Best Of: What it is, and isn’t

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Everywhere you go locally, you see signs from businesses proudly declaring themselves Best of North Idaho.

Stickers in windows. Big headlines on marquees. Logos in advertisements.

What you’re seeing is the product of some powerful marketing. For nearly a decade, North Idaho Business Journal, a monthly business publication produced by the Coeur d’Alene Press, has sponsored an annual contest where readers select the “best” businesses in a number of categories. What started as a fun, audience-engaging activity has grown into a marketing phenomenon, including a separate profit-making website — www.northidahobestof.com — for the Hagadone Corp., which owns The Press and North Idaho Business Journal.

Every year there’s a lot of excitement when the vote is launched. The 2017 Best of North Idaho balloting is underway now through Feb. 3. Anyone can vote by going to: http://cdapress.secondstreetapp.com/l/Best-of-North-Idaho-2017

With all the contest’s excitement comes criticism, too — some of it quite rational. As Justin Kane explains in his letter to the editor today, businesses can encourage readers to vote for them as often as possible — up to once an hour. Some local businesses have been known to enlist volunteers or even pay people to vote for them frequently.

Kane is correct in stating that his physical therapy business has such a strong reputation, he doesn’t want or need to “game” the system and claim a marketing title unethically. Fair enough. However, there’s more to the Best of North Idaho story.

Best of North Idaho is a popularity contest, not an exercise in democracy. In determining the rules of engagement every year, managers of the contest brainstorm and debate. But here’s the problem: There is no truly fair method to limit the contest to one person, one vote.

As long as the contest is voted on digitally, many consumers know a very simple way to cheat the system — by clearing “history” on her or his device, which enables the consumer to vote every second or two, if he or she so chooses. On the other end of the scale, some entities like a school district might have just one IP address for hundreds and hundreds of devices. If a one person/one vote system were somehow adopted, having a single IP address for hundreds of employees would mean only one of the employees on district property would be able to vote.

On one hand you have a person at a computer or smartphone tallying votes like crazy, and on the other, many people who wish they could vote would be unable to because they share a common IP address. This broad spectrum of participation has led Best of North Idaho managers to leave the contest wide open — and constantly remind folks that it’s a popularity contest, not a scientific analysis.

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