It used to be that you literally had to throw your name into a hat for a chance to win something. Now that online promotions are the norm, you have more tools than ever to create a cool, engaging contest to excite your audience and build your brand. Just recently, the VerticalResponse Next Teen Tycoon video contest came to an end and we wanted to share what we learned (some of it the hard way!).

If you’re thinking about launching a contest of your own, these eight tips will start you off on the right track.

1. Set your goals

Just like any marketing campaign, you need to establish what you want to get out of the contest before you get into anything else. Is it more Facebook fans? Traffic to your website? Press coverage? Set specific metrics you want to accomplish at the end of the contest, whether it’s an X percent increase in fans or traffic, or X number of stories and articles written about the contest. Then develop your promotion, user interaction flow and follow-up based on those goals.

2. Know the laws


This isn’t a whole lot of fun, but the most important. There are different laws and regulations for different types of promotions (sweepstakes versus giveaways, for example), and they can vary by state, too. We strongly advise having a lawyer or legal expert review your official contest rules. Check out Social Media Examiner’s great post on online promotions and the law.

Additionally, if you’re using Facebook or another third-party platform to host your contest, they may have their own set of guidelines. For example, promotions on Facebook must be administered within Facebook Apps. Here are the latest Facebook Page rules, including promotions.

3. Make it easy to enter

It makes sense: The more hoops people have to go through to enter a contest, the less likely they’ll do it. It’s best not to require participants to do something complicated unless the potential payoff is in line with the large amount of effort. Sweepstakes have the lowest barrier to entry, since all you need to do is throw your name and email address into the bucket. With giveaways, a prize that’s exclusive or in limited supply will attract more interest than just something off the shelf. Video contests, with all the preparation and equipment needed, tend to draw fewer (but more engaged) entrants.

4. Give ’em something worth their efforts

When was the last time you entered a drawing for a free pack of gum? Yeah, I can’t remember either. I’m not saying the prize needs to be worth X amount of dollars, but it should feel special. Some of the most creative online promotions are memorable and successful because they speak directly to their audience’s interests. Side note: Having multiple, tiered prizes makes people think they have a greater chance of winning, something to think about.

5. Consider an online promotions app

The idea for your contest might be a simple one, but the technical aspects of running it – tracking, sniffing out fraud, measuring success, etc. – might be beyond your in-house abilities, especially if it turns into a wildly popular contest. We used Wildfire Interactive to help manage our Next Teen Tycoon contest and that decision ultimately saved the team a ton of time; their prices are small biz-friendly too, starting at $5 per promotion plus $0.99 per day of the contest.

6. Be prepared for fraud

You’ll be surprised at how “creative” people can get to try to game the system – especially if there’s a big prize up for grabs. Sites like and make it super simple for someone to buy votes, likes, fans, views, etc. We’ve also seen people on forums trading points, virtual gifts and other types of currency for votes (we learned this the hard way). Not cool.

What to do? First and foremost, include a clause in your contest rules that states you have the right to disqualify a contestant at any time for any reason. Once the contest is launched, monitor things closely. If someone gets a big, sudden spike in votes, strange comments/commenters, email addresses or social media accounts that don’t seem real, you’ll need to put on your detective hat. This is when a third-party app vendor comes in handy: They can provide vote logs, IP addresses and other information you might not have easy access to otherwise.

7. Partner up


Reach out to other companies, individuals and organizations that might be interested in supporting your contest so you can leverage their clout and willingness to spread the word. You’ll be surprised at how willing folks are to help, especially if your contest is tied to a feel-good cause. Being associated with well-known organizations boosts your contest’s credibility, too!

For example, with our Next Teen Tycoon contest we partnered with respected groups like TEDxTeen, The Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship and Teens in Tech. They promoted our contest like crazy to their own networks because we were looking to help teen entrepreneurs, and teen entrepreneurs are their audience. Even big companies like Dell and Inc. Magazine hopped on board because they wanted to be associated with a program that promotes entrepreneurship and small business.

8. Get ready to shout from the rooftops

Just because you built it doesn’t mean they will come. Create a link or badge for your website’s home page directing visitors to wherever your contest is hosted. Once it’s launched, mention it regularly on social media (don’t forget to create a unique #hashtag for Twitter). Send out a dedicated email marketing campaign or two. Ask your employees to include a link to the contest in their email signatures. And don’t forget to remind your partners to let their peeps know!

If your contest involves a semi-finalist or finalist round, those who advance will likely be super motivated to get their followers to help them win. Make it easier for them by creating badges that they can post to their websites or blogs, and provide suggested copy (with link, of course) for their social media posts and tweets. Don’t forget to include a clear call-to-action so their followers know what to do.

Running an online contest or promotion takes time, effort and a leap of faith in your audience, but the results can be well worth it, if done right. Have any cool contests come across your radar lately?

© 2012 – 2018, Contributing Author. All rights reserved.

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