I am writing today on a topic that is in no way related to my blog… as apparently I do often. This is something that’s been annoying me ever since it started, so here it is: I hate online talent contests.
The premise of these contests is this… Musical and tech savvy people write/cover songs and post them in a video online. A voting round ensues. Votes are calculated by a variety of means… likes on youtube, facebook, the contest page, and such are the more popular ways of calculating votes. Usually, the entries are rounded down by the voting until the winners are chosen. Big prizes, usually including live performances- opening at special events or for well known performers, and sometimes even cash prizes or recording gigs.
Here is why it doesn’t work: You are not, in fact, holding a talent contest. You are holding a popularity and social media skills contest. Do you really think the most talented performer gets the most votes? In most cases, I’d say about 10 – 20 % of your voters are people who are following the contest and voting for their favourite entries. Everybody else? Friends of the people in the contest, or, when it starts to get down and dirty, people from all areas of social media who have been BRIBED to vote. How so?
In the case of the screencap above, voters have been told that a certain popular tumblr user will follow them on tumblr if they vote and post their tumblr name. The list is seriously completely like this. To her credit, there are a thousand other voters who didn’t comment… but I assume they messaged her in some other way.
In another case, I saw a band on facebook ask their fans to vote, promising free album downloads and swag. This was in a contest for singer/songwriters to open for Tyler Ward… The band in question already had their own following and should really have just been booking their own gigs instead of doing the contest. Someone in charge should have put a stop to their entry in the first place.
Now, let me say I have a great respect for a little bit of healthy competition. Competitions with specific judges are Awesome and give performers the opportunity to expand their own abilities and get better in the face of other talented people. One thing you should never do is bring in the masses to vote. At least, not when it comes to talent. The masses are no great judge- they pick a pretty face, or whichever voting link they saw first.
There is a bigger issue here: The companies that hold these contests don’t actually care. For the most part, the reason companies hold these events is so they will earn more followers or fans – they don’t care about the entries, they care about the voters. They want mindless people to be driven to their page through social media. In fact, to them it’s usually the whole point.
I consider myself a talented singer, and a supremely untalented musician. I would never participate as an entry in one of these contests- I had enough of that when I ran for Arts Rep on the students council in high school. (long story short: I wasn’t popular enough with the voting community.) Actually- one time I did. I auditioned the first time Glee held online auditions- of course, I didn’t realise it would rely so heavily on votes at the time. I ended up with a huge amount of votes in just a few days because the voting system was kind of rigged and I think a huge part of it was my cousin pressing the vote button every second.
This brings up another huge problem in mass consumer voting: Technical issues. I once watched the page of a friend in a heated contest that everyone voting could see was clearly broken. Both sides were getting an obsene amount of votes per refresh. The company did nothing about it. If you are running a contest like this, please make sure your technology is sound. A good way to do this is to limit the kinds of votes that will be counted- keep it to one, rather than counting shares, tweets, likes, etc… What about people who have two or three email addresses, facebook accounts, or youtube accounts? Oh, they just get more votes than everyone else, but that’s ok because it counts as “more people” participating.
Another thing: Be fair, please.
Most recently, and the event that forced me to write this blog post, was the “Leaky Stars Portland” competition put on by the popular “Leakycon” for the right to perform at the well known fandom expo. Now, they did some things right: They judged the entries themselves until they had it down to 6 finalists, then they opened up voting through only one avenue: likes on youtube.
There were, of course, still the issues of users with multiple accounts and tumblr users bribing their followers, but at least they had an idea what they were doing. My good friend Linda was one of the 6 finalists in this competition… Was her video the best? Maybe, maybe not, that’s not for me to judge because I have an obvious bias. The problem for Linda was that- while she is a loveable person with a solid group of friends who voted for her, she does not have thousands of followers on tumblr or pinterest or twitter. She did what she could and I am damn proud of the amount of votes she did manage to get with her somewhat limited resources.
By the rules of the contest, she would have come in fifth place (after quite a bit of what I would consider cheating from some other participants, but what is somehow allowed in the rules.) However, the folks at Leakycon made a mistake when they tallied the votes:
They posted this on their official website, and shortly thereafter took it down and said there was a discrepency. (note: the girl on the right is the one with all the tumblr comments… and her video isn’t even a song for the contest. It’s clips of a bunch of other songs she wrote for other reasons, that all just fit in the theme. She didn’t even bother to choose one to showcase or reperform.) They later reposted this:
What was the discrepency? They accidentally thought Linda had more votes than she did… but they decided to be fair after announcing her as a winner, and as her song was amazing they decided to let her perform along with the other three. But then, someone at Leaky Stars made this decision:
A longer voting period followed by another tally, of course after which Linda will not have managed in getting a thousand more votes. Is this fair to Linda? You know, she bought plane tickets to get to Portland for roughly $500. Yes, okay, she was planning on going already and paying to be there, but what if she hadn’t? What if she had bought these tickets after seeing that she was invited to attend for free and perform? Tickets and money aside, is it fair to her that all her friends saw she won and congratulated her before the post was replaced, and she then had to make corrections? It was her dream to sing her original song on that stage, and it was given to her and then taken away from her twice.
Hey Leakystars… Why don’t you just let all six of them perform, since you are hosting them all anyway? It will be more fair for you to judge them all there, via Anthony Rapp as the adjudicator. In fact, I think you should do this next year. Pick your own 6 finalists, then judge them yourselves. It’s not as much publicity, but it’s a lot more fair and more fun for the competitors, and it makes them work harder at their actual music too- rather than working hard at social media.
Maybe these broken systems are more visable and clear to me because I have a lot of awesome and talented friends. Is it visible to you? Post in the comment section your similar stories and experiences with this kind of social media contest!
If you’re considering running a contest like this, PLEASE find a way to make it fair. It’s not worth the broken hearts when it’s decided by a completely different skill set than the one the contest is supposed to be about.
Check out Linda’s original song, link below! If you feel like voting for her by liking the video, that would be great. Maybe she can reach that thousand more votes and live her dream after all: http://youtu.be/gQMaL6wDoq8
My apologies for any redundancies, un-fleshed-out arguments, typos, etc… My computer is being a total douche-canoe right now and is only letting me type 1 word a minute and have to wait half an hour to scroll back up. Maybe I should enter a blogging contest to win a new one?