Online sweepstakes, contests and giveaways have become popular marketing tactics for companies and brands. Some of these are designed simply to drive more traffic to Facebook and Twitter pages — “low-value likes,” as my Ketchum colleague Ben Foster likes to say. The best of these promotions drive greater dialogue and deepen relationships with a company’s product or services.
Whatever the goal, any intended goodwill can quickly erode when online promotions don’t meet expectations. Increasingly, prize-rigging is becoming one of the underlying causes for these problems.
Prize-rigging (my term, first time I’m sharing it) is the manipulation of an individual’s chance of winning an online sweepstakes, contest or giveaway.
There seems to be a growing cottage-industry of prize-rigging techniques that are being shared online by self-defined “hobbyists” of online promotions. To highlight a few of these sites, check out: www.contestmob.com, www.sweepsadvantage.com and http://forums.online-sweepstakes.com/.
These communities may not be doing anything illegal. It’s debatable if their approaches are unethical. However, once exposed, prize-riggers can certainly leave a bad taste in the mouths of the majority of entrants who enter normally and individually, and thus have much less of a chance of winning.
There seem to be several types of prize-riggers:
- Vote-swappers. “You vote for me in contest A and B, and I’ll vote for you in sweepstakes X and Y.” This may be a great tactic for those swapping votes, but not for the rest of the contestants. Things can get especially ugly when vote-swappers publicly argue after results are posted … dragging the whole essence of the promotion down into the mud with them.
- Code-swappers. “Please post the required-entry code here for contest A, and I’ll give you the codes you need for giveaway Z.” This behavior circumvents a company’s ability to track and forecast the number of potential entrants to a promotion, which can sometimes lead to a promotion’s website slowdown or quicker-than-expected expiry of available product.
- Aggregators. “Stop by my website every day and I’ll list the best five promotions for you to enter.” These types of communities foster an increase-your-winning-percentage attitude and treat all promotions as commodities, often at the expense of entrants that may have a great affinity for a brand, product or service.
- Prize-sharers. “Vote for me! I will share $10 of my $50 contest gift card with one lucky person, chosen at random!” Again, great for the prize-riggers; bad for everyone else.
PR practitioners often pair with their marketing siblings to construct and administer these promotions. However, when prize-riggers cause things to go south, it’s often the PR team that has to help pick up the pieces.
Here are some tips for PR pros to consider before being involved in launching the next giveaway, sweepstakes or contest:
1) Align promotions with business goals. When there are low barriers to enter a promotion, it puts chum in the water for prize-riggers. Perhaps the first step is to avoid mining for low-level ‘Likes’ in the first place since there’s nothing stopping those folks from un-friending/un-following once a promotion ends. Instead, find ways to get contestants to interact with the brand, or sample the product or service. Encourage dialogue and interaction through the promotion. Make it fun and engaging.
2) De-commoditize the criteria for success. Consider more qualitative (“panel of outside judges select winner!”) versus quantitative (“most votes wins”) metrics to pick promotion winners. Eliminate or establish unique-user entry codes. In the end, it may be impossible to completely neutralize prize-riggers, but at least try to level the playing field for individual entrants by establishing unique ways to win a prize or earn a giveaway.
3) Prepare for “winner blowback.” All promotions have the potential to conclude with frustrated and empty-handed entrants that may publicly grouse about the promotion. PR pros should always consider building scenario plans with advance thinking on how to respond to a variety of situations, including: promotion mishaps, faster-than-expected depletion of giveaway prizes, allegations of cheating and/or other types of blowback directed at the winners.
James Donnelly is a member of the PRSA Charlotte Chapter and a senior vice president, crisis management, at Ketchum. He shares his thoughts on crisis management and communications training at JamesJDonnelly.com.