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Sandra Grauschopf interview, Part Three: Vote farming, fair play, and how to create the best sweepstakes possible

September 27, 2013
Sandra Grauschopf
Sandra Grauschopf

This week we’ve been talking with Sandra Grauschopf, a freelance writer and sweepstakes expert who manages About.com’s sweepstakes site and its forum for avid “sweepers.” In Part One and Part Two of this interview, Sandra gave us a variety of unique insights on her favorite types of promotions, and the most frequent mistakes she sees companies making in their efforts to market sweepstakes to potential customers.

In our third and final post in this series, Sandra gives us her thoughts on a hot topic in the sweepstakes and contest world — vote farming — and gives us her top tips on how companies can improve their promotions in the future.

My thanks again to Sandra for participating in this Q&A, which has provided a wealth of helpful information for any companies considering sweepstakes or contests as part of their marketing efforts.

What are your thoughts on "vote farming"? In your experience, how widespread is the practice? Do you think sweepstakes and contest sponsors will need to do more in the future to specifically address the use of vote farming?

The problem with "vote farming" is that the term is not well defined, so that what one company considers farming, another considers fair play. Is it widespread? I'd say yes, because companies often encourage entrants to get as many votes as possible. Is vote farming the same as cheating? I don't think so. I think there are some very clear-cut examples of cheating, such as creating multiple Facebook accounts to vote for yourself. Having more than one account violates Facebook's terms and conditions. But what about sending out a request to a huge newsletter list that you happen to run? Is that different than requesting votes on a sweepstakes forum? How?

For that reason, I think it is very important that, when a company asks people to get votes to win, they are very clear about what methods their entrants can use to get those votes. I wish every sponsor would do this right now. It would prevent entrants from breaking rules that they didn't know existed, which wastes their time and creates a bad feeling toward the company sponsoring the sweepstakes.

I also think it's a very good idea to use a mixture of judging and votes to determine winners, instead of relying on votes alone. It's more fair to people who might not have access to a huge number of potential voters, and helps ensure the most worthy entries win. I like the idea of using judges' scores alone to determine the main winner, and offering an extra (perhaps smaller) prize to the entrant with the most votes.

What tips would you offer companies on how to better approach their sweepstakes and contests?

First of all, I'd suggest that companies have a clear idea for what they want to achieve with their giveaways before they start. Are they trying to build their email list? To increase their Facebook followers? To get people to give feedback on a new product? To create user-generated content like recipes or product endorsements? Whatever their goals, they should be quantifiable and tied into the structure of the giveaway. The company can then determine whether the giveaway met their goals, and tweak the next one to be even more successful.

Secondly, if companies are trying to attract a specific audience, they should tailor their prizes to appeal to that demographic. That reduces the amount of unqualified leads they'll get from the giveaway.

Finally, a good sweepstakes is a balancing act between what the sweepstakes sponsor wants to achieve, what the sponsor asks the entrant to give up, and what the sponsor offers in return. When the rules and privacy policy aren't properly formulated, the sponsor is not being upfront about that give and take. Inadequate rules also block entrants from the information they need to make a smart decision about whether or not to trust the sweepstakes.

There should be an element of fair play. A sponsor shouldn't be deluging someone with phone calls at home, or cramming their mailbox full of unwanted marketing materials, just because they entered a giveaway. That will actually damage the entrants' perception of the sponsor, instead of inspiring goodwill in the entrant and making it easier for them to recommend your product or company in the future.  

This post was written by retired Thompson Coburn partner Dale Joerling. If you have any questions about the topics discussed in this post, please contact Thompson Coburn partner Hap Burke.