Pretty.ie is coming soon.
But, back in November 2015, it launched its Facebook page and, as of Monday 14 January, had more than 100,000 likes and nearly as many followers – 99,769, to be exact.
Just for comparison, the Irish Examiner has 235,537, and Lovin Dublin has 241,000. Both are established media organisations, posting multiple articles every day.
This sharp increase in the number of likes on Pretty.ie‘s Facebook page is curious. How can it have gained such a following in such a short space of time?
We decided to take a look.
Gaining Facebook Likes
The secret seems to be running competitions, since those were the only things posted on Pretty.ie’s Facebook page. It held its first competition in December 2015.
Since then, 22 competitions have been posted on the page, most recently on 3 January this year. The competition prizes are often vouchers or concert tickets or weekend breaks.
In order to enter these competitions, you’re asked to like the Facebook page, like the competition post, and comment on the post. Other times you’re asked to tag a friend.
For example, on 17 November 2016, a competition was posted offering a €250 Harvey Norman voucher.
In order to win the voucher you simply had to like the page, like the post, and “comment and tag who you’d bring” – to Harvey Norman, we presume.
On 6 December 2016, another competition offered a Pandora bracelet.
In order to enter and be in with a chance of winning, one was asked to like the Facebook page, to like and share the competition photo, and to tag friends so they too would have a chance at winning.
This is the usual procedure with these competition posts.
Once they’re first posted, the same post is re-posted several more times over the following days, gaining more and more likes.
The first Pandora bracelet post, for instance, was liked by 1,990 people. This competition was re-posted three more times over the following days before the winner was announced on 9 December. In that time, these posts gained a total of 6,102 likes.
Another competition post – for a €300 Argos voucher – racked up 9,504 likes across four posts over one week.
Given that, in order to enter these competitions, one is asked to like Pretty.ie‘s Facebook page, it’s not hard to see how the page had over 100,000 likes, as of 14 January.
But even more curious than the page’s rapid growth are the results of these competitions.
And the Winner is …
When a competitions ends, after several re-posts, the winner is announced.
Generally the announcement goes something like this:
We wanted to try and track down some of these winners to speak with them about winning one of Pretty.ie‘s Facebook competitions.
The winners of these competitions, however, are never tagged when their good fortune is announced. (It isn’t possible for administrators to tag people on posts on business pages.) This makes it difficult to easily find them on Facebook.
Twenty-one people have been announced as the winners of these competitions since the page first launched in December 2015.
We exported every single comment – remember, you have to comment or tag to win – made on Pretty.ie‘s Facebook page since it first launched, and loaded these up into a spreadsheet.
Five of the 21 competition winners’ names did not appear among the 129,046 comments from the Pretty.ie Facebook page.
The names of another 16 winners appear among the comments, but some of those are people who have been tagged in by friends wondering if the winner is them, or just alerting them to competitions, rather than people who have commented themselves – and fifteen of them didn’t comment during the time frame of the competition that they were announced as having won.
Only one winner, of the first ever competition, commented within the time frame of the competition they are said to have won. We tried to contact them via Facebook, but have yet to hear back.
Not that Marian
Let’s look at a few examples.
On 18 December 2016, the winner of “the competition” was announced as Carmel Welsh. This was the competition for the Argos voucher, which had gained the page 9,504 likes.
Yet searching the page’s exported comments – 129,046 comments in total – no “Carmel Welsh” was shown as having commented on any posts.
On 23 December 2016, “Niamh Murphy” was announced as “the winner of the competition”.
The competition that ran before this was for a €250 Penneys voucher. Yet, searching the exported comments, no Niamh Murphy was shown to have commented between 18 December and 23 December, the period during which that competition was run on Pretty.ie’s Facebook page.
On 9 December 2016, “Marian Smith” was announced as a competition winner. The four posts previous to the announcement advertised a competition for a Pandora bracelet.
Back to our exported comments, no Marian Smith commented on the Pandora competition posts.
But there are two references in the comments to a Marian Smith. In one comment, someone tagged a Marian Smith, and this tagged Marian Smith responded that she was not the winner.
Perhaps the competition winners’ names are spelt incorrectly in the posts announcing that they’ve won.
On 30 January 2016, “Anne Marie Kelly” was announced as the winner of a weekend stay at the K Club in County Kildare.
No Anne Marie Kelly appears to have commented on any Pretty.ie Facebook post.
An Ann Marie Kelly did like and comment on this competition, but she told me via Facebook chat that she had not won the K Club stay.
Where Are the Rules?
Facebook does not appear to require a competition administrator to tag the winner in the post announcing the win, although that might make competitions like Pretty.ie‘s a bit more transparent.
However, it does have some rules about how competitions can be run. According to the company’s “Facebook Pages Terms“, “friend connections must not be used to administer promotions”. Wording like “share on your Timeline to enter” or “tag your friends in this post to enter” is not permitted.
As recently as 6 January, Pretty.ie‘s Facebook page asked people to “TAG a friend” upon entering their competition – for that €250 Penneys voucher won by Niamh Murphy. So this competition appears to have violated Facebook’s terms.
Beyond the question of whether anything about Pretty.ie‘s competitions violated Facebook’s terms, there is the question of whether they violated the law.
The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) is the statutory body responsible for enforcing consumer-protection law in Ireland.
A spokesperson for the CCPC says that there is “no specific legislation or directive that deals with online competitions of this nature, such as where consumers like and/or share a page in order to be entered into a draw for a prize”.
Where Are the Winners?
Leo Sherlock didn’t respond to several phone calls, voicemails and one email on Monday afternoon asking why competition winners on Pretty.ie are never tagged, and if he could put us in contact with these winners.
On Tuesday morning, the competition posts from December 2015 to January 2017, and many likes, were gone from the Pretty.ie Facebook page. It now only has 32 likes as of the evening of 18 January, rather than 100,935 likes.
Sherlock failed to respond to two phone calls, one voicemail and one email on Tuesday, also, asking about the competition and what had happened to the posts from the page.
We do, however, have numerous screen grabs, a cached version displaying the most recent competitions and our database of the competition posts and over 129,000 comments.
If you have ever won a competition on Pretty.ie‘s Facebook page, or know someone who has, please do get in touch.
[CORRECTION: This article was updated on 18 January at 9.49 am. An earlier version said that the K Club is in Co. Wicklow. It’s in Co. Kildare. Argh, sorry about that.]
[CLARIFICATION: This article was updated on 20 January at 11.10am, to make it clear that, because of how Facebook works, it isn’t possible for administrators of business pages to tag people in posts.]