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.)
As 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?
- It Will Be Fun, They Said. They Were Wrong.
- Running an Ethical Social Media Contest
- In the Interest of Full Disclosure :: #HealthKwest 2014
- Health Kwest: A Major, Inexcusable Embarrassment for Genghis Grill, by Pearson Hurst
- “Health” Kwest: Results Not Typical #HealthKwest, by Kourosh Zakeri
- Extreme and Unhealthy Measures in #HealthKwest 2014, by a 2014 Health Kwest Participant [Name Redacted]
Two months ago, I thought it would be a lot of fun to participate in the Genghis Grill Health Kwest. I had the chance to win $10,000, and I got a gift card worth one free stir-fry bowl a day from the restaurant. It seemed like it would be a fun way to lose some weight and use my social media skills.
I have chosen to withdraw myself from the 2014 Health Kwest due to concerns I have with Genghis Grill’s ethics in the management of the contest. I have also removed the HealthKwest-related posts from this blog. Some concerns I have are as follows:
- not informing contestants about our (and their) obligation to disclose that GG provided free meals for us in exchange for our posts in social media
- going against terms of service for multiple social media platforms (such as requiring us to post something on our personal Facebook profiles)
- not providing objective criteria for judging the mini-contests (worth $300-$500) ahead of time
- changing some of the orders/challenges the day that they are due (such as Sunday’s order that had been to record a video in a grocery store, and was changed on Sunday to something different)
- recommending that we could “stage” photos of ourselves “enjoying” a specific beverage to post in social media
- requiring a Yelp review (again, with no disclosure that we received free food)
I have addressed these concerns with two people involved in the management of the contest, to no avail. (UPDATE 4-2-2014: I have heard back from the Chief Marketing Officer. He has yet to address any specific concerns, but he did write to me.)
- The contest rules state that no additional purchase is needed to enter or win. However, several of the challenges/orders required contestants to purchase something from Genghis Grill or elsewhere (including Skinny Drinks, Red Diamond iced tea and Vitamin Water).
- The contest rules state that 1,000 points are possible for weight loss, and 1,000 points are possible for social media. However, the top 30 contestants as of April 1 all have more than 2,000 points earned, and the contest isn’t over yet. How were these extra points earned? There has been no explanation.
- The contest rules state that “each Genghis Grill bowl has an Approximate Retail Value of $599.” If this is the case, then the Health Kwest gift cards given to the contestants should be worth $599 x 61 (days) or $36,539.
What would an ethical public relations researcher do?
In Monday’s PR Research class, we are discussing ethical concerns in public relations research. These slides will accompany our discussion.
In the Wednesday, February 4, PRCA 2330 class, we’ll be discussing ethics and professionalism in public relations.
(Note: Information in this class presentation was gleaned from various sources, primarily the textbook for the Introduction to Public Relations course, Public Relations: Strategies & Tactics.)
Something that has intrigued the students in the past was this image. What do you see here?
Now tilt your head to the right . . . do you see anything different?
As I promised my students in my Corporate PR class at Georgia Southern University, here are the slides that I’m using in class for August 25, along with two YouTube clips we’ll view.
FEMA “Press Conference”
Cell Phones Can Pop Popcorn?