The relationship between sex toy companies and bloggers can be a strained one at times. The companies want to make the most on their investment, be it time, money, or a bit of both. Bloggers want to be respected for their craft and receive a valuable return for their work. Sometimes companies, such as SexShop365.co.uk, hold contests for the blogging community to get involved in. Ordinarily, this is a two way street. Bloggers get exposure to potential new readers, the ability to win prizes, and even the ego boost associated with winning a popularity contest. Sex toy companies get incoming traffic from bloggers promoting the contest and making connections with bloggers in their community. Both sides realize that blog posts have value, and both want to capitalize on this value.
Blogger contestsSometimes this can go wrong – contests, as well as relationships.

Back in March when this particular contest began, there was a bit of an earthquake going on in the part of the twitterverse I live in. Things were being said about this contest that didn’t seem right, that the ‘balance’ that was originally set forward between what the company got and what the blogger got seemed off center. The issues seemed to have calmed down in the following weeks, only to rise up again once the contest came to an end. So much rumor and innuendo and third hand tweeting were going on, I personally didn’t know what end was up. It even appeared at one point that actual laws were being broken, based on the content of some tweets. Given that I had previously discussed the relationships between bloggers and sex toy companies in a past post, this was something I wanted to get to the bottom of.

So, I went to the source, right to SexShop365.co.uk, and asked my own questions. You may be surprised at the answers, you may not. My hope with providing these answers is for bloggers to better understand what goes on ‘behind the scenes’ at sex toy companies during contests like this, and to make better decisions when choosing which companies they will form relationships with and which contests to enter.

For clarification, my original questions to SexShop356.co.uk are in standard text, with their replies in italics.

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Hello,

Thanks for letting me get in touch. I’m writing an article on the relationship between sex toy companies and bloggers, and I’ve been made aware of a contest that SexShop365.co.uk has run within the last several weeks. A lot has been said about the irregularities that took place, and rather than just going off rumor and twitter chatter, I thought it best to go right to the source. If you don’t mind, I have a series of questions based on what I’ve been made aware of, and I hope you can clarify.

When the contest began, there seemed to be quite a bit of confusion on how the contest itself was presented on the web site. From what I understand, part of the promotion to the bloggers when asking them to enter the contest was encouraging link exchanges to help their blog’s ranking. Many bloggers were concerned that the contest itself was not linked to from the site’s home page, and was inaccessible unless using a direct link provided by the blogger. Was this the case? If so, what was the reasoning behind that decision?

Our home page links to the blog outlining the event. The link is still actually in place today. It will stay until it is rotated off by newer blogs. Rotation will probably take it down in about 6 weeks. The awards are on the blog home page and mentioned in our internal community. The blog page is number one on Google so it’s got some good coverage. We would not normally link to any community event from the home page. Most people purchasing goods are not interested in getting involved in non-shopping related activities. Any events we run are easily found if you then choose to become active in the community areas of our site.

The links themselves on the contest’s page are “no follow” links. Was the decision to create the links to the blogger’s own pages set to “no follow” purposely, or was this an oversight?

It is normal practice for any site to place a no-follow tag on any external link. This is SEO 101. Web sites would not achieve any link weight from a page with a list of links such as the awards page. The Google Panda and Penguin updates saw fit to this. Not having the no-follow tag in place on such a weak quality page could even be damaging if a blogger has a lot of directory style pages linking in to them, in their overall link profile. The traffic we will send the entries will far outweigh any possible Page Rank achieved from such a page.

While it is not listed in the rules of the contest, companies often don’t permit employees, directors, contractors, or anyone else paid by the company for work to enter their own contests. (Some go as far as to not permit family members of employees, directors or contractors to enter the contest as well.) Does SexShop365.co.uk allow individuals who have been paid for services (either currently or in the past) by the company to enter their contests? Has an individual who has been paid for services ever won any prizes through SexShop365.co.uk contests?

We do have relationships with bloggers who review toys and several did join the competition. We do not pay for these reviews. None of our staff have blogs so it was unnecessary to mention this. The blogger who won has reviewed toys for us in the past. Since the blogs are voted for by their readers we had no influence on the outcome so it did not matter to us who entered. As long as it was a non spammy adult related blog it was eligible for entry.

The contest winners have never been paid in exchange for services for the company. (Outside of toys in exchange for reviews on a blog.) Is that correct?

We never pay bloggers for their reviews, only ever in exchange for toys.

Once the contest was underway, it appeared that blogs were disappearing from the voting list on the contest page. This was brought to SexShop365.co.uk’s attention via their twitter account on April 16th. Was there any thought to discontinue the contest at this time when it became clear that there were irregularities in the voting? If not, why? Could you explain what happened to those blogs?

The software we purchased removed sites from the top list that didn’t send any traffic through. The blogs were still entered in the competition just not shown on this top list. In hindsight this should have been mentioned when we realised this was the case. If we use this software again for next year it will be highlighted or more than likely modified.

Staying on the topic of this voting irregularity, did a member of SexShop365.co.uk’s staff advise a blogger that their blog was no longer listed due to 14 days of inactivity in their voting? If so, this appears to be in contradiction to the rule stating “Votes are converted into daily averages to allow blogs to join awards at any point of the competition without being disadvantaged.” Was this staff member misinformed?

This sounds like a bit of miscommunication and probably needed clarification “Yes you’re not listed in the top entries list, but your still entered” If traffic did come through and accumulated again the site would re-appear in the listing. They were still entered in the competition just not shown in the top listings.

On a number of points, this contest seems like a ‘PR failure’ on the part of SexShop365.com when it comes to their relationship with bloggers. There have also been complaints made to Advertising Standards Agency with regards to a few issues listed above by the very bloggers you may have been looking to establish relationships with. What is the company’s stance on the success of this contest? Do you plan on making any changes to future contests involving the blogging community?

We were trying to drum up some traffic and community activity by holding the competition and it’s been very successful. The feedback has been good. I am surprised by your claims but clearly the ASA do not feel there is an issue as we have not heard from them. We were not trying to trick everyone into a one sided deal. It was a simple exercise with benefits for everyone and we did not feel it needed to be over whelmed with masses of terms and conditions. Bloggers send us traffic, we send some in return. There is a prize if you are voted for. Our community get to see some great blogs. 

We are in the top 9000 busiest sites in the UK. Those that entered will benefit hugely over the coming months. The top spots from the last awards received tens of thousands of visitors from us over the course of the year. Pretty nice traffic for all blogs that chose to take part and probably more valuable than the prize. 

Let’s not forget the £300+ worth of products we are giving away. We have already added more prizes this year to include a second and third place due to its success. 

All in all the negativity by some has highlighted that any future projects need to have comprehensive terms and conditions. Next time we will have the rules legally written and no doubt there will be a massive page of terms for everyone to browse. The down side to this is we will be having to reduce the prize if we have to take on legal representation to run a little competition. It’s a shame but I guess these things have to be done in the culture we now live in. 

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I do want to thank Gary from SexShop365.co.uk for taking the time to respond to my emails for this article. I won’t summarize my thoughts on the whole issue based on what I’ve learned, as I don’t want that to influence how you may interpret things. I do feel that whenever issues like arise, where some are feeling they are being unfairly taken advantage of, some deeper digging may need to be done to fully uncover what is going on. I know that there are many layers to this particular story, and many of you out there that have had your own experiences when it comes to this issue. I also know that some have asked similar questions and may have been given different answers. The comments section is below where you can share your thoughts, experiences and concerns.

Remember – what is not being said may be just as valuable as what is – so I do encourage you all to get out your shovels (and sometimes a pair of boots as well).

 

Filed under: Ruby on Writing

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