Rewards, Bribes, and Prizes

Mindy Kaling, in her smart and funny book Is Everyone Hanging Out without Me (and Other Concerns), writes about an approach from a bakery manager.

“We know you’re on Twitter,” the woman said to her, “and if you’re willing to tweet about loving Sunshine Cupcakes, this cupcake is free.”

You should read the book to get the whole story, of course, but I think we can all see that while offering a bribe might be offensive, offering a very small bribe is doubly offensive.

It happens that I’ve spoken twice this week with clients who are thinking of getting their staff in on their digital marketing plans, and in both cases the question of rewards arose. And of course contests and prizes are legion on the internet.

I thought it would be good to distinguish the three.

Bribes are dangerous.

  • Too small a bribe and you run the risk of offending; too large a bribe and you will look very bad when the news comes out. Tip: the news will come out. Just one announcement that you got your great reviews through bribes can undo all the hard work you put in to be worthy of great reviews.
  • Bribing people to do things they would have done anyway can destroy the relationship, and it can also make them less willing to do that thing for free. Fans who happily shared how much they love your product will stop doing so if they get the sense that some other fans get paid for it.
  • Unless you happen to be working in a situation in which bribes are the norm, a willingness to bribe people to review your product or to mention it in social media implies that you don’t think your product is good enough to get that attention without bribery. Everyone who hears that you’ve done this will think less of your brand.

Now, you may not immediately see the difference between a bribe and a reward, but the difference when it comes to digital marketing is huge. “Tweet about how much you like our cupcakes and I’ll give you one” is a bribe. “I’m so happy that you like our cupcakes and tweet about them that I’m sending you this gift card” is a reward. The difference when it comes to asking staff to do something may be less clear. After all, offering gift cards for everyone who gets customers to write honest reviews is going to work best if people know about the reward ahead of time. Keeping it small, fun, and completely above board is key.

Ideally, your staff are not calling their customers in direct trade for that Starbucks card, but instead are doing it for the good of the company, the recognition, and the bragging rights. They can buy their own Starbucks cards.

Research suggests that consumers respond very well to rewards. Being singled out by a company in any way can be very rewarding for a fan. Studies have found that consumers greatly overestimate the value of a free product. And in today’s time crunched world, inviting a blogger to your company for a tour or making a phone call to a reviewer can signal that you value him or her.

Prizes are larger rewards that come about in the highly rule-governed setting of a contest or sweepstakes. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Contests can bring in people who wouldn’t otherwise visit your website or social media page. They can build your number of likes and follows, increase traffic, and add fun. Realistically, people who come to win an iPad are less likely to be interested in your product that people who come to find information about the product. However, you can get great exposure from a contest. If you have a little-known new product or an impulse buy with very broad appeal, the exposure can be worth the trouble.
  • A contest can also get you data. If everyone who enters has to give you an email address, and you manage to tap into your target market, it can be a great way to grow your email list. If the prize is something your company offers as opposed to cash or an iPad, you will limit your entrants to people who are interested in what you have to offer. This can be an excellent way to bring people into the top of the funnel.
  • A contest among your workforce can bring out the competitive streak and get better results by upping the fun quotient. Ongoing contests, either with significant prizes or with intangible prizes that keep the focus on bragging rights (the closest row of parking places, for example), can be very effective.

Make sure, with any of these options, that you don’t inadvertently break laws or leave yourself open for other consequences. Paying for reviews, for example, can have very serious consequences. Breaking social media site’s rules about contests can get you banned.

A sample provided for review is not a bribe, a reward, or a prize. You’re asking the reviewer for feedback which you expect to find useful; it would be unreasonable to expect them to buy the product in order to do you this favor. If you send out samples, it’s customary to acknowledge that the reviewer is not obligated to review the item and that you only want honest reviews. Including that language in your email or packing slip protects you and the reviewer.

 


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