“Mediums have changed but practices remain the same. Fake contests, awards given to a friend of a boss or an influencer have been done in traditional mediums and today the same tricks are being applied on social media,” was the candid reply from Anant Rangaswami. The man who has experienced both worlds of marketing – the old and new medium, shared his thoughts while talking to me about the ongoing controversy related to social media contests.
Once in every two weeks I am tagged in a tweet where a user is complaining how she was the winner of the contest but at the last moment either the prize has gone to someone who was not in the dashboard or to a profile that has no social media presence at all. In other words, it was a fake account and the brand never had any intention to provide gratifications or lacked the budget to do so.
Social media contests have been a marketing tactic from day one to soar engagement in the existing fan base and to also build a new one. A practice that has been adopted by all brands on social media. The cycle started from acquisition of fans. Once brands gained a sizable amount of fans, the next thing they did was to launch contests with attractive giveaways like iPads, iPhones, vouchers, to name a few.
These contests initially started from Facebook and ended on Twitter for the ease of the medium and also for the zero costs involved in running them. And from here on starts the story of mindless Twitter contests, madness for trending them on Twitter, late delivery of gifts, debate on winners, gifts being circulated among agency folks or influencers or being given to fake profiles altogether. Facebook also had contests but the contest guidelines were not that relaxed initially so brands preferred Twitter for the quick ones. In fact till some time Twitter trends on Friday afternoons were dominated by all kinds of contest-related trends.
This trend also gave birth to professional contest players, who are always ready to tweet and play any kind of contest. But at the end of the day what is the brand achieving from such mindless contests that have one goal of trending and distributing giveaways?
Not all brands today are pushing senseless contests for the sake of trending. Ekalavya Bhattacharya, Digital Head at MTV India shared with me on the phone, “MTV has gone out of contests because it is no more helping the brand. At MTV we are providing an experience rather than just simple gifts.” Explaining more on the experience bit, Ekalavya gave an example of a contest which MTV is running – it is giving fans a chance to watch the Farhan Akhtar show live. In doing so the brand is attracting a niche audience who are fanatics and will spread the word across once they are at the show, maybe by tweeting or posting pictures on Instagram.
“We are no more giving a simple t-shirt for a tweet, if we are giving then we might give a t-shirt autographed by A.R. Rehman which you can’t get anywhere. Simple retweet and answer few questions kind of contests give a momentary spike to brand and nothing else,” added Ekalavya while explaining why these mindless contests on Twitter or Facebook just don’t work for a brand like MTV India.
Similar thoughts were shared by Rajiv Dingra, CEO of WAT Consult, who added that, “Contests have to have a role play but today it is very transactional. Everyone in the industry has seen the evolution and we are now limiting contests at our end too.”
Rajiv also highlighted the fact that at their end the agency is keeping contests as a last option and they are vouching for content over contests. “We are looking to give users real value rather than just simple incentives. Incentives should be given with a realizable goal,” added Rajiv.
The fact that most of the social media contests lack a realizable goal is the genesis of all problems. “Contests should be part of a brand’s communication plan, it should add some value to the target audience but that is being overlooked by most of them,” shared Anant.
When initiatives are carried out without any objective then it is bound to have ramifications and that is what is happening now – angry fans who are not receiving gifts are maligning the brand’s online reputation. Fans are expressing their anger on how the prizes are being given to some fake fans or not being delivered at all. There have been incidents when brands have not given prizes of the last contest and are busy running a new one. Imagine the negative comments the brand has invited due to lack of planning. One can’t blame the fans always for intentionally abusing the brand.
Anant is of the opinion that even though the social media is still a new medium, existing laws of advertising should be used for such cases. “I think that there should be industry bodies that should be formed that look up into such issues,” suggested Anant.
But there is another side to the same story that most of the times the hounding is done by the so called contest players and at times I have seen contests being rigged by fans.
“We have noticed that on an average if 500 people are involved in a contest, then 300 are the same audience that plays every contest. It is pretty much the same people and that doesn’t really help a brand,” highlighted Ekalavya while citing the reason why regular people avoid such contests since the odds of winning are less. Rajiv also makes a point that today users are smart and there have been incidents when leader dashboards of an app have been rigged.
However if you were to ask any contest winner then she would surely add that the brand/agency is trying to push away the ball from its court by saying this.
For me, it is just a vicious circle that has no ending. As stated by Ekalavya, social media contests will see new heights after TV integrating with Twitter, giving rise to more blame games. It would be tough to point fingers at one party in the vicious circle of brands, agencies and contest players.
Hoping the industry matures and provides relevant experiences to its fans rather than material gratifications.