02/25/2013 02:56 pm ET Updated Apr 27, 2013

Don't Get Clowned, Be Generous

Maybe this is merely a pet peeve of mine, or maybe it is part of a larger problem in social media marketing, but seemingly everywhere you look online, a brand is running a lowest common denominator contest via Facebook or Twitter where "liking," retweeting, or following is a prerequisite to enter the contest. It is the if-you-do-this-then-we-might-give-you-that notion that irks me because of brands' knowing or unknowing lack of generosity. Why can't something be given away without a person doing something to benefit the brand first?

Perhaps it is because brands are looking to increase the wrong metrics. Rather than increasing the number of memorable moments a brand has with fans online, brands are fixated with counting the image metrics of followers, likes and retweets, which are still terrific to measure, so long as they increase organically. How a brand increases its online presence is often overlooked. If a brand is holding a prize you want hostage, you may press "like" or retweet something for them as it is now a prerequisite to freeing the prize; but will you truly like something if this is the manner in which a social media account goes about increasing its presence online? Probably not, so now the brand assumes you like them, when you really feel so-so about them. These accounts will increase their following with contests, but lower the percentage of followers who truly care about the brand with their hostage tactics; this practice is barely a step up from buying fake followers and fans.

So what happens when brands dangle prizes in front of a large audience? The outcome is a situation comprising of few winners and many losers, which is okay if the losers are not in a worse place than they were before they entered the contest; however, the contest losers end up being used for the attention of their online following which the brand would not have had if not for said contest. So now, in a sense, the brand owes the contest losers because they did the brand a favor in return for nothing. The brand itself should provide more value for the fans than the fans provide the brand; somewhere it got switched around.

Brands with the if-you-do-this-then-we-might-give-you-that contests leave themselves vulnerable to being clowned by other generous brands who do not ask for anything in return and just give. If brand X makes people retweet or "like" their page for the chance to win two tickets to a concert, they leave themselves open to looking poorly if and when brand Y comes along and flat out gives the same two tickets away as a thank you for engaging with them, regardless if that particular somebody is an existing fan or follower. Where brand X is hunting, brand Y is farming, and you know how farming is all-the-rage right now, don't you?

So what can a brand do it if wants to run a contest? Mainly, each contest should be more engaging and or entertaining than pressing retweet, follow or "like." A suitable example is Steve Angello's new digital #CatchSteveAngello campaign with MTV's Catfish: The TV Show. To "catfish" is to pretend to be somebody you are not online with the goal of having another person fall in love with you; with that in mind, a website has been set up for contestants to find Steve Angello, who is hiding behind a Facebook profile. The contestant who finds Steve Angello gets to meet him at an event in Miami. Because of its gaming aspect, this contest is both engaging and entertaining, even for those who do not end up finding Mr. Angello, and for that reason it warrants sharing, liking, retweeting and or all the other "please stroke our e-go" (get it?) ways of the Internet, without having to force it.

There are an infinite number of ways brands can add to their following to increase ROI, but those leaving the brand indebted to the fans should be avoided in favor of generous methods.