Social Media Contests: A winning tactic?

Mail-in sweepstakes have largely gone the way of door-to-door postal service. Social media has breathed new life into contests, a tactic that’s becoming more and more popular with marketers. In the past week alone, Tim Hortons, Young Drivers of Canada and Staples all launched online and social media contests: • Tim Hortons is giving hockey […]

Mail-in sweepstakes have largely gone the way of door-to-door postal service. Social media has breathed new life into contests, a tactic that’s becoming more and more popular with marketers. In the past week alone, Tim Hortons, Young Drivers of Canada and Staples all launched online and social media contests:

• Tim Hortons is giving hockey fans the chance to get ice time with Sidney Crosby. Fans can visit the Tim Hortons #JumpTheBoards app on Facebook to enter for a chance to win.

• Young Drivers of Canada is inviting people to submit “My Funniest or Worst Winter Driving Story” for the chance to win an online tutorial and in-car driving lessons.

• Staples Advantage (a division of Staples) is running its 2nd annual “Messiest Office” contest. Participants can submit pictures of their messy workspaces through the Staples Advantage Canada website where votes will be cast for the office most in need of an overhaul. The winner will receive a $7,500 office makeover.

With this increasingly crowded landscape, Marketing asked PR experts to weigh in on the effectiveness of contests, the mistakes companies typically make when creating them, and the keys to creating a winning giveaway.

Lauren Wasley, creative media and PR strategist at Energi PR
“Contesting can be highly effective when executed as part of a broader public relations and marketing campaign, but no campaign can rely solely on this tactic. What’s great about contests is they provide a way to reach new and existing fans through the channels they use, which today is often social media platforms.

“That said, contests themselves do not guarantee a successful campaign. This is where good PR comes in. As contests are run within a limited time frame, it’s important to have enough of a platform to sustain long-term engagement with customers.

“A good contest includes clear rules, sufficient time to register and, most importantly, a strong incentive to enter in the first place. The Winter Driving contest by Young Drivers of Canada provides that reason by offering a valuable online driving tutorial. Unfortunately, this example illustrates the importance of seamless execution and attention to detail. In this case, the contest dates appearing in the news release were inaccurate, causing some confusion and potentially costing Young Drivers of Canada fan engagement and participation. The Tim Hortons #Jumptheboards contest is an example of how social media can be used to gain exposure, and it didn’t hurt that ice time with Sidney Crosby was a highly desirable prize for the winning entry. Using a hashtag is an effective and easy way to encourage and track social conversations.”

Sarah Spence, SVP, partner and general manager, High Road Communications
“The types of contests that work well are constantly changing. From photo contests (like the Staples Advantage contest) to gamification to the next digital trend, it’s important to know what’s getting popular attention and to tailor your contest accordingly. A strong paid strategy also helps; relying on current fans or followers may not be enough to meet your objectives. However, contests are not always the right answer. Other tactics may support an overall strategy better and lead to deeper and more meaningful interactions with core audiences.

“Contests always attract the professional contesters, but they can be tailored to pique the interest of your desired audiences. The ad targeting capabilities of platforms like Facebook and Twitter allow brands to pinpoint exact target audiences down to demographics, interests, devices being used and more. It is often assumed that contests are quick and cost-effective, but even when build and execution is easy, contests require an increase in community monitoring and management. Legal implications, prizing and fulfillment also need to be accounted for.”

Justin Creally, co-founder, North Strategic
“Sometimes brands make the mistake of using contests as the foundation of their social media strategy, instead of using them as a tactic to support the larger strategy. It is important to know what your brand is aiming to achieve from the contest or it will not contribute to the overall brand value.

“In some cases, contest periods are too long, which causes the target audience to lose interest. Brands should keep contests short and sweet to encourage immediate entry and to ensure the contest stays top of mind among the target audience. However, if running a longer contest, brands can maintain engagement by offering prizes throughout the contest period.

“More contesting is not always better. Companies should avoid running monthly, small-scale contests if they add minimal value to the brand. This can attract a community with limited brand loyalty, simply wanting to take advantage of prizing.

“Often, prizing does not tie back to the brand. If the brand is offering prizes that do not engage directly with its values, drive the audience in-store or encourage the use of its services, the contest will fall short. For example, brands offering cash prizes risk losing the link between the brand and the contest. These prizes can also attract a community with no affinity to the brand.”

Martin Waxman, executive vice president, Thornley Fallis
“When it comes to contests, I think social media has given them a fresh lease on life – that is, if a brand is able to make the experience one that people want to take part in and share. However, it’s a cluttered market and before launching any contest, the first thing to consider is whether or not it will help achieve your goals. If the answer is yes, you want to ensure the concept resonates with the people you’re trying to reach, offers value and is creative and fun so they’ll take the time to enter.

“We recently developed a contest for Allstate’s Just Drive Canada campaign designed to engage students. We asked them to offer advice to distracted drivers by creating a video, song or photo – a sharable social object – and the one with the most votes won a prize. We promoted the contest, via paid, earned and owned media and asked students to encourage their friends and communities to vote.

“This is different from the past where many PR people relied on contests as a soft media hook. That worked sometimes, but like so many things it became a crutch. You can almost hear the lone voice in a brainstorm, ‘I’ve got it, let’s have a contest!’ These days, contests should begin with an interactive story so the audience can become an integral part of that story.”

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