ACT ETHICALLYAs many of my readers may recall, I was a participant in a social media contest earlier this year that went horribly wrong, in oh-so-many ways. In fact, it went so poorly that the company didn’t even publicize the results of the contest in its own social media channels (though it did issue a standard news release). I found myself frustrated when my repeated attempts to provide helpful advice to the contest sponsor were dismissed. And I learned a LOT from this experience that may help your organization should you desire to plan a contest in social media.

So what I have for you here are six things I learned during that catastrophe about running an ethical contest in social media. Following these guidelines may help turning your brand ambassadors into your “assadors,” as one of my Facebook friends called them.

NOTE: I am not a lawyer, nor am I giving legal advice. I am just sharing my understanding of the guidelines.


Learn, understand and apply the disclosure guidelines that the Federal Trade Commission has published. As the FTC says, “If there’s a connection between the endorser and the marketer of the product that would affect how people evaluate the endorsement, it should be disclosed.” Put simply, if you are incentivizing people to mention your company online (by providing them with something free OR having them mention something specific to enter a contest of yours), they need to say so. And it’s up to YOU to be sure they do.

The FTC provides a handy, dandy mnemonic to help:

  • Mandate disclosure from your contestants. (See my post “In the Interest of Full Disclosure” for more on this.)
  • Make sure your own staff knows the rules, and
  • Monitor the contestants, to be sure they are following the guidelines.


Don’t ask or require participants to “stage” something as a way of endorsing your product or company. Doing so is creating false advertising.


Know and follow the terms of service for the social media platforms you are using in your contest.

Did you know . . .

  • businesses should not ask for reviews or endorsements on Yelp?
  • if you’re having participants create a video to post on YouTube, you must provide clear judging criteria, and you must not use video views or video likes to conduct the contest?
  • requiring participants to post something on their personal  timelines to enter a contest violates Facebook’s terms of service?
  • you can’t use Facebook Likes or Shares as a voting mechanism?
  • you should not ask contestants to tweet something multiple times for multiple entries, or the contestant risks being  suspended for Twitter spam?
  • and for more examples, see Social Media Promotion Law: Contests and Sweepstakes.


Follow your own contest rules and guidelines to the letter. Varying from them will cause frustration among the participants at a minimum, and a run-in with the FTC or state for more egregious errors.

  • If you are asking contestants to create a 30- to 45-second video, then award points only to those whose videos are within these parameters. No exceptions.
  • If you have in your contest rules that “no additional purchase is necessary,” do not require contestants to purchase specific items for photos they must post.
  • If you provide a calendar of social media posts that your participants must publish on specific days, use that calendar; do not make last-minute changes. (In the contest I participated in, this happened more than once. One of the days, the participants were supposed to create a specific video to post on YouTube. Videos take time to shoot and edit. The day the assignment was due, the contest manager changed the assignment to something totally different . . . and never had the video used at all as an entry. This caused much frustration among the participants, as you might imagine.)


Provide objective criteria for judging entries, especially when the entries will be judged by a panel chosen by your organization. Having your panel vote for which entry they “like best” doesn’t cut it.

As a professor, I tend to use rubrics to grade assignments. (A rubric states what the criteria are and how many points can be earned by fulfilling the requirements.) A rubric would be helpful for participants in contests, as well.


Be available to answer questions from your contestants. Have one place the contestants can come to for official answers from your organization. Ideally, this would be a place on your own platform, rather than an informal Facebook group, for example.

Availability is especially important if you are running a lengthy, multi-part contest. Establish and maintain an expected turn-around time for answers. For example, if someone submits a question, respond within 24 hours.

Remember, in the absence of official communication, the contestants are left to speculate about the answers to their questions.


That said, what other recommendations do you have for making sure your organization’s social media contest is run in an ethical (and legal!) manner?







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A Quick Review of Re.Vu for Interactive Resumes

On June 24, 2014, in job search, by Barbara Nixon

As I prepare to move from Northwest Arkansas to Northeast Wisconsin, I thought it was time to be sure LinkedIn and my resume were up to date. I ran across a new (to me) service called Re.Vu, one that advertises itself as a place to create a resume that’s “dynamic, interactive and visual.” So I gave it a try. All in all, I’d give it a solid B.

6-24-2014 12-51-51 PM has several sections for your interactive resume, and you can choose which to display and which to hide. The sections include:

  • Personal Data: basic information
  • Timeline: for your experience
  • Infographics: up to six tiles you can include with a number (no punctuation) and a few words, along with a few graphs and charts
  • Portfolio: images that the reader can scroll through
  • Education: degree or certification, school and year
  • Work Examples: samples of things you have created

When I got started, Re.Vu asked me if I’d like to connect to my LinkedIn profile to import some of the work experience. I was less than thrilled with what it imported, however. It only captured my most recent experience. That was nice, but I still had to hand-enter all my previous experience. I probably wouldn’t have minded the data entry at all if I hadn’t been asked if I’d like information imported.

6-24-2014 11-32-41 AM

Fleshing out the interactive resume is straightforward. There are prompts on the screen throughout the process. And you can see your work in progress as you go.

My favorite part of the resume is the timeline, where your reader can scroll through your experience. The company name and your title are linked to a popup for the details.

6-24-2014 11-25-32 AM

Another feature I like is the ability to see some (very) basic analytics, including how many views the page has and how long the average visit to the page is. I just added my resume yesterday, so there isn’t much to see on this page . . . yet.

6-24-2014 12-58-18 PM

The biggest detractor from Re.Vu is that the site does not have responsive design. My resume that looks fairly attractive on a computer looks significantly less attractive on a mobile device, and the numbers from the infographics are missing their final digits in some cases.



If I could make one change to, it would be the ability for embed my interactive resume into my blog (or elsewhere), somewhat like I can with Storify.

Have you tried If so, what are your thoughts on it, both from the applicant and the interviewer perspective?


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Four: A Tribute to My Son Kyle Nixon

On June 11, 2014, in grief, by Barbara Nixon

[Today is my oldest son Kyle's 25th birthday. This post is a tribute to Kyle's life.]

The Nixon kiddos acting goofy (as usual) at the Biloxi Aquarium.

The Nixon kiddos acting goofy (as usual) at the Biloxi Aquarium in 2004.

“How many children do you have?”

Such a simple question to start a conversation. Or is it? In the past (almost) three years, that seemingly simple question has caused me to fight back tears as I determine how to answer it. Do I say “three” or “four”? You see, in 2011, early in the morning of September 29th, our oldest son died unexpectedly.

My husband Kevin was out of town on a business trip. I woke up that morning and saw more than 20 missed calls and texts on my cellphone, which I left on Silent overnight.

My heart sank.

I listened to the one lone voice mail, which was from East Alabama Medical Center asking me to call immediately. A million things rushed through my mind in that instant, but I knew whatever it was had to do our son Kyle, a graduating senior at Auburn University.

I sank into the footstool of my favorite chair in the living room and called the hospital back, not really knowing what I was about to learn, yet fearing the worst. Upon finally reaching the nurse who had called me, she said that my husband was on the phone with “the doctor” and that Kevin would call me back after he their conversation was done. I swear I didn’t move a muscle until I saw Kevin’s face show up on the caller ID on my phone.

“Hey. It’s about Kyle. He had a seizure. He didn’t make it.”

I was stunned; Kyle was a healthy 22-year-old college senior. I have no idea what I said back to Kevin or how long we talked, but I do know he told me he’d leave Miami immediately and drive back to our home in Lakeland, FL, about three hours away.

How long I sat on the edge of my green footstool, I have no clue. But then the bible verse of the day app on my phone messaged me with Proverbs 3:5-6.


I found out later that Kevin had read that same verse just moments before calling the hospital.  We’ll come back to those verses in a moment.

The next 24 hours were a total blur. Telling Kyle’s sister and brothers what had happened, given the limited knowledge about HOW he died, was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my entire life. But I knew I had to tell them right away — without Kevin’s help, before they found out via social media or a well-meaning call or text from one of Kyle’s friends.

One thing that Sam said to me echoes in my head almost every day. “I don’t even remember the last time I talked to him.”

Kevin and I made all the requisite calls to family right away, often asking someone to share the message with others. These calls were so hard to make, trying to console family members while we were so deep in our own pain.

Then I put a message on my Facebook wall


Hundreds of messages of support through Facebook, phone calls and texts (and a few unexpected and welcomed face-to-face visits) helped me through these next hours.

A week or so after he died, we drove to Auburn for Kyle’s memorial service. I sat in the back seat and wrote. A lot. And I’ve spent time writing during many sleepless nights; I don’t want to forget a thing about my life with Kyle in it.

So this flood of memories led me to think about what I’ve learned through this experience:

  1. If you’re a parent, be sure to get to know the friends of your children, whatever their age. Kyle’s friends have been a constant support for me during this last year.
  2. Social media rocks. It really does. I can’t imagine how I would have gotten through these long months without being able to connect with friends that I know in real life, and those I don’t, immediately.
  3. Become an organ donor. I was amazed at how many people will have their lives changed because Kyle chose to be an organ donor. We learned that it’s 75 or more.
  4. If you have younger brothers or sisters, KEEP IN TOUCH WITH THEM. (I wrote this in all caps because I was really yelling.) The hardest thing for me right now is hearing Kyle’s brothers and sister say “I can’t remember the last time I talked to him.” It is tearing me up inside. I know that college is a time to become independent. But that doesn’t mean that you have to totally break free from your family except for the occasional texts asking for a deposit on your debit card or updates on the football game.
  5. Proverbs 3:5-6 is now a bible verse that I meditate on daily. We must trust God. It’s not up to us when one of us is called to Heaven. God chooses on His own time. And I pray that at some point I understand why He chose now to be Kyle’s time.

Getting back to how I answer the “how many children do you have?” question.

Image Credit: "Four" by Nicolas Vigier

Image Credit: “Four” by Nicolas Vigier

I have four children.



Using the words of The Gipper, I say to Genghis Grill, “There you go again.

Image Credit: Created by Jack LeBlond (

Image Credit: Created by Jack LeBlond (

I wish I was surprised that the company still holding improper contests. But after my experiences in its “Health” Kwest, I am not surprised at all.

Here’s the latest, a photo contest on Instagram using the hashtag #GGDad. Seems innocuous enough, right?



So what’s wrong with this “most likes on this photo” contest? Let’s start with where the contest violates Instagram’s own Promotion Guidelines.

  • The official rules are nowhere to be found on Instagram (via a link) or on the Genghis Grill website.
  • The offer terms and eligibility are nowhere to be found on Instagram (via a link) or on the Genghis Grill website.
  • The promotion does not include a “complete release of Instagram by each entrant or participant.”
  • Nor does the promotion include an “acknowledgement that the promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Instagram.”

In addition, Genghis Grill (again) does not include guidelines for how contestants should disclose that their photos are hashtagged for a contest. When Cole Haan did something similar in March 2014, the FTC issued a closing letter (a type of warning) to the company.


So what am I doing, other than sharing the information via this blog post? I’ve reported the company’s contest to Instagram and to the FTC. I would have also contacted the company directly, but the last two times I did, it apparently didn’t matter.

It really isn’t that difficult for a social media manager to learn the guidelines for contests, is it?

Please, if you are holding a contest using social media, take the time to learn how to do it ethically.







(NOTE to PR Professors: Feel free to use this Instagram contest as an example in your classes.)

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Preparing for Your New Employee

On May 21, 2014, in New Employee, by Barbara Nixon
Image Credit: "Feedback Checklist" by AJ Cann

Image Credit: “Feedback Checklist” by AJ Cann

My most recent project is working on a new employee onboarding plan for my company. Could I please get your input on this?

I’ve included all the usual suspects in the plan, such as

  • filling out HR paperwork
  • setting up computer/phone
  • expectation exchange with leader
  • drive-by introductions around the office
  • department- or role-specific training

And I’ve included some of the not-so-usual suspects, such as

  • leader sends out welcome email so all employees know a little about the new person
  • reminder to update LinkedIn and connect with new colleagues there
  • add recurring meetings to calendar
  • lunch with (different) co-workers several times in first two weeks
  • overview of how each department contributes to company success

What would you want on YOUR plan as a new employee? Or, put differently, what do you think should have been on your orientation plan when you started at your most recent company, but wasn’t there?



Tattoo Regret? Not Me.

On May 20, 2014, in tattoos, by Barbara Nixon

huffpost liveI had a nice surprise email this morning . . . the HuffPost Live wanted to interview me (again) about tattoos (again). This interview was sparked by Jill Abramson choosing to  keep her New York Times “T” tattoo, even though she was unceremoniously fired from the paper last week.

Josh Zepps, the host, asked me why I decided to wait until “later in life” to get my first tattoo. Again, ouch! Oh well.

In the interview, I shared my advice for Jill Abramson, as well as talking about my own tattoos and why I do not regret them.


Barbara's TattoosYesterday afternoon, I was excited to see that HuffPost Live wanted to interview me. I thought it would probably be about my experiences in the Genghis Grill Health Kwest debacle, since that story had just been featured on PR Daily, but no . . . the producer wanted to know if I had thoughts to share on getting a tattoo “later in life.”

Later in life? Ouch. Yes, I know I am 50 years old (or a half-century, as I was reminded by one of my kiddos). But I still barely think of myself as being middle-aged,  and being middle-aged is way younger than “later in life,” isn’t it?

Anyhow . . .

Here’s the advice I shared for anyone, regardless of age, who is considering getting a tattoo:

  1. Think long and hard about what you want, because your tattoo should be meaningful to you. It took me several years to decide what my first tattoo would be; I decided on the Borneo Rose that you see in the upper left photo. It very closely resembles a doodle I’d been making for most of my life. Once I got the first one, I couldn’t wait for the second. My oldest son Kyle helped me find and tweak the design of my Wizard of Oz tattoo, which I have on my right leg. And the third tattoo is the most meaningful of all; it’s a memorial tattoo for Kyle, who passed away unexpectedly in 2011 as a graduating senior at Auburn University. Kyle had a cross tattoo on his arm, and my husband, middle son James and I all decided to get memorial tattoos in his memory. Every day when I see this Celtic cross, I can physically feel Kyle’s hand on my arm comforting me.
  2. Work with an artist whose work you have seen in person and that you trust. Each of my tattoos are done by different artists in different states; I got recommendations from people I knew.
  3. Get a temporary tattoo of your design before getting it permanently inked on your body. Still unsure if you really want a tattoo? Or know you want one, but can’t decide on size or location? Mock up your design and print it with your inkjet printer on temporary tattoo paper. Try it out in different sizes and locations before you make a final decision.
  4. And place your tattoo so you can choose who sees it. Where you place your tattoo is totally up to you. But for me, I needed to be sure that I could either show or cover my tattoos, depending on who I am with or the situation I am in.

The 20-minute video from HuffPost Live is below; my part of the video starts about 5:50 in and lasts for about 5 minutes:


What advice would YOU give people who are considering their first tattoos?


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Image Credit: "Rock Stacking" by Chris Geatch

Image Credit: “Rock Stacking” by Chris Geatch

Summer is near, and so is the season of internships. This post is primarily for my student readers. (I’ll have another post next week for those who are supervising or working with interns.) Here are 10 easy steps for rocking your internship.

  1. Learn names. I know the first few days are overwhelming with all the people you will likely meet. Ask if there’s an org chart with photos (some companies have them — they’re a great help). Write down names as soon as you can, along with something about what the person does and how you may be working with him or her. Greet people by name the next time you see them. And if you forget a name, just ask the person for a reminder — the sooner the better.
  2. Be on time. Always. And find out what “on time” means at your new organization. For some, a 10:00 meeting means that people should walk in the door at 10:00. For others, it means arrive before then, and be ready to jump into the first agenda item at 10:00.
  3. Dress the part. For the first week or so, take note of how others dress in your office, and dress similarly if possible. Ask your supervisor about attire, when in doubt. And it never hurts to dress a little more professionally than the norm, especially if your role is client-facing.
  4. Ask questions. You aren’t expected to know how to do everything on Day One.
  5. Recap every meeting. Takes notes and be sure you know what action items from the meeting have been assigned to you.
  6. Avoid personal use of social media on the job. Focus your time and efforts on your employer, and save personal use of social media for breaks and lunchtime. And if your internship requires you to interact in social media, be sure to post from the correct account. (There are numerous examples of people accidentally tweeting, etc., from their own accounts. Trust me.)
  7. Don’t complain, especially publicly. Internships (and jobs) are not all sunshine, roses and unicorns. Do what you’re asked (within reason) with a smile on your face and a positive attitude. If things aren’t going well, discuss it with your supervisor. Don’t take it to social media, even with vague complaints; it may come back to haunt you.
  8. Save copies of your work. Unless your employer specifically prohibits it, save as much as you can of the content you produce. You may need to share copies to earn credit for your internship.
  9. Keep in touch with faculty. Even if it’s not required, send periodic updates of your internship with relevant faculty members at your university. They really want you to succeed, and most are willing to offer help or advice when you need it.
  10. Leave an impression. Recap the body of your work and share it with your supervisor and any co-workers who might benefit from it. Let them know how to reach you once the internship is over. Connect with them on LinkedIn. (You are on LinkedIn, right? And your profile is updated, including the internship, right?) Keep those bridges clean, clear and unburned.

What other tips would you offer?


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Spin Sucks Puts an End to Destructive Spin

On April 11, 2014, in public relations, by Eden Spodek

Today’s post comes from guest blogger Eden Spodek. This post originally appeared on Eden’s blog.

“The tools today are different, but the premise remains the same. Lie or spin the truth, and you will be found out. People will take you to task.”

 – Gini Dietrich


Spin Sucks puts and end to destructive spin

I’ve known Gini for several years, am a loyal reader of her award-winning Spin Sucks blog and a regular listener of Inside PR, the podcast she co-hosts with Martin Waxmanand Joseph Thornley. I’ve watched her implement some relatively simple tactics – such as her take on the #Follow Friday memelivefyre Q&As and, Gin and Topics – that can only be described as part of her brilliant marketing strategy. All the while, she’s constantly sharing her “secret sauce” to digital communications and reputation management… for free! If we only only knew about how she applies her knowledge to her client work, well now we can, sort of – stick with this and you’ll see.

Gini has an amazing ability to make everyone feel welcome while spreading her hospitality and enthusiasm across the social web. She’s built an active community where members have developed friendships extending beyond the borders of Spin Sucks (the Blog). If I didn’t know better, I’d think her blog was her full-time job. But I do. She helms a successful integrated marketing communication agency and among other things, is a sought after public speaker who has given the keynote address at conferences in Canada, the United States and Europe. When she put out a call looking for Spin Sucks Brand Ambassadors, I jumped at the chance to get involved and get an advance copy of Spin Sucks (the Book). That in itself was reward enough. Little did I know how much I’d enjoy being part of a wonderful subset of the Spin Sucks’ community.

Spin Sucks puts and end to destructive spin

I’ve learned a lot from Gini. Not only from what she shares in her blog posts but also by watching what she does, how she does it and learning some of the thought processes behind her work through her public speaking engagements. I’m also a digital communications strategist who works and teaches in the online space and espouses the gospel of transparency, disclosure and anti-spin on a daily basis. So, much of what’s written in Spin Sucks the book was familiar yet, there were still several actionable tips I learned.

If you’re looking for a quick fix or a magic bullet to help market your business online, you’re not going to find it here. However, if you’re willing to invest the time and follow Gini Dietrich’s secret sauce over the long haul, Spin Sucks: Communication and Reputation Management in the Digital Age is a must-read.

“Your competitors know the exact recipe to your secret sauce, but no one does it as well as you do. It’s your secret sauce. It was created with your people, your thinking, your culture, your passion, and your vision.”


Gini brings her personal voice and tone to Spin Sucks the book, the same as her blog readers have come to know and love. She’s up front about telling you who the book isn’t for – several times throughout the book, in fact – all the while reminding those who stick with her that this journey is a “marathon and not a sprint”. Gini uses current examples to illustrate her points, including some case studies from her own client experience. This is more than theory folks; her secret sauce is based on actionable items she’s implemented and measured! In each section, Gini starts with the “what” then uses examples to explain the “why”. Unlike many business books, she also includes the “how-to’s” right down to the tactical, technical details in an easy-to-follow manner. Some things, like Google algorithms may change – remember this is the web and social media we’re talking about – but the importance of good writing, using common sense, being transparent, disclosing relationships and saying “I’m sorry” don’t.

If you’re new to Spin Sucks, you don’t need to be a PR agency or big business in order to appreciate and follow Gini’s approach. In fact, it’s designed with small-to-medium businesses in mind and can be applied to any industry.

If you’re like me, even though you’ve read the blog regularly, you may appreciate having a single reference document with additional information and insights you won’t find online. Spin Sucks: Communication and Reputation Management in the Digital Age is short and easy-to-read but it makes you think. Plan to give yourself time to absorb the message and put the approach into practice.

Disclosure: Although I’ve purchased copies of Spin Sucks: Communication and Reputation Management in the Digital Age, I was given a review copy. Gini Dietrich has been a regular guest speaker for the Foundations in Digital Strategy and Communications Management Certificate program at U of T School of Continuing Studies where I’m a curriculum developer and instructor. I consult with one of the companies referenced in the book and the sock monkey is from Parkdale Novelty, a client.

What I’m reading…

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