How to Craft the Perfect Social Media Contest

It's easy to run a contest on your favorite social network. Doing it right takes a little bit more work.
Business Writers
February 13, 2012

Companies using Twitter to promote themselves and offer giveaways and incentives to followers is nothing new. But as more people integrate social networking into their daily lives, it's important to understand how to do it right.

Felipe Coimbra launched Montreal-based OneKontest in 2010 to help businesses facilitate promotions on Twitter. The platform allows companies to offer prizes to social media users, and selects winners at random. And while OneKontest eases the logistics of such a campaign, it's important to have a few things in place before it launches.

OneKontest's clients include big names like Vodafone and the WWE, which has increased its Twitter followers by several hundred thousand with the help of Twitter-centric promotions. But it can work for smaller operations, too.

We spoke with Coimbra about what it takes to build a plan for a successful social media promotion. If done right, it can benefit not only your followers, but your company as well.

Build a network

Without a robust network of followers or fans to see and participate in your promotion, it could tank. In order for a campaign to succeed, use your existing fan or follower base to amplify your reach online. Clearly, the more people who see your promotion teaser on Twitter or Facebook, the greater the number of people who are interested in it–and consequently, the higher the engagement between those users and your company's social media channels.

Larger corporations that use online promotions, like prominent OneKontest client Vodafone, have a ready-made swath of social media users to tap into. For small businesses, though, it's a little trickier to deepen that user pool. Coimbra says personal friends and your most loyal clients are typically the best advocates.

"It's more genuine that way than just trying to get random people to participate in the contest," he says.

Do your homework

Especially if you're a first-timer, take a look at other brands in your industry and evaluate their promotions. It'll help you understand your competition, as well as the general landscape of social media promotion.

Coimbra recommends looking to heavy-hitters like Virgin and Southwest Airlines as case studies for successful social media contests and promotions.

Define the goal

Understanding your objectives for your social media campaign ahead of its launch helps you craft one that makes the most sense and has the best chance at success for your small business. Do you want to increase the number of Twitter followers you have? If so, by what margin? Do you want to get more subscribers to an e-newsletter service, or boost traffic to your website?

You need to set a specific desired outcome so that you can approach your promotion the right way, focusing on the proper platforms and engaging with the right audience. But Coimbra says there's one fundamental goal that should steer virtually all social media contests–expanding your reach by going viral.

Know the formula

A few things about what you're offering that should always be true, according to Coimbra:

  • It has to be something people are interested in winning–if it's a run-of-the mill or second-rate prize, your social media network won't be wowed, and probably won't participate. People like free stuff, but they love something that's actually desirable, useful or otherwise outstanding.
  • It has to be a product or service directly related to your brand–without that link, it'll be hard to generate any kind of lasting publicity for your company.
  • It has to be original–the idea of a contest is to shine a little spotlight on your business, and you could augment that with a prize that's notable.

Use common sense

It seems obvious, but playing on touchy subjects like religion, politics and even natural disasters is essentially a guaranteed way to alienate people and garner some bad publicity for your business.

For those who argue that no PR is bad PR, remember there are safer ways to get people interested in your campaigns than taking the edgiest approach. Do your best to make your promotion interesting, but not at the expense of your reputation.

Understand the risks

Not every social media promotion is a resounding success. And with so many factors at play (think: audience size, timing, frequency, cost, number of prizes awarded, prize quality, etc.), small businesses have a tougher time nailing it than their larger counterparts, which have built-in fan bases and far more resources.

That said, if your campaign doesn't yield the results you hoped to achieve, don't write off the marketing tactic.

"There's no recipe of success. It's all depending on the timing, the kind of people that actually get interested in your promotion," Coimbra says. "You may try one and you may not get too [many] results, but you may try again and get more results."

Improve your method

If you launch a campaign keeping in mind that it might not yield the results you want the first time, you should also be prepared to make the adjustments necessary to achieve a better outcome next time. Likewise, if your promotion goes as well as you had planned, be a critical thinker to improve upon those results in your next go-round.

"This is the same thing that goes with any kind of marketing strategy you try," Coimbra says. "Just keep doing different things and learn as you go."

Retain your audience

A successful social media promotion should infuse you business with a sudden boost, but you'll still need to convert those new followers and fans to serve a more meaningful function (as customers and clients). The promotion, fundamentally, is a springboard.

Keep delivering interesting content, hand-pick the items you share on social media and, if it works for you, make contests on Twitter or Facebook a regular thing. Ensuring your social network maintains a certain level of interest in your brand is critical–without that, you'll lose out on the valuable business that might have been.

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