Everybody loves something free but it’s even better when you WIN something for free. This is the simple principle behind contests; it taps into our competitive spirit and is a good motivator for action. To be effective a contest has to have a great prize and the process of entry has to be simple. It should also be compelling enough to share with others.
You might be thinking that contests are hokey; I’m here to argue otherwise. For most my career I’ve only been involved with business-to-business (B2B) professional services and have used contests a number of times to generate leads. With the growth of social media I believe running online contests is entering a golden age. There are a number of platforms available to assist with online contests and my current favorite is Wildfire.
In the past few months I’ve helped implement two online contests using Wildfire. This all-in-one solution allows you to run sweepstakes, give-aways, photo submissions, video uploads, essay entries, and more. It’s built with a strong focus of integrating with facebook but you can also integrate it within your website with very little, if any, support needed from IT. Below are some best practices I’ve learned about running online contests.
1. Have an objective and follow-up. Getting web traffic is fine and dandy but you need to generate a list of names, fans, followers, or subscribers. Different contests work better for different purposes, so it’s important to match things properly. An email is the most valuable piece of contact information you can get but it’s even better if you can augment it with a “like” or “follow”. After you get leads make sure you keep them engaged and further develop the relationships by providing ongoing value.
2. Stay away from video contests. Everybody thinks video contests are cool and engaging and they’re right, but they are also the most complex to manage and have the highest barriers to entry. Unless you have a very large pool of potential contestants and the video requirements are super simple (I.e webcam of a person talking) then I would recommend taking a simpler approach.
3. Keep contest entry very simple. You have a limited amount of a person’s time on the web and they will abandon web forms faster than rats flee a sinking boat. Only collect the bare essential contact information and contestants should be able to enter the contest in one sitting or you will have a very high drop out rate (this is a major problem with video contests).
4. Make the contest share-able and reward it. This is where the power of social media really shines since if you integrate your contest with facebook you can build in the ability for people to post a news story to their wall notifying their network and directly invite their “friends” to participate. You can also take things to another level by giving people extra entries or points by tracking what people they invite sign-up (some platforms allow this to be automated).
5. Establish a solid set of rules and judging criteria. There are people on the web that almost make a profession out of entering contests and use dubious means of getting multiple entries or votes for their submissions. This can really take away from the honest entrants and the type of leads you want to collect. One dubious method I’ve seen used is a “voting ring”; it’s essentially a group of people who all vote for each other regardless of the merit/quality of their entry.
6. Promote the heck out of it. Besides having a poorly conceived contest or weak prize, the biggest factor that will sink your contest is a lack of promotion. Marketing a contest is something that is often an afterthought, but it should be at the forefront of your contest strategy. Share it as many places as you can and even use traditional media if you can afford it.
To see an example of a facebook integrated contest check out the Volta Award competition for entrepreneurs. It’s a simple text entry contest that encourages entrepreneurs to submit their elevator pitch to be evaluated by a panel of judges. This is a campaign I’m currently helping out with that utilizes the Wildfire platform.