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Are Pay-To-Play Blog Hops Good For Bloggers?

Tomorrow the blogosphere is going to light up with over 400 blog posts announcing the Coupon Cabin “25 Dayz of Crazy Giveawayz.” This sort of large scale giveaway event isn’t terribly surprising but the fact that bloggers have to pay $5 to enter the contest, however, IS rather unusual.

Pay-to-play has entered the blogosphere.

In addition, bloggers participating in the contest hop had to find their own $25 or higher value prize giveaways and make sure that the products they give away aren’t in direct competition with Coupon Cabin.

Once a blogger has rounded up a prize, paid the $5, and begun referring blogging friends to ALSO do the same, they can potentially receive $20 per referred blogger. However, the referred blogger also has to meet the exact requirements, including paying the $5. From the document with posting instructions for the contest:

A qualifying referral is any blog, not your own, that has listed you as their referrer that not only completely signs up (ie- fills out the form, sends payment, joins FB [Facebook] group), but also actively participates in the event by having a giveaway go up at the time specified (Nov 1st at midnight, but must be LIVE by 9am EST) and stay up until the event end time specified (Nov 25 at 11:59pm EST).

In addition, the bloggers I’ve spoken with that are part of this contest hop have no way whatsoever to verify that the bloggers they’ve referred  actually mention them during the sign-up process, making it difficult to track participants on the bloggers end.

People who enter the giveaways on any of the 400 different contests can win a range of prizes from a MacBook Air, an iPad2, high value gift cards, and more. In addition, the bloggers hosting the contests are also eligible for a second set of these prizes.

There isn’t anything inherently wrong or illegal in any aspect of this contest. However.

This is a remarkably brilliant linking strategy, meaning that Coupon Cabin will suddenly get over 400 inbound links to its home page for hardly any money. Assuming the two sets of prizes amount to about $5000, each link is only costing about $12.50 (and it’s likely these will be permalinks that are not no-followed).

Great deal for Coupon Cabin.

But it’s a horrible deal for the bloggers.

When I spoke with a representative at Coupon Cabin, she stated that they are NOT receiving the $5 entry fees; those are going directly to the three bloggers organizing the contest hop: Simply Stacie, Makobi Scribe, and Sassy Mama in LA. She also assured me that they were not providing any other fee to the administrating blogging which is terrible for the bloggers running the contest. When I asked the Coupon Cabin’s rep what she thought the bloggers participating were getting out of the contest, she said, “I really don’t know.”

Jennifer of Makobi Scribe said when I asked why they charge a fee:

To hold a hop, you spend literally days working on it. Not only do you have to make the linky the first time, you need to redo it when it goes live linking each blog to its individual post so it is easier for the entrants to find it. We also update the title to reflect the prize amount. This takes about 4 hours per one hundred bloggers. Also, we field questions, tons of questions, day in and day out for months before the event. After the event goes live, we not only pay to have it promoted, we spend more hours promoting it ourselves.  Sometimes we retweet and Facebook post everyone else’s giveaways.

Another issue that has come up repeatedly about these blog hops is some elements of the contest asking for a “like” on a Facebook page as a way to enter the contest, which many view as a violation of Facebook’s terms of service. Yolanda of Sassy Mama in LA addressed this in her response to me:

I stand by my article that I wrote for Latina Bloggers and I want to address the fact that I believe, their [sic] are key words in rules 3 & 4 that are overlooked and can be ambiguous. I think this is smart on Facebook’s part because they leave it up to everyone’s interpretation without excluding anyone. But then it puts people, like us, at odds against each other. It is my belief, that rules 3 & 4 have key words such as “cannot be an AUTOMATIC entry”- rule 3 and “OTHER THAN”= rule 4 in which Facebook pretty much says this is ok as long as you don’t use our platform for the entry. The term “Liking A Page” is technically incorrect, as it is actually called “Becoming a Fan” which is not what Facebook includes as their native tools. Their Native Tools are “Liking” a status/pic, commenting on a status/pic, etc… which in Rule 4 is clear that it is not allowed. Rule 3, however, says that “the act of liking a Page or Check in in [sic] to a Place cannot automatically register or enter a promotion participant”. You gotta ask yourself, what does Automatically register mean? To me, it means as soon as I click the “Like” button to fan a page, I am entered therefore that is not a valid method of entry. I would have to perform an additional step, such as go to a blog or Rafflecopter form and submit my information stating that I did the requested step, and thus Facebook is not recording my information and using it as an entry automatically but rather I would have to go elsewhere to manually input my actual entry.

The bottom line of the Facebook Guideline is to protect User Privacy on their end. They did not do this to exclude business, brand and bloggers from having promotions to increase their fan base. They did it so that when a user enters something, they can’t hold Facebook liable for divulging their info to someone else to win a prize…so they make you take a few additional steps to use them solely.

I wonder if Facebook would also agree that their Terms of Service are “open to interpretation.”

I completely agree that bloggers doing this kind of marketing strategy and consulting should be getting paid for their work but not by the other bloggers. A better plan, in my opinion, would be to ask the contest sponsor (in this case, Coupon Cabin) to provide the fee so bloggers aren’t required to pay to enter. Then it becomes an opt-in only issue (with bloggers still giving advertising away for free, however that’s a different blog post). When I asked about this, Jennifer offered this explanation.

I have held and participated in many hops charging between a $5 to $25 admin fee such as Blogmania, A Blogtastic Extravaganza, Blog Bash, etc. The main reason is because bloggers do not often follow through and the $5 admin fee ensures that they are serious about the hop. On almost every hop I have held for free over 1/2 drops out or does not put a post up. This rate is reduced to 1/4 (which is still a lot) when they pay a $5 fee.

What do you think? Is this unethical? Or is this a fun promotional event that benefits everyone involved?

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