Unless it’s a blind vote with the top entries selected by the sponsor, voting contests are the WORST type you can hold. I have seen flame wars across all social channels, specifically Facebook, and it gets very ugly. Is your Community Manager ready to deal with a negative marketing campaign?
On the surface, voting contests are a great idea. You get entrants to engage with your brand, share your message across their social channels and by inviting their friends and family to support them, your concentric circles of influence grows.
What could go wrong?
Let’s tackle one disaster at a time. (Notice I didn’t say potential disaster. I have seen these all these issues occur time and time again.)
Is the entry even real? The two different types of fake entries you could encounter will be those images pulled from Google and those that have been Photoshopped.
It’s not uncommon for entrants to swipe an image from a Google search and submit it as their own. It will cause a lot of problems if the cheater ‘wins’. A local restaurant chain found out the hard way. They had to scramble to fix the problem and calm the social media backlash that ensued. In What to do When a Contest Goes Wrong I recommend, before announcing the winner, always use a program such as TinEye to look for duplicates.
A famous instance occurred when Nikon announced a winner only to find out very quickly the image had been faked. The entrant even admitted it! The story was so big is was written about in all types of photography publications and mainstream news.
- A fake picture won Nikon’s photography contest, and the Internet had a field day
- Photo contest winner revealed as fake amid social media storm
The only silver lining was the promotion got more engagement and traction than Nikon originally estimated. You can be sure all future entries for any of their promotions will be vetted with a fine toothed comb.
This problem is more nefarious than you may initially realize. Not only do entrants create multiple accounts, they build bots. I wrote a 5-part series titled; Cheaters Always Win (& Get Caught). The problem is, although the cheating ring was caught, all they did was lose out on a few prizes. There were never any legal repercussions and, if you read all 5 parts, you would discover they are still winning.
Marketers need to realize is:
- cheaters of all types exist and,
- not relying solely on a sweepstakes app to vet them out.
Always look at the contest entry data before announcing a winner. Look for votes (or entries) coming in from:
- duplicate IP addresses,
- similar names,
- email addresses, and
- large numbers of votes being accumulated in short time frames.
Google the words buy votes and see what you get. There is an overwhelming number of online companies that are running a brisk business helping entrants cheat. Not only can one buy enough votes to win, but can space the votes out across different IP addresses so the cheating is hard to detect. Thankfully, the price points are such that unless the prize is valuable, it may not be worth hiring such a service.
Is it possible to have a successful voting campaign?
The first option is to have blind voting. That means no one knows who the top contenders are. This way you avoid the online social flame wars between entrants, along with entrants in second or third place trying to sabotage the leader. If possible, move around the order of the entries every few days as it discourages lazy voters who only click on the first entry.
Judged and Voted
This solution is my favorite because in most cases with a voting contest, the best entry doesn’t usually win. It’s the entrant with the widest social network (or one that cheated) that takes the prize.
With a judged component, a panel of judges selected the top three to ten entries and puts them to a blind public vote. This ensures the winner’s entry will be in alignment with the brand, (Think if all the disastrous naming voting contests out there. I only need to say Boaty McBoatface and you know exactly what I mean!) and the urge to cheat will be greatly reduced. (Sadly, you can’t eliminate it entirely.)
Encourage Legitimate Voting
Another area that is often overlooked is encouraging legitimate voting. As the Contest Queen, I get an insane amount of voting requests daily. I ignore most of them. I only vote for my close friends and, will happily vote in any contest, whether I know any of the entrants or not, if there is a chance for me to win something.
Always budget in a small or bonus prize for voters. Not only will it incentivize the entrant’s friends, but cast your marketing message around the Internet a second time to maximize your promotional budget, reach and engagement.
What do you do if things do go wrong?
- Admit the error publicly as soon as possible.
- Correct the problem by announcing the actual winner, after you finish an investigation and eliminate all erroneous entries.
- Learn from your mistakes and move on.
Have you ever hosted a voting contest? If so, was it successful?