Did you hear the one about Million Dollar Money Drop on Fox? The story has implications on how you should – or, in this case should not – run your social media contests.

On Monday December 20, Brittany Mayti and Gabe Okoye bet $800,000 on one answer. The question was ‘Which product was sold in stores first the MacIntosh computer, Post-it notes or the Sony Walkman?’ The couple chose Post-it notes and were informed the answer was incorrect. Soon after, they were eliminated from the game.

This is typical game show drama…except for one small problem – they actually gave the correct answer! For the next couple of days Fox issued denials and stood by their decision. Unfortunately, the power of the Internet prevailed and Fox was forced to admit they had made a mistake. Justice prevailed.

Except it didn’t. You would think the logical response would be for Fox to reinstate the couple on the game show at the point where the mistake was made. Give them their $800,000 and let them finish the contest.

If you thought that – you would be wrong. While Fox did admit their mistake – based on ‘new’ information – they decided that the couple would be invited back on a future episode to compete anew. They would have to start at the beginning with no credit being given for time served. As of this writing they have not decided to accept. (You can read the story here.)

There are several posts concerning this on the Fox website but the network is not involving itself in the discussion.

This was a huge tactical and PR error on Fox. The positive publicity they would have received for restoring the participants would have drawn huge ratings for a show that seems destined to become a television afterthought.

What can be learned from this when conducting your social media contests? Plenty.

First, be very clear about the rules. Consult your legal representative to make sure all eligibility, participation and judgment parameters are covered. Post those rules on your web site or as a note on your Facebook page. You may not be able to cover every contingency. However, spelling out the contest methodology will assure your fans that it is legitimate and you are taking participation seriously.

Second, do your due diligence. This is especially true if you are conducting a contest that contains a level of subjective judging. If you are asking people to post ‘the most creative’ or ‘best’ something – you will need to spell out how those will be judged. If you are conducting a trivia contest quadruple check your answers through several sources.

Third, pay attention. As your contest unfolds watch how people are entering and commenting. Be prepared to answer legitimate questions that don’t violate the rules. While you cannot change the mechanics of the contest in mid-stream, you can gain valuable insight into how your audience is responding and what they are responding to.

Fourth, be transparent. This is probably the biggest takeaway from the Fox debacle. If you make a mistake – own up to it quickly. Respond honestly. And, above all else – do the right thing! How you treat one fan is how you treat all fans – in the mind of your fans. In the Fox situation, what has ‘saving’ that $800,000 cost them in negative publicity? Do you think the credibility of the show can ever be repaired?

Contesting works in driving participation. Social media contesting – when done correctly can add to your database and expand your followers. It is a great way to jump-start a twitter account or Facebook fan page. (Get more tips here).

Remember, while contesting is a powerful tool when done correctly. The goal is to reward your followers for participating. The onus is on you to make it work and add to your brand image. Fox has provided you with a valuable lesson in bad contesting. Use it to your advantage.

Your thoughts?

Author: Steve Allan, Social Media Specialist, SMThree