Today, I stumbled across another reason why I'd like to blow up online contests that use "vote for me" or popularity to make funding decisions. If a contest or program does not lead with social outcomes and if big money is thrown on the table, it encourages social innovation of another kind. Looking for loop holes in the contest rules.
In December, the Pepsi Refresh Contest was hailed as the boldest experiment so far of the number of social good contests over the past three years that have used crowdsourcing and social media to encourage innovative social change ideas or to raise money for nonprofits or shine attention on their do good work. For context, please see this guest post by Bonin Bough, The Global Director of Social Media for Pepsi, published earlier this month on my blog.
Last month, the The New York Times published an article called "Pepsi Trips Over Its Own Submission Rules" which described a little mishap with the submission rules. Pepsi handled the situation really well by saying, we messed up, we learned from it, and are committed to improvements.
Online Vote for Me Contests like the Pepsi Refresh are designed so participants try to get as many votes as possible from their network in order to win a big cash prize. For Pepsi, the top prize is $250,000. There are official rules written by lawyers to protect the corporation and presumably to ward off cheating, gaming the system, or unfair play.
The problem is that if rules do not spell out what is and what is not permissible or are vague, than participants might conceivably use less than ethical tactics to win at all costs. And while I wouldn't go as far to call the following example "cheating," the rules do not say that isn't allowed.
I was looking at the web sites and applications of some of the organizations who were in the top ten for the $250,000 category. I was curious to see if I could learn anything about their strategy and tactics from visiting their web sites.
It started innocently enough when I visited the site of RiverBender Center and noticed all the grassroots support for the contest, including a local bank that was offering an extra incentive for people to vote by giving away "slacker cards." I initially thought it was a good idea.
So, I clicked on the offer and it prompted me to register asking for the same fields that one needs to register at the Pepsi site.
After registering, I got this prompt to go register to vote for the them over at Pepsi and use a specific password -"so that if I forget to vote everyday, some automated bot would go to the Pepsi site and cast a proxy vote on my behalf.
In all fairness, in the contest guidelines, it doesn't say that this technique is a violation of the contest rules.
Each Application Period is followed by a Voting Period. Individuals who are only interested in registering on the Website in order to vote (as defined below) will be required to meet the Eligibility Requirements listed above in Section 1 and will be required to follow the directions on the Website to register as a Voter. During the Voting Periods listed in the Application Entry Table above in Section 2, individuals who have registered on the Website to vote for the Applications they think should receive Grants ("Voters") will be allowed up to ten (10) votes (each a "Vote") per Voter per day during each Voting Period. Each Participant in the Grant Program will also be allowed up to ten (10) Votes each day of each Voting Period. For purposes of voting, a "day" shall be defined as the 24-hour period beginning at 12:00:01 a.m. ET and ending at 11:59:59 p.m. ET. Limit one (1) registration per person/email address regardless whether you are registering as a Voter or as a Participant. At the end of each day of a Voting Period, any of the un-used Votes allotted to any Voter or Participant will become void and will not roll over to the next day.
The rules do state that they may allow off-site methods, although it recommends that voter visit the web site:
Sponsor may allow various off-site methods of voting for an Application, including but not limited to mobile, widgets, media (by way of example and not by way of limitation, voting through a cell phone). Sponsor recommends that before a Voter or Participant chooses an Application to vote on, they visit the Website and review the Profile of the Participant for that Application to get more information about the Participant and their Application.
So, is proxy voting an allowable off-site voting method or not? This points out that contests really need clear guidelines and rules to ensure a level playing field for all participants.During SxSW, Kami Huyse, Geoff Livingston, and I posted our first team thought leadership piece, “Cause Marketing That Leads to Social Change.” The piece describes our view how cause marketing initiatives in social environments can be effective.
- Cause Washing Leads to Cynicism (need for authenticity)
- Leading with Social Outcomes (theory of change)
- Authenticity in Corporate Social Responsibility
- Contest Fatigue Sets In
- Empowering Stakeholders – Ensuring Change
- Use Social Tools to Immerse Stakeholders
As Geoff recently posted some further thoughts and I wondered in a comment:
I’ve been reflecting about the cause cynicism and wondering how much is this something that we as insiders are feeling versus something that is out there more broadly?
Then, I started to think about creative destruction . … what if we could blow up cause related marketing and reinvent so it could have more social impact. What would look like?
What do you think? Should we just blow up these contests? Or do they just need to be better designed?