Vol Court Voting was a Good Idea, But…….

I have a lot of mottos in life, two of which are:

  • Live and learn.
  • If, at first, you don’t succeed, try, try again (and I’m going to add “maybe” here!)

If you followed Fall 2012 Vol Court via the Facebook page, then you know that we did a “first” this year:  we had the judges pick the top two teams, and then we put them up on Facebook so that anyone could select the business idea that they thought should take first vs. second place.  We thought it would be a great way to build visibility for the program and continue to build the entrepreneurial culture on campus, especially since the voting would be right in the middle of Global Entrepreneurship Week. It also forced the contestants to pitch their ideas to potential customers to see if they had a viable business idea (fortunately, all those goals were achieved, but at a price!).

If you followed it, you also know that we had voting challenges and didn’t announce the winner until almost a week after the voting ended (which reminds me of another saying, something about a path to somewhere unpleasant is paved with good intentions!).

The fun started when the videos were posted on Facebook and we instructed people to “like” the video they wanted to win.  Shortly after it was posted, our PR group told us that method violated Facebook rules, so we had to scramble and get our web developer to prepare a “legal” voting application.  They turned it around really fast, but that meant we had to retrieve the list of voters up until that point so that I could eliminate duplicate votes once the app went live.  I thought that elimination would be easy to do once voting was over …. NOT!  (I’ll spare the gory details.)

Voting continued, but then we noticed some abnormal voting patterns as the the contest came to a close.  Sure enough, a huge chunk of very strange votes came in at the end.  There were just too many “consistent inconsistencies” involving email addresses, names, nationalities, posts in several different languages (written exactly the same from profile to profile), and profile abnormalities. The developer’s conclusion was that an Internet “bot” service had been used to generate some votes, which was against the posted rules.  

As a result, an intern and I had to dig into the Facebook profile of almost each and every voter to eliminate the bad votes.  It took a long time to start, but once we knew what we were looking for, it moved pretty quickly (so fast that the Vol Court Facebook account got shut down for two days for “suspicious activity”, so we had to use our own personal Facebook accounts!). We ended up going through every single vote for one of the candidates, and then going through enough votes of the other to be able to declare who won first and who won second (we ended up going through 900 of over 1200 votes).

We don’t know who generated those votes, but it really doesn’t matter — we’re confident with the results, the contestants understand what happened, and all of our goals were achieved (even if the process was very painful!).  But lesson learned:  beware of social media for contests!  We’re just going to have to get creative next year on how we better involve the community in a way that also ensures fairness.

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