You Win! Contest Marketing Pluses and Pitfalls

If contest marketing is done correctly it can be highly effective; if done incorrectly it can be a nightmare.

We’ve all seen them before, calls to do something to win a prize: fill out a form, send in a picture, tweet with a brand’s hashtag. This is contest marketing. If done correctly it can be highly effective; if done incorrectly it can be a nightmare.

  • The pluses: exposure, brand building, increased traffic and link building for improved SEO (if your contest is fun and notable it will get picked up by blogs and the media)
  • The pitfalls: potential legal problems (regulations vary by state!), contest gets hijacked by pranksters and low return on investment.

Books could be written on this subject, so I’m not going to get into this at length, but here are some non-obvious considerations.

Venue picking: do you use Facebook, Instagram, your own site? First, the more venues you use, the greater the potential legal hassle. So while it’s tempting to use them all, keep the consequences in mind. Second, do your due diligence with some analysis to pick the right venue. How many Facebook likes do you have? Twitter followers? What are the metrics on engagement with content on your various social platforms? Third, what venue makes the most sense? Depending on what you’re asking a user to do, pick the easiest tool for the job. If you’re asking for entries into a photo contest, Instagram or Facebook is the best choice; if you’re asking for people to submit user-generated content, your native web site might be the best answer.

Prize picking: If the goal is just to drive traffic, pick an iPad as the prize. Everybody wants an iPad. If you’re trying to build a base of customers with high lifetime value, pick what you sell. If you sell photography gear, give away photography gear.

Rules, rules rules: not only do you need to abide by Federal and State laws—and those laws do differ by state—you have to be aware of the platform’s terms of use as well. And of course, have detailed and bullet-proof terms and conditions for the contest itself. I know, the lawyers always ruin everything, but there’s a reason they make more than you do—they prevent disaster.

Exit strategy: don’t make this contest your Asian land war. Have a plan in place in case, for whatever reason, you need to pull this contest down before it’s over. Talk to the lawyers, figure out your greatest exposure and mitigate for that. Include items in the contest terms and conditions for this exit strategy.