As always, we want a quick fix for increasing traffic, building up fans, and creating a community around our brand. Somewhere in all of the ideas we have, a contest is going to come to mind. Give something away for free, we think, and we’ll get tons of traffic!
Contests rarely work out like that. For anyone. There are brands that shouldn’t even have a contest. Should you bother with a contest?
When A Contest Is A Good Idea
There are times when having a contest or a giveaway on your blog or social media networks can be a good idea. In these cases, “success” isn’t necessarily connected to measurable increases in numbers, but is determined in other ways.
1. Introduce A Great New Product
Perhaps you have a great product or service and you think people would pay for it if they only knew how great it was. Giving it away through a contest is one way to get your audience to try and review your product by removing their fear of spending money on something they might not like. It’s the free sample idea.
It goes without saying that your product needs to be good. Word-of-mouth and feedback can be positive or negative. Getting something bad for free doesn’t hide that it isn’t good. Even negative feedback, however, brings a certain amount of success: you can’t learn anything about your product and your user if no one is actually using it. Getting people to try out your paid product or service for free is a legitimate reason to have a contest.
2. Reward Your Current Fan Base
Having a contest on your blog with only 20 readers or on a Facebook page with only 10 fans may not bring you great success if you’re envisioning massive increases in traffic or Facebook likes as the end result, but if whatever number of fans, email subscribers, and readers you have are loyal and enthusiastic, a contest featuring a new product or service is a good way to get them to try it out as well as reward them for just being fans. Rewarding 10 die-hard fans is more valuable than rewarding 100 that don’t really care about your brand.
Thanking and rewarding your audience is a legitimate reason to have a contest, and the positive experience they have with your brand is where the ROI of a contest lies: loyalty and a willingness to share your brand with their friends.
3. Capitalize On Trends For SEO
There are several holidays that are logical times to give things away. If you run a florist shop, for example, Valentine’s Day is a good time for a contest. Any holiday will work, depending upon your niche and your brand. Selling eye patches or rum candy? Talk Like A Pirate day could be a gold mine for you. Trends, by their nature, are temporary, but there’s no harm in throwing a line into the traffic that’s looking for what you have to offer, and using a contest as the bait. Hopping onto a seasonal trend for SEO purposes, or for ad word or other campaigns, is a legitimate reason to have a contest.
When A Contest Is A Bad Idea
Contests and giveaways, however, aren’t for everyone, and aren’t a good idea all the time. There are reasons to not ever have a contest, and reasons to reconsider when and why you are motivated to have a contest.
1. You Have An Eye On Numbers Only
Are you counting on your contest to be a major part of your plan to build traffic and followers? Are you defining a successful contest with numbers in mind? You’ll likely be disappointed, particularly if you’re just starting out with your blog or Facebook page. Contests market and reward, they don’t build. They might get people to hop on your social media property, but a contest is usually not your best plan for building long-term reliable traffic and fans. Here’s why:
- Easy come, easy go. Contests are bouncy. They necessarily attract people who are looking for something free, and that’s it. Most people will enter, leave, and never come back. Don’t be surprised. Be aware that your contest entrants may not blog, tweet, or share your contest. They might like your page on Facebook, and then unlike it when the contest is over.
- Free isn’t special. If your contest isn’t amazing enough to inspire virality…it probably won’t go viral. There are thousands of contests at any given moment. The fact that you are giving something away for free isn’t special.
You can build a sense of community within an existing one by using a contest. You have to build your actual community (and traffic) the old-fashioned way: great content, conversation, and care. Use contests to reward and engage current community. They’ll share your awesomeness on their own.
2. Your Product Isn’t Wanted
If no one wants to buy your product, will anyone want it for free? It’s not enough to just be free. A free product that no one wants is still a product that no one wants. The same rules apply for what’s free as for what you sell: it has to be great, people have to want it, and you have to stand behind it after it’s given away.
If no one wants what you have, telling them they can have it for free won’t necessarily change their mind. People don’t owe you anything, just because you’re giving something away.
3. You Aren’t Sure Of The Legalities
Do you know if your contest or giveaway is legal? There are many rules governing contests, sweepstakes, and giveaways. Are you ready to adhere to them? Make sure you have clear contest guidelines, and stick to them yourself. You are legally responsible for what you do.
Are you using your Facebook page as part of the contest? If so, be sure you are completely familiar with Facebook page guidelines (see section E) regarding such things, or you run the risk of having your page deleted. If you’re not sure what Facebook requires, err on the side of safety and only use Facebook to bring people back to your own website for the contest.
4. Your Contest Could Hurt You
Are you giving so much away you’re cheapening your brand, and creating price sensitivity in customers who learn to expect the sale or giveaway instead of paying full price? Are you having more contests than your current audience size can handle? Have you made them weary of your constant giveaways? Don’t become so focused on attracting new blood through contests that you alienate your current audience.
Make sure your contest doesn’t hurt you when it comes to selling, or when it comes to how you treat your current loyal fans.
5. Your Fans Aren’t Ready For It
Does your contest have a public response element to it? Encouraging your fans to join in the conversation is a great way to build community, but if you haven’t actively engaged your fans previously, asking them to participate with comments or other publicly noted methods might leave you embarrassed with the resulting echo chamber. You can’t expect your audience to jump in and participate if you’ve done nothing to encourage them previously.
If you have a new website, blog or social media presence, you might want to wait a while — maybe even a year! — before having a contest. Get a loyal audience first through those old-fashioned methods. If you’re not actively conversing, sharing, and promoting with your customers and social media audience, they will return the favor. Unfortunately.
So You Decided To Have A Contest
After careful thought, you’ve decided that yes, you will have a contest or giveaway. You have reasonable expectations on the end result, and believe it is worth going ahead. There are a few things you must remember:
- Make it easy. Your contest, unless you’re giving away a jumbo jet or a car, shouldn’t involve too much to enter. Figure out a way to make entering as easy as possible while still keeping your own needs in mind. e.g. if the contest is to build your mailing list, simply signing up for the mailing list might be enough. Have as few hoops to jump through as possible.
- Make it limited. Make it urgent. You don’t want a deadline that is so soon that it seems no one can win (unless you’re Amazon.com on Black Friday), but you do want a sense of urgency. If your contest is running for two months, no one feels the pressure to decide. Exclusivity and time pressure encourage people to enter quickly, or miss out.
- Make the rules clear. Be very clear about the rules of participation, and whether it is a contest, giveaway, or sweepstakes. Adhere to legal requirements. Don’t give anyone the chance to say that you were deceptive, and don’t end up in legal trouble.
- Spread the news. Let your fans and followers know every day, but don’t get so carried away that they’re annoyed. Once a day is enough. Consider promoting it as an event; use Google+ and Facebook (as long as you comply with their guidelines) for your event and come up with creative ways to use the events features.
- Use helpful tools. Many people use a tool like Rafflecopter to run their contests. Sometimes they post outside of their social networks to sites like Blog Giveaways or similar sites that list blog contests. Find other bloggers that might be interested in mentioning your contest on their site, or sites that fit your niche (e.g. free!grechen for fashion bloggers).
You’ll quickly learn the “how and what” of a successful contest after a few failures and successes, and whether or not contests are something that even work for your brand. Contests aren’t necessarily a bad idea, but you need to understand what they will and won’t do, and how your audience reacts to them.
The numbers that follow a contest may initially be disappointing, but it’s the community sentiment surrounding the event that eventually brings in the rewards. As always, patience.