Let me start by saying this is a rare, but necessary rant stemming from the launch Monday of Pepsi’s Refresh Everything for the Gulf contest, to which I have a project in the running. The contest launched Monday on an unstable platform, lacking key functionality, changing the URLs given to entrants to share after it was launched and without updates to any of the entrants about why the site was unstable, when it would be up and running and why it only worked periodically those crucial first 48 hours.
Interested? Read on. It gets better.
Ok, so Pepsi decides to do something cool this year. They launch the Refresh Everything project. They have $1.3 million to give away in grants every month to projects ranging from $5,000 to $25,000. Voters receive 10 votes they can use daily. After the oil spill, they announce a special contest awarding $1.3 million just to the Gulf. I have, frankly, been torn about the contest from the start. On one hand it’s money to organizations and individuals with good ideas. On the other hand, it promotes this “popular kid in high school” mentality for nonprofits where they have to focus on asking people to vote for them (a simple action requiring nothing monetary) and then the person feels like they’ve helped, but if the organization doesn’t win they spent time and resources on something with a zero return. This is a serious problem for organizations with already thin resources and an industry-wide problem that has been written about extensively, but I won’t touch on here. This is focused on the debacle of the Refresh for the Gulf campaign.
Let’s talk about what went wrong.
1) Launch was disorganized. This is PEPSI mind you. As an proposed project, no one was told at what time the contest was going live (8AM EST? 3PM PST). In fact when I filled out the form, I did get a confirmation screen but no email and no correspondence at all the past month. I assumed my project was accepted but couldn’t be sure. The site only said that voting would launch 8/2, not what time. I saw some projects start promoting in the morning, before it launched telling people to get ready. By my accounts, it went live around 10AM. I was given this extension to use in promoting the site: http://refresheverything.com/votenow (I chose the votenow when I filled out the form, most people put their organization’s name) and then on the live page, this was the shortcode: http://pep.si/cwPSej.
2) Site was unstable the first 48 hours. Everyone who knows about these contests knows that you have to get ahead early. Since one of their pulldown menus is “Current Leaders” projects want to get their fans voting from the very second the flood gates open to get their votes up. This means that marketing strategies are done in advance of the launch if you’re good and know what’s up. For me, this was built into the second series of Gulf Coast Benefits happening on August 25th. When we were building this second series of benefits, there were three calls to action: Attend, Donate or Vote. 100% of this effort is volunteered time from experts in the cause space who agreed to push out the Gulf Coast Benefit shortcode once it was live and use in their own blog posts and across the web. The site worked fine the first few hours, then this happened:
Uhm, sorry? I looked around at other projects I was supporting and some worked, some didn’t I tried the full URL and the shortcode given to me by Pepsi. Same error. A few hours later, everything seemed fine again and so we all thought it was a slight glitch.
We were wrong.
By Tuesday morning, the links we were given were rendered useless by that error page. Let me tell you what I had done in the meantime and where I had put those wrong links:
- Changed my email signature on my three emails inboxes
- Created customized away messages for all three acconts
- Updated my status on the 4 Facebook accounts I’m admininstrator on
- Updated my Facebook profiles
- Updated my Twitter profile
- Updated all three Gchat status messages and my Skype status update
- Voted for 10 projects and left a comment with a link to my project
- Left comments for 10 other projects supporting them and leaving a link to my project
- Emailed 145 of my closest and most high profile friends with a plea for their help with the links
- Written 3 blog posts
- Posted a link to my weekly newsletter going to thousands.
- Posted 50+ direct messages to friends asking for a retweet about my campaign
- Gchated with 10 friends asking them to support my campaign.
(This doesn’t even take into account the personal support I’ve given the campaign, the blog posts I’ve written encouraging people to submit ideas and support the initiative – all of which is frankly, now an embarrassment).