…to get 250 votes?
I spotted this contest as an ad on Facebook in June and decided to go ahead and go for it. Someone has to win $250k, right? And you can’t win if you don’t play along. All you have to do is sign in with your Facebook account, fill out a little form and then send out a notice or two to your network.
I have hundreds of friends on Facebook, thousands of subscribers to this blog, thousands of followers on Twitter. This should have been a piece of cake to get 250 votes. I really only needed about 10% of my audience, in any of the segments, to click that link and vote for me.
It turns out that it was not that simple. In fact it was more like pulling teeth. After two weeks of occasional mentions we still hadn’t even cracked 100 votes. On the last two days of the contest I invested several hours in actively requesting votes.
Vote, then guilt
A process of sorts developed as the contest progressed, as more and more small business people discovered that their audience was apparently not interested in “taking a couple of minutes” to help them reach their goal of 250 votes. So notifications that looked like this started turning up in my mail:
I just voted for your business on Mission: Small Business. I’d appreciate it if you could do the same for my business, XYZ Random Small Business, in Small Town, Massachusetts. We’re a…
There were some variations, but they looked like cut-and-paste jobs for the most part. But you know what, It looked like it was working for them. So, of course I jumped on that bandwagon.Heck, Even Danielle LaPorte got involved, and she was on digital sabbatical!
I spent most of Friday and Saturday mornings voting for people on the MSB site and sharing that link with the recipient on their Facebook page. I even added two small details (see below) that I felt would “sweeten the pot” a little.
By lunchtime on Saturday, the final day of the contest, we had just under 140 votes. My business partner had gotten into the act as well, sharing with her own network and inviting people to participate. We even created an event to draw attention to the vote request and invited over 400 people to attend. It still wasn’t enough.
I’ve gotten this email/Facebook post/tweet a gazillion times in this past week:
I’m sure you have too. Folks, your business is not a lottery. Hoping and wishing for a magic fairy to grant you the chance at $250,000 is not a substitute for a business or marketing strategy.
Think about all the things you’ve done to promote someone else’s business – and make no mistake, you ARE promoting someone else’s business, the bank sponsoring this. (may I remind you that said bank’s CEO is currently testifying in Congress about how badly they’ve gambled and lost)
Think about all of the things you’ve done for them, and then ask yourself this very serious question: why haven’t you done this for yourself?
I like helping people. I do favors for people all the time. I drove a former employee down to Boston to pick up a car once. Sure, she paid for gas, but it was still nearly three hours each way and an hour turn-around time. I’d do it again tomorrow if she needed the help. So I guess that I don’t understand why people wouldn’t respond when I went out asking for a vote on this contest website.
Are they all too busy? So buried in work and chores and errands and children that they can’t take two minutes and click a couple of links? Maybe.
Or maybe they aren’t like me, they don’t get any pleasure from helping others. Maybe, it’s just the opposite, they recoil from the dreaded “favor”, the imposition, the interruption of their carefully constructed day.
Who knows what the answer is? I certainly will never find out, because only one of the 1,000 plus subscribers to this blog ever bothers to comment or reply to my questions. So I will invest some time in thinking about what Christopher said, and about what Seth Godin added to the conversation on Saturday:
There’s nothing wrong with competitions and difficult to achieve goals. Nothing wrong with making it hard to get into Brown or get a Gates Foundation grant. The dangerous mistake is making the organizations (and then their core supporters) think it’s likely, or easy. You end up not only burning the brand of Living Social and Chase (who probably had good intentions) but by extension, hurting the brand and permission relationships of the very organizations you’re trying to help. Peter and the wolf… the villagers aren’t going to come next time.
Pepsi did the same thing with charities last year, and my concern is the same: when you activate your supporters, you need a clear path to victory, not a wild goose chase.
One significant way around this: have the outbound messages of the tribe be about more than the grant. Figure out how putting in the effort to help your local organization actually strengthens ties, instead of weakening them. The pursuit could be even better than the prize if you establish the right groundwork.
This was salt in the wound for me. Two really smart people that I respect and learn from on a regular basis were teaching me an important lesson. And it hurt a little. It’s Monday after the contest as I write this, and I am thinking about what Patricia (my partner in this gig) wrote to me in her post-mortem of our effort:
So we didn’t make it for our raffle shot in the dark. It’s no major skin off my back – this grant was more of a Plan D for accelerating our baby startup, TownCrowd. And it still worked.
Very few people knew about TownCrowd at the start of this because we weren’t ready to even soft launch yet. Still, we aren’t at that point, but now a lot more than just our founding members and principals know about it, and so the campaign turned out to be a great success.
We perfected our elevator pitch, and we gained a lot of support from those closest to us as they learned what sort of pet project we’ve been keeping since the spring. Through this encouragement, we gain vitality, and we gain momentum.
…but we would only ever see it this way if we never considered the grant as the goal. The goal was always to accelerate what we are doing, maximize the potential with limited investment, and in this we were successful.
Because now we know the concept of TownCrowd itself, sells itself. We won’t have to fight for readership. This is something the people will love for the virtue of it alone.
Through all our collaboration and brainstorming, we have created the Philosopher’s Stone of business, at long last.
So even though we won’t get a bottle of champagne to celebrate, we feel no less rich. Thank you for your support – it was a stunning beauty to watch!
Remember the “two little additions” I mentioned earlier? Well, one thing that we did that no one else was doing – we were going to their Facebook pages and “Liking” them. Every single one. Then we asked the people that were coming to us for votes if they would “Like” our business page on Facebook, or our new project, NH TownCrowd. We were able to get some new “Likes” for both pages and, even more importantly, have some dialog with new people in the New Hampshire Small Business community.
“What’s TownCrowd?” they would say, and we would talk about it a little. “Oooh, that sounds really cool!” they would say, “Tell us when you are ready to go.”
“Tell us when you are ready to go.”
“Tell us when you are ready to go.“
Now that is an invitation to connect, a request for more involvement, an opportunity to do some business. It’s not $250,000 but it is a WIN. We were able to create new permission relationships with a new audience. It is a small one for sure, but it is a Tribe of sorts – a Tribe of people that cared enough about their small biz to get involved in this contest and try everything they could to get those votes. And whether or not it worked for them we all learned a couple of things:
1. It was harder than it looked. There are new ideas that we can utilize to make it easier next time.
2. There are people out there that are willing to help and feel good about doing it. And now we know who they are, what they do, and have permission to talk to them about it again in the future.