How to run great competitions

If you’re a blog owner, make sure you’ve thought about this before you set up a competition.

When used well, competitions are a brilliant way of getting your audience engaged with a brand. From simple giveaways to large-scale creative comps, here are my top pieces of advice I’ve learned from working in branded content in the radio industry for most of my adult working life.

Keeping your page copy fun and talking up the prize is only a small part of the process. At the end of this post, you will be able to take actionable steps to improve your competitions to get much better results.

It’s all about the mechanic!
When I’ve been given a brief to create a competition for a brand, no matter who the client; from the Car Hire down the road to Nintendo, I always think about how the competition will work. There are a few important things to consider:

  1. How easy will it be to enter my competition? The smaller the perceived prize value, the easier the mechanic will need to be or your entry levels will drop. I say perceived because your audience will perceive prizes differently to someone else’s audience. For example, a kids’ platform will consider toys high-value prizes even if they don’t cost much because they know that toys are what their audience (kids ages 5-10) would absolutely love.
    You know your audience best, so take the time to work out what they’d really love to win and suggest this to brands. I love it when I am approached by site owners who have a clear vision of what will work for them for all pieces of content they’d like my help with, because I know that my product will be really appreciated by the winner and wanted by the audience.
  2. How clear is it to someone who doesn’t know anything about how to enter a competition? This might seem like a weird question, but when I worked for one of the biggest radio companies in the UK, this was a question we asked all the time. Make sure you clearly state exactly how your readers need to enter and make it sound as easy as possible. Just because you understand it, doesn’t mean everyone reading it will. Get someone else to check your mechanic for you to make sure it all makes sense.
    Go the extra mile and make sure the entry form isn’t too complicated, provide links if they need to look at a page for a clue, shave off any extra steps that are unnecessary. Often you’ll just need a name, email address, and telephone number. Don’t bother with addresses or anything else just yet. You can ask for the postage address for the winner later on if you need.
  3. Think about how you’ll be measuring the campaign. Some brands will ask you for specific requirements – if they want to boost their social shares, base the mechanic around that. If they want to increase the size of their email database, include a data capture option, and if you have an email newsletter database for your blog, include this as well, making sure you ONLY contact people on there who have opted-in, as it’s illegal if you contact someone who didn’t opt-in. Get creative with it too! I’ve often found the most creative ideas come from the most constrained briefs.
  4. Make it fun! But remember, the easier the competition, the more entries you’ll get. The harder it is, the fewer entries you’ll get, but you’ll get better quality rather than quantity. Try and veer away from using standard entry systems and come up with something creative and interesting. For inspiration, my former boss, Jonathan Jacob from Global Radio Content Solutions, imparts some of the greatest Radio Promotions of all time in this article. Here are some awesome examples of super creative online competitions from Verve Search. And for social media, make sure you read Hootsuite’s guide to running an amazing social competition here.

Check the legal stuff.
This is super important, so make sure you get this stuff right to avoid legal action.

There’s always a fear when creating Ts and Cs to make sure you’ve covered everything and anything off, which is true. But also consider making them more concise rather than long. Avocado Social has a great template you can use here.

There’s nothing more off-putting than having to read pages and pages of Ts and Cs that aren’t clear and are in a super small font size. It makes audiences a bit wary about entering if they’re too complicated to read.

Be clear on live and closing dates, exactly how to enter with no fluff (numbered bullet points outlining the steps of the entry process are the best way to achieve this), what the limitations of the prize are (especially if the prize is a holiday, car, cash, day out, tickets, etc.), how it will be sent, and who will be sending it.

Make sure you check out the ASA’s guidelines for competitions here. And if you’re handling personal data, read ICO’s great advice on data handling for promotions here.

My radio pal Fred Bradley, former radio producer at Heart and freelance web developer says “If possible, store details as securely (and as anonymously) as possible. E.g., If asking for a password, NEVER store it as plain text! Try to avoid storing full names alongside full addresses and email addresses; use reference tables.”

And if you have no idea how to create a reference table, here’s a handy guide to show you how to use structured referencing in excel.

My other pal, George Buckingham, freelance PHP web developer and former fellow Student Radio peer, says “Have a privacy policy so people know what you’re going to be doing with their data.”

And actually uphold them as well. Don’t just have a privacy policy for the sake of appeasing your audience. Follow through.

Promote, promote, promote!
At least 60-70% of your visible campaign should be the promotion. Go beyond social media and promote using fun blog posts, competition forums (checking you’re okay to self-promote on there)… I’ve found newsletter inclusions are by far one of the best ways to promote a competition, especially if you have a list of people who have signed up specifically to your win page.

Give yourself time to promote, but not for too long in case your readers forget all about it. A week to a few days before is about the best timescale. Have a clear plan set out to make sure you make the most of it. And don’t drag your competition out for months on end. Keep it short and sweet, 1-2 weeks long is ideal to stop your audience getting bored and immune to your messaging.

Don’t forget to promote DURING your competition live dates. Keep boosting the awareness periodically via different channels with engaging posts and imagery. Keep the messaging the same, however.

How does your audience view your site? Think about mobile viewing in particular. Does your competition look good on mobile, too? Is it easy to enter on a mobile? If not, how can it be easier? Do you need to resize your entry form to fit the page? Do you need to resize your images? Make your copy shorter and to-the-point? Get someone else to look at your page or post from their mobile and get a second opinion.

A badly-designed mobile site can and has destroyed the best and biggest competitions out there. Be careful!

Media value.
There are loads of ways to measure a campaign, so make sure you’ve thought of this when you put your mechanic together as previously mentioned. Competitions are a really great way to boost your site impressions, newsletter database, social media following, and overall engagement with your blog.

If you’re running the competition with a brand, sometimes it’s really useful for them to have a Post-Campaign Analysis from you. It’s a quick breakdown of how the competition went. Include entry numbers, page views, data capture numbers for them if you’ve included this, social media stats, social media mentions – make sure you’ve included everything you did to promote it, too!

On rare occasions, you may have to include added value. This is when your entry rates haven’t been what you initially forecasted. So, if you need to do this, outline how and when you’ll do it and how much value you’re adding. Include an extra post, product review, social media post – things you know WILL perform well for you.

Prize fulfilment.
It’s very easy to slip up legally at this stage. Make sure you are very quick to pick the winner, I use to pick my winners from excel, screenshot the page with the date and time on your computer visible, and paste it into the spreadsheet.

Often prize fulfilling is easiest to do from the prize provider. Make sure you let them know you’ll be sending them prize winner details and they’re okay with this, how many winners there’ll be, and exactly when so they’re prepared to jump into action for a speedy product send.

Also, be clear on who is contacting the winner and when to avoid calling them too many times. And calling is the best way to get hold of them – because if your personal email inbox has 20,000 unread emails, imagine what theirs will be like too, especially if they’re a die-hard comper (myself included!).

If your winner doesn’t get back to you and you’ve tried every practicable step to get hold of them, you can pick another winner. Take notes of when you called and emailed the previous winner just in case. Delete everyone who has not won, and who hasn’t opted-in to data capture, and process the contact data into your email newsletter system as quick as possible.

Competitions are supposed to be fun, so make them fun! And the easiest-to-enter, with a stellar prize and fun mechanic, are the most successful.

One of my favorite jobs whilst working in national radio was calling prize-winners because there is NOTHING more satisfying than making someone’s day, even if it’s the smallest prize.

And don’t be put off with the legalities – make it simple, have a clear plan, and follow the rules.

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