“Vote for Me!” contests abound on the web – vaguely promising recognition, rewards and droves of traffic for brands and bloggers alike. Don’t be duped.
In fact these contests are salting the social media earth. They are killing communities, undermining authenticity and devastating the influence of otherwise influential bloggers.
Is Competition a Bad Thing?
On the surface, “Vote for Me” contests do seem like a good idea. Traditionally contests are designed to bring contestants reward for their achievements and recognition of their popularity. Everyone wants to win. Competition can be a driving force for good. We all benefit from a healthy amount of competition.
On the internet, however, when brands engage in “Vote for Me” competitions with the bloggers they are working with, there are rarely any real winners. Not the bloggers who participate and certainly not the brands. These campaigns degrade both the bloggers they seek to recognize, and the brands that seek to use them to build their communities.
I’ve Been Nominated! Will you Vote for Me?
It’s very flattering as a blogger to get nominated for an award or honor. Blogging is a lonely sport and comments can’t come fast enough. If there is one thing almost all bloggers are hungry for, it is recognition. Whether they are being recognized for their talent as a writer, their influence over their readers, the size of their following… it’s heady stuff.
So heady that some bloggers might be tempted to cheat.
Most “Vote for Me” contests being run by brands are not strictly monitored. Votes are usually tracked by email or IP address and these types of votes are easily faked and/or bought. Dig only a little and you will find online voting sites that range from the seemingly innocuous to the clearly sketchy. Google “voting bot” and you’ll find yourself down a rabbit hole.
I’ve peeked in on the administrative side of these contests in years past and seen good blogs go bad. It’s impossible to say whether it was the owners intent to cheat or that of their most rabid fans entering up to 2000 votes with email addresses in alphabetical order, but certainly enough to convince me personally that cheating is not uncommon.
Ignoring that, if you can, and assuming the contest in question is indeed legitimate and voting secure, there are still serious problems that make “Vote for Me” campaigns a bad idea.
When a blogger asks their entire twitter, facebook and blog following to visit a link, register, and vote for them – not once but multiple times in case they missed someone three hours ago – they alienate their readers. They exhaust themselves and run out of valuable time to create actual engaging content. Proving your influence and soliciting the votes to win a contest is difficult time consuming work that requires real campaigning. No matter how large your following.
Typically what happens is this:
On the first day everyone visits. On the second day their real friends click through. By the end of the week even the blogger’s own mother is not opening their emails.
Asking friends to drop what they are doing to click through and register and vote burns social capital. Asking friends/followers for their help with your campaign burns even more capital. Votes don’t come for free. Votes are a favor that the bloggers pay for by cashing in on their popularity. The price of the vote is a piece of their influence. They’ve literally “spent” it. There is risk associated. If a blogger over estimates their value to their readers, and those readers lose patience with the nonstop demands, the blogger may lose some of their followers forever.
Have you ever unfollowed, or been tempted to unfollow someone who makes too frequent requests? You’re probably less likely to ever read that blogger’s blog, follow them on other forms of social media or engage with them after this has occurred.
But Blogger Contests Drive Big Traffic to My Brand’s Page!
From a brand perspective “Vote for Me” contests hosted by a brand seem to make sense. The bloggers have turned their readers into an army of click monkeys all clicking through to your site and your numbers are soaring through the roof while you sit back reading the Radian reports. Your boss may be really impressed with your ability to deliver results. But don’t get to comfortable, chief. What you’re missing about that traffic is that there is no reason for them to ever come back again. They’re doing a favor for someone else by coming in the first place. That favor’s now spent.
Earlier this year I was at a an impressive brand event that with several other mom bloggers. Many of these women were already acquainted and good friends and very excited about the brand, and about their special group status. It was an honor simply being chosen to preview and promote this brand. There was bonding, camaraderie and a real sense of sisterhood.
Then the brand created a “Vote for Me” contest, in which they pitted their new advocates against each other, in an obvious attempt to drive quantity traffic to their site.
The women didn’t want to compete with one another. They also did not want to alienate the brand. Or lose. The prize was sweet, but the bragging rights possibly sweeter for some. It was a conundrum for all involved. One that dredged up the sort of unfortunate, ego-affirming, backstabbing tendencies that are the Kryptonite of an authentic, closely-knit community.
Some of the bloggers dropped out. Some stayed in.The page hosting the contest drew great short term traffic. Numbers that probably made the pr/marketing team proud. For the moment.
Although they may have been patting themselves on the back, I would not call their campaign successful. Ultimately the campaign for votes had nothing to do with authentic interest in the brand. It did nothing to further the community the brand had set out to establish with the bloggers and their overtaxed, vote-weary readers. This is ultimately a shame, because a lot of money was spent and aside from the “Vote for Me” contest, they did just about everything else right.
What happened to the community?
Overnight it went from close knit to unraveling. The unease of competition and the need for each of the advocates to force their (often shared) readerships to choose a favorite amongst them, drew lines between the bloggers, and compromised the loyalty they felt for both the brand and each other. The idea that they had to be silent and comply with the contest in order to get ahead with the brand was another source of stress for these women. Nobody likes being pressured.
Recently I heard an uplifting (albeit unconfirmed) story about a certain controversial Top Mom Blogger list that was about to be released. The members of the list were told about making the list but also told they had not been ranked. It was up to them to gather the votes needed to generate their ranks. They refused. Not just one or two of them. Not just the best friends. All of them. Whether they liked each other or not, whether they agreed about politics or breastfeeding or what kind of car to drive, they agreed about one thing. Competition can kill community. I’d like to believe this story is true!
Competition is not a bad thing. But when it comes to Blogger/Brand “Vote for Me” contests in the name of building communities - it’s simply bad business.