17 Replies to “Can the Contest Craze Sustain Itself?”

  1. Hey Geoff, you make some interesting points about “contest fatigue” — and I certainly wonder if the shiny media love with “Go for the Prize” won’t oxidize with all the attention. That well may wane, decreasing their marketing appeal as you suggest.

    However, I think the value of contests and prizes, especially crowdsourced ones addressing complex engineering problems and/or social change, is just getting off the mark. Take a look at some of the Open Gov contests being run by Sunlight Labs http://sunlightlabs.com/contests/designforamerica/ . The main reason i think at least this form of contest and incentive-induced prize ( a la Netflix’ $1 Mn Prize or DARPA’s Red Balloon) has legs still is the inherent efficiences: pay only for results and control engineering costs. That’s something that business, non-profits, and government can’t ignore. Wrote more about this in http://offthegrid-pr.com/socially-responsible-pr/2010/4/26/crowdsourcing-open-innovation-fuel-a-prize-driven-economy-pa.html , if interested…

  2. I think the piece I most agree with here is the Game Theory bit.

    You’re not so much rewarding the most-deserving, as you are rewarding those organizations who are best optimized to win the popularity contest.

    It all comes back to Strategy and Goal. What is it you want to achieve?

    – Recognition of good work?
    – Fundraising?
    – Engagement?
    – Replication and Inspiration?

    Often, the rules put in place to decide the winner have nothing to do with advancing the Goal. Another classic instance of Goal and Strategy not meshing. (Never mind Tactics…)

  3. Geoff,

    You’re right. Over time, the contest craze will drop as companies realize that contests work fine among engaged communities and not so much as introductions. Of course, they cannot be overdone either. Too many contests does cause community fatigue.

    But even more than that, you always have to appreciate what contests are. Overall, it puts you in the position where you have to ask your customer to do something for you first. Really, it’s supposed to be the other way around.


  4. Geoff,

    This is such a timely post for me. When I started my own company last year, I decided to mark the “launch” it by donating my time to a nonprofit during December (this was before virtually everyone had created one of these contests!). Without going into too much detail, I created a contest to solicit nominations on my blog, narrowed it down to the top five that I felt I could impact in that short period of time, and took a vote for the final decision. In all, nearly 8,000 votes were collected, and it was successful. So much so, that I decided to make “Geben Gives” an annual event. But, after I read Beth’s post last week, and in thinking about how annoyed I get with this barrage of nonprofit contests, I’ve already decided that I need to revamp the program. You’re absolutely right — contest fatigue is real. And, from a social media standpoint, it goes against the very nature of what nonprofits ought to be doing online. The goal shouldn’t be to see which group can jump up and down and scream “Hey, look at me!” the loudest. :)


  5. Geoff,

    You raise good points here — and ones) — I’ve struggled with. Yet, when contests are structured to bring about innovation, they are extraordinarily powerful and effective — e.g., X Prize, Netflix, etc.

    Additionally, contests like the original Members Project that I helped launch in 2007 (the contest asked for project ideas — not organizations — to make a difference) provided unexpected benefits for even the “losers”; the contest provided national exposure for the project idea and its creator that they could not have achieved on their own without significant financial resources. And, that exposure helped generate supporters and donations to move their ideas forward.

    I don’t think contests are going away in the near future. The question is, how do we help corporations and organizations interested in these contests, develop a better contest?

  6. Geoff, I think you hit the nail on the head with this comment: “There are many losers who expend a tremendous amount of effort that don’t walk away with a dollar, who have exhausted their donor base with solicitations for votes, and who have lost time that could have been spent on mission based activity or fundraising.”

    Contests, in my experience, are a huge time-suck, and though voting is a way for supporters to “give” without contributing monetarily to a cause, the issue of voter fatigue among supporters can’t be underestimated.

    I think one good thing that has come out of “contest fever,” though, is getting a lot of nonprofits engaged in social media who haven’t really been before. Contests are a good exercise in how to mobilize your base and cultivate new supporters. The question is whether the nonprofits who participate can translate the lessons learned into successful non-contest-related social media campaigns. Without one easy action (i.e. voting) to mobilize people around, how can you move your cause forward with a mere 140 characters?

Comments are closed.