Forum competitions are a bad idea

by Martin Reed on 24 April 2007 in Snippets

Many people think that running forum competitions are a good way of building an online community. I disagree. I have seen many competitions that offer prizes to the member that makes the most posts each month – the forum is then deluged with useless posts such as ‘I agree’ or a couple of smilies, and that is that.

The user isn’t interested in contributing to the current discussions, they are just looking to get their post count up so they are closer to winning a prize. As a result, the forum gets filled with useless content over the course of a month (or however long the competition is running for), then all activity drops off once there is no longer an incentive to post.

I think forum competitions that encourage users to build their post count are a bad idea. They generally add no good content to your forum, they do not inspire interaction and debate, and they do not encourage new members to join – after all, when a potential new member takes a look around your forum they see posts with absolutely no content!

Other forum competitions I have seen include variations of this theme – prizes for the member that refers the most new members is a particularly popular one. Once again, I think these are a mistake – not only do you need to ensure your members aren’t trying to cheat the system by setting up duplicate memberships themselves, it is unlikely the new members will actually become valuable members of your community. Content is more important than your membership total.

If you need to offer incentives to your members to encourage participation in your forum, then you are doing something wrong. Concentrate on creating good content, spark up some decent conversations, promote a little suspense and court some controversy – the best members are those that post because they enjoy your community.

Forum competitions can do your community more harm than good and that is why I think they are a bad idea. Setting up a forum from scratch is tough, but competitions are not the way to go. Have you run competitions on your forum? How did they work out? Let me know by leaving a comment.

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Tim April 24, 2007 at 6:20 pm

I partially agree. Forum competitions are of no use, and perhaps even negative, when done in the wrong way. In one of my forums, I had certain secrets which were revealed to those who posted over 10, 50 and 300 posts. In the beginning, it generated a lot of spam messages, with up to 100 new users per day. However, I reinforced the moderator team and set up some very strict anti-spam rules. They did help, and thus, the posting quality was maintained. Nowadays, most members say that this is what made them join, and the community made them stay. I think that setting up competitions is a useful way of generating some buzz, as long as you have content to make them stay and the dedication and resources to resist the trolls.

I’ve been thinking about comment competitions on blogs, though. Darren Rowse at ProBlogger ran a competition a while ago where a random commenter would win a prize, with a chance of winning which was directly proportional to the amount of comments made. What do you think about that kind of competition?

Garry April 25, 2007 at 1:55 pm

I agree with having competitions to encourage lots of posts is a bad idea, but competitions can succeed if your site suits them.

The forum I run is a photography related forum which I started from scratch. We run challenges to post up to three photos on a given theme. Sometimes there is a prize, sometimes there isn’t. The way in which our competitions are different is that the members can run them. They choose the theme, they collate the votes and they choose whether they supply a prize or not. What’s encouraging from my point of view is that it’s drawn out lurkers, plus regular members are offering prizes which they ship to whoever wins them at their cost. This, I think, is a successful competition.

Of course, photography lends itself quite well to running competitions whereas other niches might not, but getting the member involved in the running of them can work very well.

Martin Reed April 25, 2007 at 4:19 pm

Tim: Darren’s competition is similar to the type of competition I really don’t like. What were the aims of his competition? I imagine it was to increase the number of comments on his blog – I have no doubt that this would have worked, but did these new commenters keep posting once the prize was awarded? They may well have, but in my experience the vast majority of additional interaction ends as soon as any competition prizes are awarded.

Garry: These types of competition are much better – people are getting involved on your site because they want to, not because they simply want to win the prize. The fact that prizes are not always awarded weeds out those looking at the prize rather than the community.

I do not detest competitions to boost a community, as long as they are original and well thought out. Offering prizes in order to get people to post or comment will only boost short-term interaction. A successful community needs to take a long-term view by attracting and keeping members for much longer than the life cycle of a single competition.

Collis April 30, 2007 at 12:03 pm

I often wondered about this sort of competition, i hear about them periodically but can’t see how you could possibly make them generate good discussion. Certainly content-aimed competitions are a much better way to go

Martin Reed April 30, 2007 at 12:39 pm

Hey Collis – thanks for your comment. I agree that most competitions are badly thought out and have no long term vision. If you have to run a competition, basing it on content would be far more effective than on the more superficial targets of posts and referrals as I most often see.

MicroCinema Scene May 4, 2007 at 2:28 pm

I agree with you on the subject of contests. They never seem to leave the forum a better place. I’ve been a member of a webmaster forum for awhile – one I like quite a bit – and when it started there were lots of contests promising big money. However, all the contests got cancelled before anything was paid out. This really killed morale on the forum – in addition to promoting a lot of junky posts. It was a lose/lose situation for the forum.

Martin Reed May 4, 2007 at 3:48 pm

Thanks for your comment. Wow, starting a competition then not awarding the actual prizes would be disastrous for a community.

It is essential that your members can trust you – cancelling a competition in order to avoid awarding the prizes will only alienate members and encourage them to leave.

Absolutely shocking.

Sara August 19, 2007 at 9:59 pm

I started a forum a month ago today and about two weeks ago I did hold a contest. The premise of the contest was to give a prize to the person that started the most threads in a particular area of the forum (not the chat or introductions). I knew if I just gave a prize to the person with the most posts in a certain timeframe, I would get poor quality posts, but by limiting the forum and mandating that they start the thread, it would need to be a relevant post. It seemed to work well I think and it is something I will do again in the future.

Martin Reed - Blog Author August 20, 2007 at 9:14 pm

Sara – It’s great to hear that you really thought through the aims and objectives of your forum contest. How many of the members that created new threads in order to compete in the contest are still members who post on a regular basis?

Sara August 20, 2007 at 10:27 pm

right now they are all still active which is great. They don’t start as many threads, but they do like to respond to them. The forum is still very new so I think there is a lot of excitement right now and people seem to feed off of that and want to stay very active. I just want to try to keep them excited!

Martin Reed - Blog Author August 22, 2007 at 12:16 pm

Sara – That sounds very encouraging! Make sure you keep the momentum going and don’t let any of your members forget about your community!

Robin Chang July 3, 2008 at 6:34 am

Generally, it depends on what sort of competition. For instance, the BrickArms Forums hold competitions that involve building of actual LEGO creations based on a given theme. So a good competition is one where you have people actually DO something (write a story, build stuff and take photos, etc).

Craig July 6, 2008 at 12:28 am

Agree with Robin. It would also be smart to award a prize for say, the most informative comment, the most humorous etc… thus encouraging the adding of quality as well as some quantity to the forum or blog. There would be no incentive to spam with “nice post” or ;) if these were the terms of the competition.

Martin Reed - Blog Author July 17, 2008 at 1:22 am

Robin – That does sound like an interesting competition. Not only is it related to the subject of the community, but it also adds great content as people submit their entries.

Craig – Rewards for quality are always preferable to rewards for quantity. However, quality is far more subjective and hard to measure so you risk a backlash from those that disagree with your decision!

Andrew April 3, 2009 at 7:53 pm

competitions may entice people to enter posts, but how do you ensure quality posts?

Maybe by having the competitions rules state that the posts must be relevant else all entries are disqualified?

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