Daniel Burstein

Social Media Marketing: 7 steps for using contests and sweepstakes to promote your brand

August 9th, 2012

Bribe them and buy them. That was an old-school marketing technique to acquire customers when the value proposition of a product just wasn’t strong enough to pull in enough interest of its own.

Do corporate social media accounts face that challenge? While many Facebook pages and Twitter accounts offer strong value (news, humor, insider information, etc.), the average corporate account can find it challenging to develop a following without an incentive.

One incentive that works well for many marketers is a sweepstakes or contest. (While those terms are often used interchangeably, technically the winner of a sweepstakes is decided by random chance, and a contest is decided by skill and competition.)

“Some of the main benefits of a social media-based contest are fast time-to-market, immediate responses/results, low-cost and no-cost program options, and measureable ROI,” said Sandra Fathi, President, Affect. “I have yet to find an organization — business-to-business or business-to-consumer — that would not benefit from some type of online contest.”

Sandra pointed out that even the President is holding an online sweepstakes to help with fundraising efforts.


The goal of online sweepstakes and contests

 While online sweepstakes and contests can help boost your social media following, they can help you meet other objectives as well.

“The goals of any marketing effort should align directly with business goals – and the same holds true for social media promotions,” Sandra said. She provided some example objectives:

  • Accelerate social media adoption/participation
  • Increase brand awareness
  • Generate leads/sales
  • Drive product/service usage
  • Recognize or reward customers/prospects

However, sometimes it pays to think outside the box.

“For example, we launched the New York Intern Project as a recruiting tool that also provided ancillary benefits, such as doubling our social media following, generating media coverage and new business opportunities with clients who were interested in hosting contests of their own,” Sandra said.

Here are a few mini-case studies to help you visualize successful sweepstakes and contests, and then we’ll review seven steps for launching your own sweepstakes and contests.

Mini-Case Study #1: New York Intern Project


Affect was seeking a public relations and social media intern for the summer in New York, so the audience pool was rather small and narrow.



The team marketed through social media – Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn – and on message boards and forums for students, as well as outreach directly to schools across the country with communications programs.



It attracted 110 entrants, nearly 16,000 votes and more than 260,000 website visits. In addition, Facebook Likes doubled, and all other social media presences benefited from increased traffic and participation.


Mini-Case Study #2: Best Job in the World


To promote tourism to Queensland, Australia.



A big prize, the winner would be flown to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia with a cushy job on the beach and benefits worth more than $140,000. The campaign had an estimated $1.2 million dollar marketing budget.



The contest attracted 34,680 job applicants, approximately $380 million worth of publicity, and increased tourism to the region by 20%.

“The Tourism Queensland contest did run into a few hiccups since the social media team was completely unprepared for the public’s response, and had to hire nearly 40 people to review all of those video submissions and the 20,000 email questions that came in,” Sandra said. “However, the ROI on this campaign significantly outweighed the investment.”


Mini-Case Study #3: Cedarlane Natural Foods


“In our case, we were aiming for brand awareness by increasing Cedarlane’s visibility on our website and on Facebook,” said Matthew Gillespie, Director of Trade & Sales Planning, Cedarlane Natural Foods. “Our goal was for Facebook feedback to help generate leads and sales and for Web visits to lead to an increased awareness of the variety and advantages of the Cedarlane product.”



Cedarlane has run two types of contests: a simple contest with a smaller prize, and a more complex contest with larger prizes.

“Cedarlane has run a series of ‘15 free meals’ giveaways, during which customers enter through the website by telling us what they love about Cedarlane,” Matthew said. “Cross promoting the contest on the Web and through social media channels helped drive traffic from one to the other.”

In the larger contest (which just closed on July 31), 10 pop-up clues were hidden on the Cedarlane website, with opportunities to play on Cedarlane’s Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest pages as well. The hunt began on Cedarlane’s homepage, and guided the hunter/gatherer through the website and/or social media sites to find clues.



“We have more than doubled our email database,” Matthew remarked. “Additionally, our social media and Web traffic have increased in frequency and engagement through allowing customers to sign up to receive updates about upcoming contests via our newsletter. For example, our current Cedarlane Scavenger Hunt contest, taking place online and on social media, increased our website page views six times over with the help of a promotional email announcing the contest.”

As an added bonus, Matthew mentioned the social media aspect of the contest helped beyond just promoting the product or contest.

“The Facebook feedback helps us to continue to roll out quality products that are in demand. We learn what’s important to our customer – for example, vegetarian meals or gluten-free diet options – and do our best to provide what our customers want through our new product lines.”



Step #1: Follow the law

There are many laws regarding contests and sweepstakes, which vary by state. For example, you often must have official rules that delineate how you will pick a winner.

“While social media contests can be quick and simple to take part in, and can even be fairly simple and inexpensive to implement, we feel official contest rules, preferably legally reviewed, should always be made available to avoid any misunderstandings when it comes to choosing a winner and rewarding that winner,” Matthew concurred.

“Every region, and every industry, has different restrictions. And you must be prepared with good legal counsel from the outset to avoid potential issues, or litigation, later. Even big brands sometimes fumble. The Pepsi Refresh nonprofit fundraising contest ran into some criticism and accusations of cheating that could lead to legal woes regarding the distribution of funds to the charities they intended to help,” Sandra advised.


Step #2: Build the contest

Sweepstakes are a random drawing, but for contests, there are many ways to choose a winner. (You will have to decide how you will choose a winner when you write the official rules mentioned in Step #1, and your choice will affect your staffing requirements mentioned in Step #4.)

Public voting is an especially popular choice.

And, for good reason. You can outsource some, if not all, of the judging (although you should still have a team vet all entries for appropriateness) and use social networks to help drive attention to your contest.

However, public voting does not come without an important caveat.

“One of the lessons we have learned is that the ‘wisdom of crowds’ isn’t always so smart,” Sandra said. “For example, a sexy photo may garner a lot of votes for an entrant – but if the contest is to win a job at your company, you may wonder if the person should win for being most qualified or for having the most inappropriate photo.”


Step #3: Choose the technology

Here are some choices to consider, according to Sandra:

  • Build the hosting platform from scratch – Building a hosting platform from scratch will give you the most flexibility and customized features and functions, but it can be very pricey and will take a significant amount of development time.
  • Utilize an existing social media platform – Managing a contest on a social media platform, like Facebook, will have built-in restrictions and associated costs that may prohibit your success.
  • Leverage a third-party contest platform – This may give marketers fewer choices but offers very affordable turnkey solutions.


Step #4: Line up the necessary human resources

One benefit of social media contests is the lure of all that user-generated content that writes itself. But, keep in mind, nothing in life is free. As you can see from the Queensland Tourism mini-case study, you need help administering, managing and judging the contest.

“It’s highly likely that the marketing department, sales department, legal department and PR team will all be involved in a successful contest,” Sandra said.

If you don’t have resources in-house, you may need to outsource.

And, while a social media sweepstakes will be far easier (since the winner is based on random chance and not some sort of judging of skill), you will still likely need some help administering the sweepstakes, especially from the legal department.


Step #5: Pick a prize

Or prizes. This is where the incentive comes in that drives your audience to act.

One major consideration to take into account is your target audience.

“If the goal is to generate leads for a technology networking product that IT administrators would purchase, then offering a $15,000 cash prize might attract thousands of general consumers – but they are not the right target audience,” Sandra said. “If we offered a prize that would be specifically appealing to an IT admin, such as an extreme gaming console or a chance to meet the CEO of a high-profile technology company, my leads will be more targeted and valuable.”

Another major consideration is matching the prize to the effort required to enter, which is especially important for contests.

“If I just have to provide my email address to enter to win a free ice cream cone, that might be enough of an incentive,” Sandra said. “However, if I need to create a commercial for an ice cream brand, including write a script, create a video and solicit votes, my prize better be at least a truckload of ice cream.”

Matthew also discussed the importance of matching the prize to what you expect from your entrants. “If we were to give away a smaller, more direct-marketing prize such as 15 free Cedarlane meals, we could run the contest for less time and overall cost, but still increase brand awareness and word-of-mouth,” Matthew said.

“If you’re awarding a larger grand prize for greater incentive, such as the two Kindle Fires and 15 free meals in our Scavenger Hunt prize package, you’ll of course want to make the cost to you and your client as worthwhile as possible. A longer duration contest allows for broader reach and more word-of-mouth. It also gives people more time to enter, allowing for a more detailed contest with a greater number of potential brand benefits.”

“For instance,” Matthew said, “our Scavenger Hunt requires several steps to complete. These steps lead customers through our social media channels and our website, ensuring they learn about our brand and the online information available about our products. We feel more steps means more chances to reach consumers and stick with them – thus more brand awareness, all spurred on by one large, one-time expense.”

And, of course, budget always plays a factor.

“As far as overhead, we find that often the greatest cost comes from the grand prize awarded and the shipping costs,” Matthew said.


Step #6: Get the word out

I won’t go too deeply into these last two steps because, as a marketer, these are likely the steps that will come most naturally to you – marketing and advertising your sweepstakes or contest.

“If you build it, no one will come … unless you tell them about it,” Sandra said.


Step #7: Pick a winner

You also want to promote your contest after it ends. In Step #1, you should have already outlined how a winner will be chosen. Now it’s time to pick and publicize. Depending on how big the prize is, you may be able to garner significant extra attention by promoting the winner, especially in a specific niche community.



Cedarlane Natural Foods

Affect – Public relations, marketing, and social media company

Strutta – Social media platform contest provider used for New York Intern Project


Related Resources

Recruiting Top Talent – Lessons learned from NYIP (via tech affect blog)

Social Marketing: Twitter contest boosts followers 43%

Social Media Marketing: How to ensure Facebook doesn’t tear down your wall

Social Media Marketing: Viral sweepstakes targeting moms grows Facebook audience 4,488%

Daniel Burstein

About Daniel Burstein

Daniel Burstein, Senior Director of Editorial Content, MECLABS. Daniel oversees all content and marketing coming from the MarketingExperiments and MarketingSherpa brands while helping to shape the editorial direction for MECLABS – digging for actionable information while serving as an advocate for the audience. Daniel is also a speaker and moderator at live events and on webinars. Previously, he was the main writer powering MarketingExperiments publishing engine – from Web clinics to Research Journals to the blog. Prior to joining the team, Daniel was Vice President of MindPulse Communications – a boutique communications consultancy specializing in IT clients such as IBM, VMware, and BEA Systems. Daniel has 18 years of experience in copywriting, editing, internal communications, sales enablement and field marketing communications.

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