To Vote or Not to Vote: That is the Question!

Vote We get request ever so often about including voting features in Facebook (and Twitter) applications. There are basically two types of voting mechanism we support “Soft Voting” and “Hard Voting”.  Adding voting features to an application, or developing an application where voting is central part of user engagement process has many benefits. We have driven many viral voting competition that gives your fans a voice in the outcome or rewards them for getting out the vote to their network. Many times, voting is a great social media multiplier –  for example, adding voting to photo booth apps tends to increase their virality. Here are some other examples of recent voting applications:


Two Types of Voting:

  • “Hard Voting” (only ONE vote per user)
    In order to enforce hard voting you MUST know who the fan voting is. The only way to do this is to FORCE them to register or authenticate themselves, before they can vote. Be aware that this approach cuts down on overall user participation. Forcing fans to register (using email validation or Facebook permissions for example) reduces overall voting, especially if there is no incentive provided. If there is an incentive (prize, winning a contest, i.e.) then this is definately the route you want to take. Authentication is key, because without it, users can create fake accounts or employ other mechanism to cheat in order to drum up votes for themselves.
  • “Soft Voting” (only ONE vote per IP or Session Cookie)
    Unlike &ldquo Hard Voting&rdquo , soft voting is not fool proof and is much easier to thwart. Soft voting should be avoid in any situation a user has a sort incentive to cheat (such as winning a contest by getting the most votes). We usually employ techniques that involve session variables, IP addresses, cookies or other similar approaches to reducing fraud or abuse, but as i mentioned these approaches are less difficult to circumvent (as opposed to hard voting). So why does all this matter? Because it all translates into increased cost, depending on which approach you use. Soft voting is much less expensive than hard voting, because you can avoid building a registration or authentication system.

Cost factors to consider:

  • Development and testing: The more secure an application, the more features to prevent and monitor fraud (over voting), or the addition of authentication/registration, the greater the development (and testing) cost.
  • Fraud and abuse: Tying (soft) voting to a reward or prize is an invitation for fraudulent voting. Doing so give users an incentive to abuse your voting mechanism and invest in tools to automatically vote on their behalf. This can result in increased cost &ndash the cost of detecting and cleaning up fraud, the cost of bandwidth as scripts or robots constantly hammer the voting system, and the cost of adding features to reduce/eliminate fraud.
  • Legal liability: The lack of fraud mitigation/elimination tools in a contest can also add legal liability if looser choose to challenge your contest. The last think we want to see if your and our E+O insurance premiums go up.
  • Customer satisfaction: If cheating is easy and rampant then people complain. Attempts to remedy the problem sometimes creates even more drama as cheaters sometimes make a big stink and claim flow play. The time, effort and negative press translates into increased cost or lost revenue, something we all want to avoid.

So in conclusion:

  • Avoid contests that require voting unless you use a &ldquo hard voting&rdquo mechanism
  • No, you cannot use Facebook &ldquo Likes&rdquo as a voting mechanism, this is strictly against their terms of service
  • Leverage existing authentication such as Facebook to verify a user’s identify
  • Avoid using Twitter for authentication since it is relatively easy to create fake Twitter accounts
  • When using &ldquo soft voting&rdquo leverage session variables and cookies to reduce changes of abuse
  • Make sure your legal department is comfortable with your rules and choice of voting mechanism, we’ll always review your rules to make sure there are no issues or potential pitfalls
  • Consider all the costs of a vote-driven contest including customer sat cost and potential liability
  • Avoid &ldquo illegal contests&rdquo (a vast majority of self-run contests on Facebook are either illegal or go against Facebook TOS). They simply don’t have rules, involve illegal activity (in regards to consideration, games of skill violations, ie.), or have poorly written rules.
  • Do not create incentives for users to cheat (when possible), make voting fun and interactive