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What is Vote Farming?


Last week I posted a story about a man who lost a $100,000 contest prize after he was disqualified for “vote farming.”  The ex-winner was a lawyer and he was considering a lawsuit because he felt the contest’s official rules were ambiguous and vague.  He did get the most votes but it seems he didn’t get the right kind of votes.  Here’s what the rules actually said:

“offering prizes or other inducements to members of the public, vote farming, or any other activity that artificially inflates such finalists votes as determined by sponsor in its sole discretion.”

While I was writing my story about the disqualified lawyer I tried to look up the definition of “vote farming” but I apparently there isn’t one.   Seriously.  Wikipedia, the Urban Dictionary and 10 pages of google results turned up nothing.  It seems to be a brand new term that has just started to appear in online contest rules.  Since I’m pretty familiar with the concept behind Vote Farming I thought I’d offer a definition of my own:

Vote Farming:  The practice of earning votes in an online contest by trading votes with friends or strangers who are competing in other online contests.

How Vote Farming Works:  One contestant will post voting instructions and a link to their entry on a “Vote Exchange” website, Facebook page or forum.  A second contestant will vote for that entry.  They will then post a screen shot or a vote number as proof that they voted.  They will also post their own contest link.  The original poster will “Return the Favor” (RTF) and vote for the other person’s entry.  After the swap is complete, each contestant has gained one vote in their respective contest and they have each cast one vote for someone else.  The more votes a person casts, the more votes they gain.

Here’s an example of a “Vote Request” looks like:


I’ve tried Vote Swapping myself and I’ve found it to be a very successful (but time consuming) tactic.  There’s a whole online community of people who win lots of contests thanks to Vote Swapping.  A hardcore Vote Swapper will spend hours and hours and hours voting for other people’s entries and they can earn hundreds of votes a week.  This practice has presumably been dubbed “Vote Farming” because it’s very similar to a tactic known as “Gold Farming.”  Gold Farmers are people who repetitively play Massive Multi-Player Online Role Playing games (like World of Warcraft) just to collect gold or weapons that they can sell to other players for real money.  Selling in-game items for real cash is usually against the rules.  A player can gold farm for themselves but the practice violates the spirit of the game.  And the same thing goes for Vote Farming.  When a contestant gains a ton of votes thanks to vote swapping, they aren’t really doing anything unethical.  All of their votes are coming from real people so it’s hard to argue that a Vote Farmer is a cheater.  But trading votes goes against the spirit of an online contest.  The technique is kind of like a cheating loophole.  Yes, all the votes are real but they’re junk votes.  Companies use online voting in their contests because they want to generate more traffic or facebook likes.  But a vote from a Vote Swapper is junk traffic.  The Swapper doesn’t pay attention to the content.  They just vote as fast as they can and then move on.

And that’s why a lot of sponsors are now banning Vote Farming.  They can get away with calling it cheating because the contestant is technically offering an “inducement” to get a stranger to vote for their entry.  If you’re in an online contest and you’re thinking of trying Vote Swapping be sure to READ THE RULES before you start.  If the rules say that you can’t trade votes, don’t do it.  I’ve heard several stories about contestants who were disqualified because they got caught posting their entry in a Vote Swapping forum.  So if you’re going to swap, swap with caution.


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One Response to “What is Vote Farming?”

  1. I think any online video contest that relies on votes rather than on the concept, quality, and production of the video is a colossal waste of time. I agree that vote swapping creates “junk votes.” But in reality, the vast majority of votes in any contest end up being “junk votes.” Even if I happen to have 20,000 very close friends and relatives who are willing to help me out by voting with no expectation of anything in return, their votes, as far as the sponsoring company are concerned, are still junk. They are voting for ME, not for the product or service or sponsoring company.

    If companies who want to use video contests would focus more on getting quality submissions than on some mythical added social media value that supposedly comes from getting their participants to spend countless hours begging for votes, they might actually get what all advertisers want: more sales. The reason companies spend bazzillions of dollars creating (hopefully) memorable ads is not so everyone you know will “like” them on Facebook, it’s so everyone will buy their stuff. People buy stuff they recognize and have some emotional connection with, not something they mindlessly “liked” because their friend they’ve know since third grade sent out an email blast to everyone they know begging for their vote.

    It’s a little bit like giving a small child a present for their birthday, and they get so enamored with the wrapping paper and the box the toy came in, that they forget about playing with the toy and spend all their time playing in the box.

    It’s amazing to me that more companies don’t follow the lead of the undisputed reigning champion of video contests, Doritos. Think of the brilliance of their strategy: Create a broadcast-ready :30 TV spot for their product and make it fun and memorable. Do they get a lot of crap that isn’t broadcast-ready? Yes. Do they get a lot of unfunny and inappropriate content, as well? Yes. But from the THOUSANDS of submissions they receive, there are always a few dozen real contenders from which THEY choose what best represents their brand and which THEY feel best target their demographic. They pick five or six finalists and hand out some pretty healthy cash prizes (which are still pretty small potatoes in their world), and then they allow voting to narrow the herd to the three or four they will show in the Super Bowl. But even then, they reserve the right to air whatever they want, so the voting means almost nothing.

    Additionally, that contest creates out-of-this-world publicity because everyone is focused on producing the BEST commercial, not the MOST POPULAR commercial. And because product placement is such an integral part of the commercials, they also see an enormous spike in the sale of Doritos for a number of months, as people who ordinarily wouldn’t buy Doritos buy dozens of bags for their productions! And, once people create their spots and upload them, they tell all their friends about it on Facebook anyway, even with no requirement to gather votes.

    Most online video contests will receive anywhere from a few dozen to a few hundred entries; Doritos consistently gets thousands, all without muddying the creative waters by turning producers into vote-seeking zombies. Please, take a page from a contest that works and forget about all voting baloney. Doritos is the gold standard of video contests. Social media buzz that happens organically because something is worth sharing is worth its weight in gold. Artificially creating buzz about videos that no one cares about is the virtual equivalent of alchemy, a false science that requires a bit of magic but ultimately disappoints, leaving you with the same worthless lump of lead you started with.

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