How to maximise the potential of your online competition

Most of you will be familiar with online competitions as a useful tool in the promotional arsenal. Everyone likes to win things, right? But many sites and brands would admit that they don't take full advantage of the opportunities a competition can provide, or can sometimes miss the mark entirely. Here are some quick tips to help maximise the potential of your online competition.

1. Have an objective

If you're a business giving away a prize, it needn't be an entirely altruistic exercise. Sure, your goal is promotion, but how exactly does that manifest itself in your entry mechanic?

Make sure you tailor how (and why) users can and should enter, to your marketing needs. Want to grow a newsletter? Include an opt-in on the entry form. Recruiting users? Make it a registered-user only competition. Want to grow your Twitter or Facebook numbers? Base the entry mechanic on the network, with an accompanying landing page.

Unless you're massive in size, "brand awareness" alone probably won't justify the effort and cost of a competition, so make sure you've got something numerical to measure it against, that you can also market to in future. Why not follow up with a discount or deal exclusively for competition entrants, as a thank you?

2. Pick your prizes wisely

As far as prizes go, size doesn't necessarily matter.  It goes without saying that the greater the entry effort, the greater the prize should be to justify it, but often, a more psychologically accessible prize (like a jar of retro sweets) will prove more popular, as entrants believe they're more likely to win. If you're going for what are generally considered as most popular prizes the holy trinity of "i"s will be the most reliably effective - iPod/iPad/iPhone.

It's always worth looking to cross-market and partner with a brand that can offer prizes gratis as part of the deal. Prize partners are a great way of minimising outlay, and increasing your credibility by bringing someone potentially impressive or recognisable on board.  Depending on your size, traffic and the entries/marketing return you can promise, you may need to adjust your prize demands or brand, or look to add value with a tailored creative entry that compliments the nature of your prize partner.

3. Drive Entries

Many businesses come up with fantastic entry mechanics and decadent prizes, but don't obtain sufficient entries for the competition to be considered a success. Regardless of how sublime your contest is, it will inevitably need promotion and seeding. Despite what you may hear, even viral competitions need initial promotion. Obvious options are Twitter, Facebook et al, newsletters, and if your entry mechanic has a promotional requirement attached (e.g. a requirement of entry is to invite a friend via email, or retweet a message) then much of the hard work can be done for you.

It used to be the case that competitive voting mechanics were a tremendous catalyst for entries and traffic, with hopefuls canvassing for votes and attention, but the prevalence of scripts and methods of gaming these processes mean that such a mechanic is now vulnerable to being compromised by cheating.

Another very useful tool is seeding your competition with a dedicated competition community, with users hungry for prizes to win. These communities will drive competition fanatics to your giveaway and supercharge your entries. Here are three places on which to seed your UK competitions: (naturally)

There are other communities and forums that are worthwhile looking at - a very good example being the mighty, which has large competition resource.  However they are very protective against direct commercial interference, and so any attempts to post your competition directly will be reported, but you can ask a user whether you may tip them, and they may seed it for you.

4. Deliver what you promised

While it seems like obvious advice; make good on your part of the deal. The cost of not doing so can be huge. Discontent among your entrants may spread quickly across social networks, and your credibility will be dashed in a matter of days. This will mean any subsequent competitions you run will be avoided. More seriously, if your entrants feel particularly aggrieved, they may make a complaint to the ASA.  Besides, a happy winner makes for a fanatical advocate of your brand.

Needless to say, it's important to have all details and T&Cs clear and visible, and these should include start and end dates, and eligibility requirements.

5. Follow up

Make sure you debrief your entrants, thanking them, and, hopefully, letting them know when they may enter your next unmissable giveaway.  Hype your winner, and if possible, get them to give a quote or picture and get them to shout you out to their friends and followers on any social networks.

Much of this advice will be familiar to some, hopefully there are some tips to give a boost to any online contests you run.  If you'd like to discuss anything here or have any questions, you can pop them in a comment below, or contact me directly at contact[@]competitionhunter[.]com.

Good luck!

To find out more about Competition Hunter, read our interview with Iain Haywood here, or visit


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