Sunday 23 January 2011

When numbers count


How often do we see, on Facebook or Twitter, somebody offering a prize to the  1,000th (or 500th, or 30,000th...... from now on I will use "N" to represent whatever number they have chosen) follower, and refer to this as  a competition?

Well, I have a message for anyone thinking of running such a competition - it is NOT a competition. It does not fit the legal definition of a competition. A competition must be either a free draw from among all entrants  (and ONE entrant, your Nth, doesn't make it valid!) or a test of skill and judgment.

And just imagine you have N minus 10 followers when you announce that you are giving a prize to the Nth follower. Anyone who was just about to follow you won't - they will watch and wait, hoping to jump in when you have N minus 1 followers.  You are almost certain to find that you lose followers too -  they will unfollow you in the hope of being able to jump back in at the vital moment.

So advertising a prize to your Nth follower is actually a good way to make your follower  count stay the same or even fall. You'll achieve exactly the opposite of what you sent out to do!

It is only natural to want to reward "milestone" followers - but to stop your numbers dropping, it is better not to mention this in advance at all. Just announce it after the event - say something like "Fred Bloggs was our Nth follower  so we have decided to treat them to a lovely surprise". That way you won't cause any friction among your fans  - and you won't get lots of people unfollowing you once your "competition" is over.  But do check the profile of the lucky person, just in case you happen to have been followed by a spam bot - there are a  lot of them about.

If you want to run a competition to get your follower count up, try offering to do a draw among all your fans when  you reach the magic number,  or on Twitter,  ask them to retweet a certain message and then do the draw when you have the right number.  Both of those will boost your fans - although remember, you have to keep them interested in what you have to say, sell or share if you  are going to keep all those fans!

Readers, I hope you will pass this onto anybody you see offering  "A prize to my Nth follower" competitions.


I've had several questions recently from people who have thought they should have won a prize on Twitter because somebody has said that the first, fifth, or however many retweeters would win. They have searched the phrase and seen they were in a winning position, yet when the winners were announced they weren't there, so they think that something dodgy is going  on.

Unfortunately, though, Twitter  isn't as straightforward as that.   You can only see the entries the  same way as the person running  the competition does if you are  actually logged into their Twitter account and using their set up. There  are  lots of different ways  of searching for tweets  and hashtags, and every one of them throws up different results in  a different order. I can have Tweet Deck, Snaptu and the Twitter web page open at the same time  and see messages arriving in three different orders. They might all be timestamped with  the  same  second, but the order they appear within that second differs according to how I look at it. So when a lot of entries arrive at once, the way the promoter gets them could be very different from the  way you get them.

Also if you are asked to retweet  something and you try to  look at the other retweets, you might not actually be able to see them all, especially those done with the RT button. And you don't know whether the promoter will be looking at the "Retweeted by" list, or their @ messages column.

So I'm afraid that all you can really tell if you try to count up where your entry came is whether you stand a chance of being among the early entries or have missed the boat completely.   You won't know whether you have actually won until the results are announced. After a few disappointments, I no longer try to work out whether I have won competitions of this kind  - I just stay hopeful until I see somebody else announced as the winner.

You may now be thinking "That means it isn't fair" - well, in a way it  isn't but as long as the promoter uses the same method of counting up every time, at least they are providing entrants to all their  competitions with a level playing field. It would  be far better if they drew from among all tweets sent in by a given time,  but the range  of different ways of running competitions on  Twitter is part of its appeal isn't it?

A final note for Twitter compers  - if a promoter says a prize will go to the Nth retweeter, or the Nth person to retweet a certain message, they really mean just that - the Nth DIFFERENT person. Retweeting the same message dozens  of times, as some  people have been doing recently, in the hope  of filling all the spaces on the list of N entrants won't work. You'll still only be on the list once - and if you're not careful you'll be  in Twitter jail  at the crucial moment!


  1. Yep! I've thought exactly the same thing about N following comps, they're so unfair, and ultimately unproductive. I hope some of these promoters read this blog and I'll certainly forward them a link to this if I spot any.

  2. Great Great post xxx. I hate all those things. 1 vote your entered should be the LAW, Nth tweeter, Nth of Nth, RT more times better chance should ALL be banned. We all want an equal share of the prize pie.

  3. Great Great post xxx. I hate all those things. 1 vote your entered
    should be the law, Nth tweeter, Nth of Nth, RT more times better chance
    should ALL be banned in my opinion. We all want an equal share of the prize pie please.

  4. A very well written and useful post, thank you, I am personally still trying to get used to Twitter lol, it is a bit of a confusing minefield at times!
    As for fairness, I suppose really it all boils down to the Comping Fairy and if your name happens to be THE one!!
    At the end of the day you gotta be in it to win it!

  5. I do the same as you - as with most traditional comps - I enter once then forget about it. If I don't hear anything that's par for the course BUT if I win that's brilliant!

  6. Just created a Google account so I don't have to be anonymous all the time! Keep the Twitter tips coming please, so many of us are newbies at this lark!

  7. The "Follow and RT to enter" thing is confusing, especially for the reason you point out. I always use the Retweet button (on the web and TweetDeck), but as you say, they may be looking at the @ Mentions column. I see some people doing both (using the RT button, and manually posting "RT @name Follow and RT to win..."). Do you think that is a worthwhile tactic?

  8. It's very difficult to tell because we can't second guess how the promoter will see our entries. If they are using a Twitter client that shows all RTs, both using the button and copy-and-pasted, they will see two entries from you if you do it that way. If they are only allowing one entry per person you might get disqualified. I tend to do one entry each way if I'm sure they are allowing people to enter more than once.

  9. Thanks for sharing this - I find this sort of Twitter 'comp' very annoying, for just the reasons you state!


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