By: John Russell

Last week I participated in a competition where a local business was offering promotional prizes to customers who were able to drive people to their Facebook page. Initially interested in winning the prize, the competition quickly began to evolve into an experiment which I found so enjoyable, I thought the readership would like to hear about this as well.

The Competition

The objective was to make a post on the company’s facebook wall and get as many people as you could find to “like” your comment. The person who gets the most “likes” on their comment wins the grand prize which is a $300 Go Pro HD video camera and a $60 - $70 lift ticket to a local ski resort. There were many consolation prizes as well. In order for somebody to be able to “like” your comment, one must first become a “fan” of the company. When one becomes a “fan” of a facebook page, it essentially allows the company the ability to post updates, specials, and other promotions on your personal feed. This competition was primarily designed to increase their internet presence on Facebook. Below is a screenshot of the official listing:

The Contestants

I heard about this competition through an acquaintance who was, unfortunately for them, recruiting me to “like” their comment on the company’s wall. After being inundated by several different people to “like” their particular comment, I did so begrudgingly (I thought their facebook account was hijacked at first) and is where I began to explore the potential possibilities of also entering the competition after seeing the listing for it (above). The two people who were blowing away the competition were the two people who asked me to “like” their comment (they are a couple and were entering the competition together). After examining their Facebook walls, I quickly determined that if I was going to compete with these people, I would need to be as tough or tougher on my family and friends as they were. Examine the extent to which they were promoting this competition on their facebook wall (srs business):

Don’t forget the boyfriend’s wall!

Or the event invite they created together…

Or the video they made pushing their friends to merely click on their link…

The links they were trying to get people to “like” were (notice the number of “likes” - increasing this number is the competition):

and the boyfriend’s:

Suffice to say, they lived and breathed this competition for 3 days straight constantly haggling all their friends and acquaintances to click on their link. There was never a point I checked facebook when either one, or both of them, were not online and active.  Deciding if I was still going to try and compete against these people, I needed to consider the amount of time and effort they are putting into the project and if I was going to be able to beat them. Another disadvantage I had was that I heard about the competition about a half a day after they did, which gave them over 12 extra hours to rally people than I did.

The Process

The process in which I was going to finally beat them required an economic calculation that we as humans do so quickly and so frequently we rarely stop to consider or give it much thought. As we illustrated in the Tragedy of the Trojes event, in a priceless system, where the costs of goods and services are hidden from the consumer, another human resource must be traded instead: human time and energy. The grand prize in this example was a priceless good since the ability to earn it was not through an exchange of money, but instead an exchange of human energy.
I concluded that my time, my friends (human capital (not to sound cold or anything, but “pulling a favor” is merely an exchange in the capital one has with a friend)), and my energy was not worth the amount of time required to earn that camera or even the other prizes. Just as a business calculates the cost of undergoing an “in-house” project and deciding that it may be economical to outsource critical components of it to people who’s time is less valuable, so I calculated the cost and determined to outsource the “liking” of my link primarily to India (read some of the random comments they left me for a good laugh):

Most have probably heard of outsourcing, but rarely do I find people who know how to actually do it. Well, enter Amazon Mechanical Turk. This service “… give[s] businesses and developers access to an on-demand, scalable workforce. Workers select from thousands of tasks and work whenever it’s convenient.”. By creating a simple listing, I was able to levy the power of human beings from across the planet to perform a task that was not worth it for me to do:

Offering 2 cents a like to anyone who would click on my link, I was quickly inundated with nearly 100 people “liking” my comment in the very first night.  The people who I was now targeting were getting extremely nervous, and began messaging me with all kinds of questions with how I was doing it.  After giving them no clue, they doubled their efforts and tried to pair off their friendships with the global community of humans on Amazon:

The Result

I didn’t post a single link, haggle a single friend, or make a single video regarding this competition and wound up with the most likes and won first place in the contest.   During the competition, I would drop the listing to give them some hope to keep trying before I would re-list it again (because I’m evil like that).    After increasing the pay slightly and modifying my listing’s keywords, I was able to gather 10 likes every 5 minutes.  But winnning the competition in and of itself is not enough to make an article on Students for Liberty. It wasn’t until they found out by asking one of the Turkers how I paid them did it begin to get interesting. Although I cannot personally vouch for their initial reaction to the epiphany, I think anyone could gather that they were super pissed. Livid. Extremely ticked off. Whatever you want to describe it. They posted their discoveries on the company’s wall with the intent to disqualify, and it is with this comment I am sharing this and the economic principle I am trying to pass:

In case you can’t read it clearly in the screenshot:

To take the lead in facebook contests, it looks like you don’t have to post events, send mass messages to all your friends and family, create a cute video with your dogs, or constantly update your status to talk about Snowbomb to get people to help you. You just have to pay people to like your post.

What a sad thing to say. Paying people to “like” your post, to build your house, to work on your car, to defend you in court, to cook your food, to operate on your heart, to design your bridges, and to manufacture your electronics is the very essence of human achievement. My time and my friendships are worth more than haggling them to click on random links. My time is worth more than learning how to engineer my vehicle, mine and refine the gasoline to put in it, mold the tires, and combine all the other components just to merely build a car, let alone to “like” a Facebook comment. Modernity and human achievement is a result of this miraculous voluntary interaction between one another, and to hate it and seek to regulate/prohibit/disqualify it is wrong and must be stopped if we are to live together peacefully on this little planet we call home.

In conclusion, I spent $7.16 for a prize package worth nearly $400.

(It should be noted that the company also gave her the grand prize as well, after being placed in such an awkward position by their certain revelation of outsourcing.)

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  • Barry Belmont

    That was so absolutely amazing.

    Economics, as always, ftw.

  • Matt Radford

    That is stunning. Technology, economics, and a little bit of ingenuity destroy the “competition.” This was both insightful and hilarious. Bravo, good sir, bravo.

  • disillusioned SFLer

    Thanks for letting us know how you won SFL event of the year.

  • Barry Belmont

    Actually, we refrained ourselves from using this tool to increase our odds of winning. We figured we created a unique enough event that it was more than capable of standing on its own two feet.

    From what the Executive Board of SFL has told, we were absolutely correct in this regard.

  • Nathan

    You know that it wasn’t decided only by popular vote right? The exec board voted on winners, too. It was a landslide, from what I gleaned.

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     I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.I think I’m not alone in all the fun!

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  • A Darker Side of Amazon? | Isis Farms

    [...] one requester’s perspective, John Russell paid $7.16 in fees to mturk, in exchange for likes on a Facebook page, and won a $400 video camera. [...]

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