Murphy-Goode's job contest turns sour

A month ago, DailyFinance reported on Murphy-Goode's search for an all-purpose networker-for-hire. The Sonoma-based winemaker conducted its quest through an online contest that encouraged candidates to submit videos to the company's site. These clips, in turn, were re-posted on YouTube, giving Murphy-Goode an impressive amount of online publicity. Over the ensuing weeks, as viewers were able to vote for their favorite contestants, the search drew huge amounts of traffic to the company's website.

The big prize -- a six-month social networking gig, complete with a $60,000 paycheck and free room and board -- was an impressive reward. However, when compared with the free publicity of the viral campaign, it was a fantastic bargain. Unfortunately, with the contest closed, it seems likely that Murphy-Goode's publicity, rather than aging, is beginning to sour.

The biggest problem lies in allegations that the company largely ignored the public votes that it so aggressively solicited. While some popular candidates, like Atlanta's Hardy Wallace, were brought in for interviews, others weren't. San Francisco's Martin Sargent, the top vote-getter, wasn't given an interview; neither was the very popular Dan Leadbetter.

In fact, some candidates admitted that they had been contacted by a recruiter, who informed them that the online votes were relatively unimportant. While this information leaked last month, it gained momentum after the contest was over. When Sargent posted the news of his rejection to his Twitter feed, it drew the attention of Digg founder Kevin Rose, who re-twittered it to his 900,000 followers. Re-re-twittered and featured on Digg, the story continued to gain momentum as the winery went into damage-control mode, posting an explanation on Facebook.

Using contests as a promotional method seems to be emerging as a major tool for online marketing. It has proven very useful to Queensland, Australia, whose "Best job in the world" contest drew almost 35,000 applications and put the obscure state on the map. In fact, David Ready, Jr., the winemaker who conducted Murphy-Goode's contest, admitted that he was inspired by Queensland's search.

In retrospect, just as Queensland's contest shows the strengths of a viral contest, Murphy-Goode's shows the dangers. In searching for a social networking maven, the company attempted to take advantage of Web 2.0 and connective media. Unfortunately, the people that it attracted are also exactly the kind of applicants who are best positioned to damage the company's name. Further, by suggesting that it was engaging in a Democratic process, the company drew the attention (and, ultimately, the ire) of similarly plugged-in networkers.

Now that the truth is on the table, it will be interesting to see if Murphy-Goode can swallow the bitter cup that it has been passed.

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