The Dangers Of Facebook Sweepstakes And Contests

By Guest Writer 

Promotions can be a great way to build your Facebook community and increase engagement with your fans. They offer incentives for new users to not only interact with your page, but to revisit it. It’s also a great way for new audiences to discover your brand. The reality is, contests and sweepstakes can easily be gamed so that the winner isn’t a brand advocate, but rather, someone who cheated their way to the top.  It’s a scary reality that a lot of brands and agencies fall victim to, most of which don’t even know it.

From all of the brands and agencies we’ve worked with over the years, more than 80 percent of them had an issue in the past with their promotion being gamed. The shame, coupled with fear and bad PR, led them to avoid having these same large promotions in the future, or it led to them limiting the creative ways one can participate in fear of history repeating itself. If a brand or agency says it has never happened to them, it probably hasn’t run a large campaign, or it did and hasn’t realized that it has fallen victim to cheating.

It’s a very real threat not only on the Facebook platform, but in the digital realm in general. It makes it difficult when brands are looking to build trust and loyalty with their audience, and just one failed promotion can undo all that hard work.

At Majestic, we build custom promotions and large-scale campaigns without worrying about cheaters. Why? Because we’ve figured out how to catch and flag them. Professional cheaters increase their chances of winning, either through voting for themselves under aliases, creating scripts, or entering sweepstakes with numerous fake profiles containing accurate contact information. With larger promotions, the efforts by cheaters become more sophisticated where we even see entries and votes from all over the world.

We created an algorithm that weeds out the cheaters, allowing us to focus on creating engaging experiences without the risk of having a PR disaster.   

Our system keeps track of contest entrants and participants from one contest to the next, creating a participant record, and validating whether a user has been previously flagged as a cheater. As part of the system, a diligent anti-cheat mechanism has been established to identify, flag, and verify potential cheaters.

One of our first implementations of our Secure Contest Management System was during the Facebook sweepstakes for Kia Motors, where the grand-prize winner received a brand new 2011 Kia Soul. After only a few weeks, we were able to flag 20 percent of the entrants as cheaters — yes, 20 percent.

What generally happens with these types of contests is that a network of cheaters — or “contest junkies,” as we call them — subscribes to blogs that provide updates on new promotions. When they get these updates, they all flock to the contest, generating a high volume of fake entries. As the contest goes on, that percentage of cheaters lowers dramatically as legitimate entries come in.

We’ve seen a few companies combat this by utilizing Facebook permissions to limit the available activity for that user. That’s a very simple and straightforward solution: You know user X has registered, and they cannot vote for themselves for 24 hours. User X returns in 18 hours, you know who they are, and they still cannot vote for themselves. This solution is standard, but it gets more complex when people have multiple Facebook accounts, or a group of cheaters writes scripts to automatically log in and out of Facebook and register to vote.

We’re currently working on making our algorithm available through an application-programming interface to the public.  But in the meantime, we’d caution you on building a large-scale campaign that has any voting mechanisms required unless you have the right checks and balances in place to combat the reality of cheaters.

Mario Zelaya is the founder and global managing director of Majestic Media, Canada’s first Facebook marketing and technology agency. His extensive experience on the Facebook platform includes building out social strategy, campaign ideation, app architecture, and social design for big brand clients such Volkswagen, Kia, General Motors, Mazda, Gatorade, Hot Wheels, Infiniti, Nissan, Visa, and many Fortune 500 brands. Majestic Media works with global brands and agencies in helping them achieve success through technology and innovative marketing ideas that put social at the core. Follow Mario on Twitter at @zelaya and @majesticmedia.