t actually smart enough to use multiple IP addresses. Some are, but the number of addresses are then limited (maybe a few different coffee shops or something). Another tactic involves looking at each entrant’s profile and seeing how many friends they have, where they are from, and how many posts they have. They are getting more clever these days so you’ll see a good amount of content under their fake account’s profile. However, you’ll see a lot of duplicate content between various accounts. So with a bit of manual work, it’s possible to spot scammers and avoid the issue.
The second biggest issue is when contests use social media engagement as ways to “vote” for an entry. Not so much the “increase your odds by sharing” mechanism (which is actually discouraged by social networks including Facebook), but when there are entries which must be voted upon.
When you set up a contest where others must vote for an entry, you get those same scammers. Only instead of a bunch of entries, you now have much fewer entries. This is so they can use all their fake accounts to unfairly vote up their entry. This is even more difficult to track down because while you have an entrant’s social media account number, you do not have all of the accounts that liked or shared some unique entry URL on Twitter. Those button counts don’t tell you “who” engaged. Just how many unique accounts (or IP addresses if not logged in) engaged. It also doesn’t tell you the frequency (unless you are constantly monitoring and recording the change in likes). This is an extremely bad way to run an online contest. You simply can’t prove someone is cheating.
I’ve seen it time and time again. Lackluster entries end up with the most votes in the contest. The rules of the contest are bonded when you give out over a certain amount. So sometimes the company running the contest has their hands tied. Without have a disqualification clause and the ability to even prove there was a cheater, there’s nothing that can be done. Of course one could attempt to disqualify an entrant, but they are then at risk for being sued.
Contest didn’t start or end on time? That’s another legal breach. Beware the legal risks of running an online contest. However small, they do exist and sadly the scammers can use that to their advantage!
Add a disqualification clause for starters. You may also wish to choose a winner at random or have language that states, “votes only increase your odds” compared to “the entry with the most votes wins.”
Though I would seriously just avoid using a like or share as a mechanism in the contest. It’s simply not accountable. Also, be aware that Facebook has now removed the “like gate” feature and requiring someone to like a page in order to enter a contest is highly frowned upon by Facebook. That is not to say that they’ll take any action, but your mileage may vary. I wouldn’t risk it.
Make sure you record IP addresses with your entries along with the time of entry and keep detailed records. This can be used to prove a disqualification and even to block scammers during the contest. Remember that scammers can turn into spammers and make your contest look bad. If they blatantly put a bunch of entries that contain obscene language or imagery, it could reflect poorly on you (depending on how or if you display entries). Inappropriate content aside, it can also just make you look less creditable or professional. This could reduce the number of entries and have a negative impact on your company’s image.
If you aren’t careful, this could backfire on you and completely destroy the entire purpose of running a competition in the first place. Please be careful about the way you design your online contests. Especially when they are ran across social media networks.