Social media sites are becoming increasingly popular for marketing a company’s goods or services. Facebook is commonly used to promote sweepstakes and contests intended to attract new customers and increase “likes.”  However, if a contest contains a popularity feature, such as a photo contest where the public can vote on which image they prefer, it is ripe to be overrun by fraudulent votes.

There are numerous businesses organized to deliver votes or “likes” for a fee to participants in such contests, even though Facebook prohibits such practices.  These companies create thousands of fake Facebook profiles and sell their votes for small amounts.  In addition, there are “vote exchanges” operating on Facebook where participants offer to vote for each other’s entries in contests.

A contest that attracts a large number of fraudulent votes is not accomplishing the company’s goal of obtaining actual new customers and is likely to anger legitimate customers who are playing fair.  Although contest rules often prohibit the use of “bots” and fraudulent activity in general, they do not usually contain specific prohibitions of vote or “like” buying or vote/like exchanges.  Detecting the fraudulent activity can be time-consuming and hit-or-miss.  There may even be entrants who are buying votes for their competitors, hoping that the company will detect those votes and disqualify the competitor!

Running a contest where the company rather than the public chooses the winner(s), using voting criteria for the judging that are specified in the contest rules, is more likely to attract legitimate customers for the company’s goods or services and legitimate fans for its Facebook or other social media pages than a straight popularity contest.  The judging criteria can be as simple as the quality of the submission and creative use of the company’s product.  Low monetary value prizes will also discourage entrants from paying for votes.  The lower the prize, the less the entrant will be willing to pay to buy votes.