Philosophy Talk and the Paradoxical Facebook Contest

Tuesday, January 13, 2009 -- 4:00 PM
Ken Taylor

So we're approaching  1,000 fans on our  Philosophy Talk Facebook Page and we say to ourselves,  "We ought to have a contest.  Maybe we could give the 1,000th fan and the person, if any,  who invited the 1000th fan to become a fan some really cool philosophy related prizes."

Sounded like a fun idea at first.   But after we thought about it for, oh,  a few seconds, we realized that there's a catch! Facebook pages publicly display the number  of fans who have subscribed to that page.  That means that if we were to announce that we were holding such contest   anybody who wanted to win the contest would, in all likelihood,   refrain from signing up or inviting a friend to sign up, until the the fan count was, say,  999.   If everybody thought this way,  we'd be in serious trouble because then nobody would sign up or invite another to sign up.

Maybe  we could get around that perverse incentive by making the prize so valuable that 94 people -- fans 907 - 10000 -- might be incentivized to share the prize.  But believe me,  we're not likely to come up with a prize such that 1/94 share of it would be of significant value. 
 
Or maybe we could just give out a prize and not announce that we intend to do so.  But then,  where's the increased incentive for new fans to sign up?  
 
So what are we to do?   We  want to have a contest.  And we want the contest to incentivize more people to sign up on our facebook page as Philosophy Talk fans.  And we want to make it known that we are holding such a contest. 
 
So here's the question,   how do we run a contest that satisfies al those constraints?   We came up with two quick  ideas.
 
 The first is to hold a drawing that all fans -- not just the 1000th fan -- have a chance of winning.    The trick is that the drawing is  triggered by the 1000th fan to sign up.  The announcement  would run something like this:    Become the 1000th fan of Philosophy Talk on Facebook and trigger a drawing that you have a 1/1000  chance of winning.   
 
The obvious problem with that,  it seems to me, is that it's not much of an incentive  -- unless the prize is really good.   Plus something in me says it's not quite fair to the 1000th fan.  Shouldn't  the triggering  get something special, something that nobody else gets?   Maybe two chances to everybody else's one, perhaps? 
 
Another thought is that we could do a sort of "surprise exam" type contest.  We announce that there is a contest and announce that for  some number n,  the nth fan will win a bunch of cool prizes, where n is greater than or equal to 1000.  But what we don't do is announce what n is in advance.  
 
I think I like that one.   But it's probably got some hidden downside too. 
 
Anyway, there will be a contest.   And it will be announce and it will incentivize people to sign up.  
I'd love to hear your ideas -- serious, tongue in check,  whatever -- about how we should do it.

Comments (11)


Guest's picture

Guest

Tuesday, January 13, 2009 -- 4:00 PM

The "surprise exam" idea is cute enough for me to

The "surprise exam" idea is cute enough for me to claim that I was thinking of it before I got to it in reading your post. But is there really any difference between throwing the die beforehand and revealing the winning number n later as opposed to waiting until later to actually make the random choice?

Guest's picture

Guest

Wednesday, January 14, 2009 -- 4:00 PM

How about 2 identical prize packages: One for the

How about 2 identical prize packages: One for the 1000th facebook friend; and the Second for the facebook friend who signs up the most people between now and the time the 1000th person signs up.

Guest's picture

Guest

Wednesday, January 21, 2009 -- 4:00 PM

The contest sounds . . OK. I just think you shou

The contest sounds . . OK. I just think you should use your radio listeners to winnow though some positions on a debate topic and come to some usable conclusions. things that might be useful to a political decision maker. Take the topic on Fresh Air today _Wired for War, a book by P.W. Singer. This topic should really be one of your philosophy talk topics . . . and then get feedback from your listeners in an organized way - maybe on team . . . and then come up with something useful to pass on to decision makers. You have a goldmine of radio listeners, but I think you need to be more creative in the mining process.
John

Guest's picture

Guest

Sunday, January 25, 2009 -- 4:00 PM

The possibility that people would hold off seems f

The possibility that people would hold off seems far less likely than the possibility that people would collude to hit the mark. With 998 members, for example, a pair of fans (or a fan with a friend) could sign up in quick succession, seizing the prize. The probability of collusion rises with each new member.
One interesting contest rule would be to hold a drawing at 1000, but give those who join earlier better odds.

Guest's picture

Guest

Sunday, January 25, 2009 -- 4:00 PM

In the meantime, I won't join the group because do

In the meantime, I won't join the group because doing so might disqualify me from the prize :).

Guest's picture

Guest

Sunday, January 25, 2009 -- 4:00 PM

I love you guys...for your minds that is. Philos

I love you guys...for your minds that is.
Philosophy talk is the only philosophy class since one on Plato 40 years ago at Flagstaff Arizona. I loved it. The teacher would get so excited you thought he was going to collapse before the end of class. If you were on the air back then and if I didn't need to make a living I would'a been a philosopher like you.
BUT......You're over thinking it! THINK OF YOUR ROOTS. What would Click & Clack do? Actually I would advise that you call them and ask them. I'll bet they would solve your paradox on air!
Richard

Guest's picture

Guest

Sunday, January 25, 2009 -- 4:00 PM

when you finally announce that you're having a con

when you finally announce that you're having a contest, you start counting fans who sign up. you also announce the end date.
each person who signs up between those two dates gets a certain # of votes equal to the total # who signed up minus the position of that person. say you get 1,000,000 people to sign up. the first person would get 1,000,000 chances to win while the last person would get 1.
you reward those who sign up while you're deciding whether to have the contest by giving them the total # of chances too. makes you seem nice.
for those of us who are already fans, we ... um ... get the pleasure of watching this play out from the beginning?
surely someone can get some undergrad credit for writing a facebook plugin to make this happen.
too complicated? how long did it take for us all to learn that office gift exchange mechanism where you can take an opened gift from someone else but then a gift can?t pass to more than 3 people ? depending... but now, we all just mention that squirrely office gift exchange thingy and everyone eagerly shakes their head. you could start "that philosophy talk rewards system" the same way.
or combine these two methods and have three different gifts. you pick three winners in a certain order. the first one picks one of the gifts. the second winner can either take what the first person picked or...
thanks, that was fun!
and you guys are Great!!

N's picture

N

Wednesday, January 28, 2009 -- 4:00 PM

Hi, I am a admirer of philosopy, most of my wri

Hi,
I am a admirer of philosopy, most of my writings are based on combination of pholosophy + motivation. Like your style, will be back soon to read more.
Thanks
N S
http://offbeatspirituality.blogspot.com/

Guest's picture

Guest

Monday, February 16, 2009 -- 4:00 PM

Is it really fair to offer a prize only available

Is it really fair to offer a prize only available to those who sign up after the contest is announced? Surely not. A fair contest will give both new and old fans alike a chance of winning. I humbly is that you hold a contest where the winner the person who suggests the contest idea you eventually use.
Of course, it wouldn't be fair if you announced this contest tomorrow and made the winnings only available to those who come up with ideas *after that*. Think of all the people who have already put in so much effort towards designing a contest! No, the only way to make *this* contest truly fair is to make it retroactive--anyone who has submitted a contest idea since 1/14/2009 should qualify.
And yes, the prize should be something really great.

ann's picture

ann

Saturday, January 9, 2010 -- 4:00 PM

Sorry, but I just don't get why you care so much a

Sorry, but I just don't get why you care so much about Facebook fans. Fine with me for philosophers to have fun, but a contest for Facebook fans? What is fun about that? and if it's not fun, what's the point?

 

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