Of all the projects we undertake throughout the year, Best of the Best is the most intense. The first couple of years we used paper ballots that were included in the magazine. Candidly, it was a nightmare counting those, and there was a far greater possibility that someone would try to move the dial in their favor unethically. So in 2011 I decided enough was enough, and we went digital. Not only did we move to an online voting system, but we also required participants to vote a minimum of 50 times to discourage people who wanted to vote more than once.
As with any change there was some initial push-back, and we no longer had certain businesses delivering banker boxes of ballots they had collected from their customers on the last day of voting. During that first online voting period, I was concerned that we might not get enough votes to make the survey statistically valid. Boy, was I wrong. The first year we had several times the number of participants than we had the year prior. The complainers were less than one-tenth of one percent of those who participated. We were definitely on to a better process.
We didn’t require much to register, a valid email address and a zip code. The process was going well and in no time we had ten of thousands of folks who had opted in to our email database. This year we sent out more than 50,000 invites to that list at the beginning of the voting period. The average number of votes per day was almost 16,000, with a total of 301,099.
Do we still get complaints about the number of times required for the ballot to count? Yes, but it remains far less than the one-tenth of one percent it has always been. And we lowered the required votes years ago to 35 and put a counter on the top of each screen so voters would know when they had completed the minimum number. Each year, we have tried to make the process more streamlined and continue to add more categories as we get requests.
This year we are going to add a new element to the process. We are partnering with the wonderful folks at PrintEdge to provide the only official plaques and door stickers. First, second, and third place winners will be able to have attractive plaques and signage to let you know they have been selected by our readers as tops in their industry. When you see these signs, please take a moment to compliment their staff on their accolade.
Now more than ever in history, it is important to not only support our local businesses, but to also let them know that we appreciate them. If we don’t, we will be left with our computer screens and internet behemoths like Amazon where there is no one to talk to. Remember, every local purchase supports a Knoxville dream, and ultimately, makes our community better.
So over the next couple of months, get out there and shop local, support your neighbor, do something good for the people around you, and strive to be your own Best of the Best version of yourself. Trust me, we will all be better for it.