Contest and giveaways are a great way to reward your community. They show you care, they show you want to encourage them and support them. They show you want to engage them and listen to their needs. But they can also backfire. How? Well, spend 5 minutes thinking of your contest and send out an announcement that actually shows you consider the crowd you’re trying to get to work for you a bunch of money hungry drones that cannot think for themselves. Enough to makes something sparkly twinkle their way and they’ll immediately jump to join your troops!

99designs is already the punching bag of many established designers. Now they have just managed to make it a bit worse. The crowdsourced design site has just launched a contest in which they will give away 9,999 dollars to a lucky winner. To enter the competition, a designer needs to win at least one design contest throughout the month of March. The more contests you win, the more chances of winning you have.

This competition sounds like a big winner! 99designs provides customers with more quality designs to choose from, they also get more designers to start joining contests, they pay them more and they also reward a lucky winner, showing their appreciation for the money designers are making for the website.

Of course, the entire dreamy image is shattered by two lines added in the contest terms and conditions:

  • 99designs will select a winner from all eligible entries and the winner will be announced in April
  • All decisions will be final and made at the sole discretion of 99designs.

No jury, no random number generator, just some pick by 99designs that they will never need to explain to anyone. And these lines just make the entire effort of designing a nice contest picture, sending out newsletters, posting blog entries and promoting it everywhere a big waste. Anyone reading these conditions can tell the organizer can surely pick a friend or an employee or whoever else they want to award, or not, the big prize to. So is it really a way to reward their community or a dirty trick to get designers to work a lot more than usual for the promise of a nice payday?

Why compromise what seemed like a fun and smart campaign? If you cannot afford such a big prize, give a smaller one, but be transparent and fair about it. If you just want to cover your behind and make sure no one sues you, describe the selection process, make a video of it and get a smart lawyer to add a safety line to your conditions that won’t make you look like a fraud.

Like most errors in judgement, this one probably happened because the 99design team did not spend another 10 minutes thinking about how someone reading their copy might interpret it. Or maybe they just want a fake contest that isn’t really about prizes and rewarding the designers that put money in their pockets, but is all about stuffing more bills in said pockets! Hard to tell, isn’t it?

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