Should online contests be redesigned or just go away? That's the question that Kari Dunn Saratovsky asks in a post over at the Case Foundation blog, one of many blog posts and tweets about the controversy surrounding how the Chase Bank handled its online contest to give away $5 million dollars this holiday season. The conversation provides a lot of good lessons for companies wanting to embrace selfish giving without cause washing.
Here's a summary and chronology of blog posts and Facebook and Twitter chatter. I'm sure I've missed something.
11/16/09: Chase launched the online competition in November. I blogged about it on November 16 as part of a trend of focusing online competitions on regional and local givings. Many other nonprofit and do good bloggers helped promote the contest. The press release from Chase describes the two-step process:
- In Round One of the Chase Community Giving program, Facebook users will vote for non-profit organizations they think should receive a portion of Chase's philanthropy funds. To reinforce the local focus of this program, 501( c)(3) non profits with an operating budget of $10 million or less will be eligible. Facebook users will be able to nominate non profits that serve the general public in the following areas: education, healthcare, housing, the environment, combating hunger, arts and culture, human services and animal welfare. The Chase Community Giving Advisory Board will review the top vote-getters to help ensure compliance with the program's rules. On December 15, the top 100 qualified vote-getters will be announced to receive $25,000 each, and will move on to the next round.
- In Round Two, the top 100 organizations will have the option to submit a Million Dollar Grant proposal to Facebook users, detailing the difference they would make in their local community with the significant extra resources. Facebook users will vote starting January 15, and on February 1, the qualified organization receiving the most votes will be announced as the winner of a Million Dollar Grant from Chase. The next five organizations with the most votes will receive $100,000 each. Additionally, the Advisory Board will donate $1 million to the nominated charities of its choice.
12/17: The Dark Side of Online Contests. Kjerstin Erickson over at Skoll Foundation's Social Edge wrote an insightful post about the contest design, pointing out how not having a leaderboard was problem and the need to balance social good and marketing objectives. Her post was summarized on the Chronicle of Philanthropy blog on that same day.
12/17: SSDP and other groups were disqualified from the contest. If you look at the posts on the SSDP Facebook Fan Page, you'll how the open organizing took place. They asked contest sponsors for an explanation. Without a response, they escalated their organizing efforts reaching out on Facebook, the blogosphere, and main stream media. They start organizing boycotts and asking their fans to post on the Chase Fan Page (which at that time was opened for comments)
12/19: NY Times, Stephanie Strom writes "Charities Criticize Online Fundraising Contest by Chase". That I afternoon after reading the article, I wrote a post summarizing Stephanie's piece and adding my own two cents about the lack of transparency and contest design. The post got retweeted over 160 times. Later that evening, Nathanial Whittemore over at Change.Org wrote a scathing open letter to Chase. According to the metrics on the blog, the post got almost 7500 views and 114 retweets.
12/21: The Chronicle of Philanthropy continues its round up coverage. Blog posts continue to summarize and dissect the controversy focusing on transparency, design, and social good.
2009 The Year of Perpetual Online Contests: Case Foundation Blog. Kari Dunn Saratovsky recaps the conversation and lets us know that the Case Foundation is planning host an online forum to make room for a discussion about online contest designs. The conversation starter, "Do you think that a redesign of online contests could help salvage this concept of online citizen participation while maintaining some level of transparency? Would you prefer these contests simply go away in 2010 – if so, what might replace them?"
Marsha Stepanek discusses the transparency (or lack of) and damage to the brand. Scott Henderson points out the issue of control and crowds and John Haydon raises concerns about the Fan Page lock down. Marc Pitman wonders what can be learned? Stephanie writes about the importance of contests for small nonprofits. Some hashtags start appearing, including #chasefail and other hashtags.
Chase Facebook Fan Page removes fans comments on the wall and fan commenting ability.
We don't know where this will go next. Maybe this will all fade away with the holiday upon us and all will be forgotten by the opening round for the top 100 organizations to compete for the six and seven figure grants in January. Or maybe it will fester.
Source: Slideshare Deck - The Bottom Line on Facebook and Twitter
It's unclear how much damage this has done to their brand, if at all - and if damage could have been reduced if they were more responsive earlier on.
If anything, it provides lots of learning which is the heart of success of social media and potential for constructive discussion and debate about social media, online giving, transparency, and more. Should the folks at Chase wish to respond, they are more than welcomed to write a guest post on this blog.
Update: Ami Dar makes a great point that we should acknowledge Chase for trying something new. I agree, but I think they're missing a fantastic teachable moment about learning, experimentation, and a conversation about online contests, transparency, and reshaping philanthropy.