Friday, May 4, 2012

5 Tips for Holding an Online Contest

by Jean Oram

Hosting an online contest whether it's on your blog, website, Twitter, Facebook, or all of the above is a great way to reward your audience, create buzz, expand your reach, and promote your brand or product (book!).

However, not all contests are created equal. A few weeks ago we held our first contest here on From The Write Angle and while its success may have seemed guaranteed and easy, a lot of time and planning went into the contest to ensure it didn't flop miserably.

If you are considering hosting a contest now, or in the future, here are Five for Friday tips to help you make the most out of your contest.

5 Tips for Holding a contest

Five Ways to Get The Most Out of Your Online Contest:

1. Purpose

It's important to know why you are holding a contest. Is it strictly for fun and a way to reward your loyal readers? It is to expand your reach? Promote your book? Generate more "likes" or followers?

Depending on your purpose, it will change your approach as well as your contest criteria.

2. Criteria

Successful contests take a lot of time. Do you have the time (and desire) to read through a large pile of flash fiction (we did!), or do you simply want to draw a name from a hat? Do you have the time to build buzz before and during your contest as well as draw and announce winners followed by distributing prizes? Don't mess with your contest's schedule—plan ahead!

If you are hoping to generate "likes" on Facebook you might consider holding the contest right on Facebook. (Note: If you are holding a contest on Facebook you will need to use a Facebook app in order to stay within Facebook's contest holding rules—if you don't they could shut down your page and account without warning. Eek!)

When determining your contest's criteria, keep in mind that asking people to do great things for you such as like your Facebook page, follow your blog, follow you on Twitter, Tweet your contest, or whatever else you might come up with, may reduce the number of potential entrants significantly. Some people won't jump through hoops, aren't on social networks, or simply don't have the time to find you and follow you in all these places. Essentially you are asking them to promote you ... but for what? The slim chance they may win. Make it easy for them and make it worth it. Contests are fun. Not work for the entrant.

If your purpose is to gain followers and you really want to make following you a condition of entry, consider this idea: Give every entrant one entry for doing something simple like commenting on your blog. Then give an additional entry for any 'bonus' thing they do such as tweeting your contest. This way those who really desire the prize and don't mind sharing the word and have the time to do so, get more entries. But remember that you will have to keep track of who has jumped through which entry hoop. As well, what do you do for those who are already following you?

3. Details

Details are important and can make or break a contest. Remember to tell people HOW to enter. (You might be surprised how many contests forget this detail). WHERE to enter (especially important if you are talking about your contest on multiple social media platforms). WHEN to enter. (When does the contest open and close? Don't forget timezone info!) WHO can enter. (Can previous winners enter? Is this contest closed to people outside your home country?)

Always, always provide a direct link to your contest page or post. If people have to sift through blog posts, website pages, etc., to find your contest you will lose them. Make it easy and you will gain more entrants.

4. Prizes

Large prizes are wonderful, but keep your costs in mind. Who is going to pay for the prize and its shipping? Is a $50 prize going to be worth the five entries you receive? What about if you had 50 entries? What ROI (Return on Investment) are you hoping for? What will it take to accomplish that?

If you aren't sure, take a look around at networks similar to yours. Based on their contests, guesstimate how many entries you could get.

And when choosing your prizes, don't forget to consider what would appeal to your audience.

Note: You might consider a smaller prize for your first contest—think of it as a trial, risk-free learning contest. Save the big prizes for when you really know what you are doing and can knock your contest right out of the park with its awesomeness.

5. Promotion

If you want to reach new people and expand the reach of your contest, you are probably going to have to publicize your contest until the cows come home. Smart, unique ways to expand your contest's reach is essential. Overall, people retweet funny and unique, not spammy and self-promotional.

When promoting your contest you could do like many do (a.k.a. the lazy way) and rely on the entrants to spread the word. But keep in mind that asking your entrants to publicize your contest is bittersweet for them. Every person they tell who enters decreases their odds of winning—and they know it. It's up to you to make sure you find interesting ways to promote your contest over different networks, on different days, and at different times of the day. Don't expect people to miraculously find you and enter.

Direct links to your contest page/post (as mentioned already) are vital, but so is adding a footnote subsequent blog posts as well as a note or badge on your sidebar or wherever you can add one. Promote, promote, promote! Don't let people come to your site and miss your contest. Most people over promote their books and under promote their contests.

For example, we (the FTWA team) barely promoted our contest for about the first week or so. And we got two entries. Then we gave ourselves a little smack and tweeted, shouted, Facebooked, blogged, and taglined about the contest wherever seemed suitable. That afternoon we got four more entries and it kept growing from there. So do what you need to do to get the word out!

Note: Use hashtags like #free and #contest when promoting on Twitter.

Now that you've looked at five contest tips from the write angle, let us know what you think about contests. What advice would you share? What do you like in a contest? What do you hate? What drives you to enter a contest? Have you ever held a contest? Share with us! We'd love to hear your thoughts and make next year's blogiversary contest even bigger and better! (And yes, we are already planning next year!! We're crazy that way.)

Jean Oram usually wins contests when she is the only entrant. She blogs about writing, and also tweets about it, facebooks, and pins playful kid's play stuff on Pinterest. (She'd feel like a real winner if you followed her.) ;)


Jemi Fraser said...

I've never held on a contest on my own blog. The one we held here was a lot of fun - may just have to try that!! :)

Jean Oram said...

I haven't either, Jemi. The idea of dishing out a pile of cash for prizes always puts a halt to it. Maybe one day soon though. :)

Kela McClelland said...

Great tips, Jean!

When I enter a contest, typically I go for easy because I don't have a lot of time.

I haven't ever had a contest, but I'm going to be holding my first one very soon. I'm so excited. I think I may use Rafflecopter, but I haven't decided for sure. I just know that I've entered contests that use Rafflecopter and it seems to work out.

Anita said...

I love this and may bookmark it...just don't have the time for a contest at the moment...such a busy time for kids (and people who teach them). :)

Jean Oram said...

Kela: Using something like Rafflecopter is a fantastic idea, Kela. Best of luck with your contest!

Anita: Bookmark away! Contests do take time, that's for sure. I think my biggest tip would be to ensure you have the time to spread the word of your contest, etc., so all your hard work doesn't go to waste.

Thanks for stopping by.

Damyanti said...

Very well fleshed-out post...thanks for sharing :)

Jean Oram said...

Thanks, Damyanti. :)