social media how toAre you considering using a sweepstakes or contest for an upcoming social media marketing campaign?

Ever wonder exactly how a social sweepstakes ties in with the idea of “viral” marketing?

In this article, I’ll analyze the concepts affecting a social media “viral sweepstakes” and how marketers can and (potentially) should take advantage.

What Exactly Is the Meaning of the Term Viral?

Marketers use the term viral to describe media proliferation in two different contexts.

On one hand, viral can describe “massive engagement;” i.e., when droves of people sign up for a particularly enticing offer. Alternatively, “views” can go viral, which occurs when people share a brand campaign with others many times over.

As more participants share content, brands benefit across three areas:

  1. More people become aware of an advertisement (brand recognition),
  2. More people become aware of brands engaging consumers with whom they have a connection (brand equity) and
  3. More people respond to an advertisement (customer acquisition).
band of buds

This online "Band of Buds" campaign from Budweiser has two viral aspects: participants recruit friends to participate and share their group's activity with others.

Beyond sharing, there are four nuances of a viral campaign marketers need to think through in order to be successful:

  1. Reason for sharing: can rely on either non-monetary (“This video is so cool that you just have to see it”) or monetary (“Share this and get a coupon”) incentives.
  2. What is shared: two most common options are evidence of participation (“Hi friends, I just entered this contest”) and actual content. Content can be brand-created or user-created.
    brand created video

    The Old Spice "Smell Like a Man" videos are an excellent example of brand-created content that spread virally via non-monetary incentives.

  3. Mode of sharing: can be either passive (post to a participant’s own profile for others to see) or active (participant sends direct messages to friends).
  4. Sharing outlet: various outlets exist for both passive (e.g., Twitter/Facebook status update) and active (e.g., direct mobile/email messaging) sharing.
    user generated content online

    This campaign from Benihana uses a $100 gift card to encourage both active and passive sharing of user-created photos.

As with most things in marketing, significant tradeoffs exist among the various viral approaches. Though cost-effective, driving sharing via non-monetary incentives is much more art than science. Sharing content spreads rich media, but risks being invasive. Passive sharing accesses a broader, albeit less interested, audience.

Selecting a specific social network or distribution channel requires a comprehensive understanding of consumer communication preferences and available marketing resources.

As described in a previous post about viral marketing, Using Social Media to Broadcast Mobile QR Codes, success ultimately comes down to execution. No one-size-fits-all solution exists, so developing a clear understanding of a campaign’s resources, customers and goals is crucial.

The Economics of a Viral Sweepstakes Campaign

Prior to running any social media sweepstakes campaign, marketers first should familiarize themselves with the conceptual and legal need-to-knows behind social media promotion. This will ensure that a sweepstakes has the proper foundation on which to build a viral component.

Viral components stem from the economics behind a standard sweepstakes. Breaking it down, consider that at its core a sweepstakes asks consumers to commit to a brand using an incentive as bait.

dressbarn sweepstakes

In this Facebook offer, dressbarn uses the chance to win a $50 gift card as bait for customers to provide their email addresses.

Like fishing, additional bait for marketers (incentives) costs more money, but allows you to reel in more consumers. However, unlike bait fishing, each subsequent catch returns less value. Each subsequent consumer commits to a brand less out of a desire to spend money and more to redeem the incentive. In economics lingo, each incremental consumer returns lower and lower incremental value for the brand.

Eventually, the incentive required to lure additional consumers exceeds the corresponding benefit to the brand. A marketer’s goal for a sweepstakes then is to find the point of inflection that maximizes value created at a given cost of incentives.

For those graphically inclined:

base case

Now, here’s where adding a viral component to a sweepstakes changes the game. From a brand-recognition and brand-equity perspective, when consumers actively share a campaign with others, they effectively increase the incremental value they can provide to the brand. This increases the profit of the sweepstakes campaign:

equity and recognition

From a customer-acquisition standpoint, when consumers actively recruit others to participate in a campaign, the number of customers recruited at a given incentive level increases. Because consumers value each other’s opinion, they will be more inclined to commit to a brand for reasons related to purchasing (as opposed to signing up to receive an incentive):

equity and recognition acquisition

Implementing a Viral Sweepstakes Strategy

The trick then is to choose a viral sweepstakes strategy that maximizes the value created from increased brand recognition, brand equity and customer acquisition.

Here are three examples of ways that brands are currently running Facebook viral sweepstakes, in order of effectiveness (in my opinion):

#1: Soft Share

With a soft share, consumers receive a reminder that they should share with their friends and family. On one hand, this is the least invasive encouragement possible. On the other hand, only those truly impassioned consumers will be prompted to extend themselves on behalf of the brand.

social sharing dnd

Dunkin Donuts uses a non-monetary incentive to encourage people to passively share evidence of participation via social share options.

#2: Direct Share

The direct share integrates the share call to action directly into the ad. The advantage here is that the share call to action takes on more of the character of the brand.

budweiser post to facebook

Budweiser uses a non-monetary incentive to encourage passive sharing of content via Facebook.

#3: Incentivized Share

With an incentivized share, brands put more responsibility on consumers to actively participate. The benefit is that consumers will go out of their way to recruit more participants.

pizzahut incentivized share

Pizza Hut uses a monetary incentive to push consumers to actively share content via Facebook and direct messaging.

Putting these campaigns back into the context of our graph, you can see tradeoffs among the different strategies. The soft and direct shares rely on others to expand the profit bubble. The incentivized share takes an active role in expanding the profit bubble.

The correct tactic depends on how actively engaged consumers are already (e.g., perhaps Budweiser feels that its audience is particularly motivated) and the incentive (e.g., free cinnamon sticks requires a bigger push than larger incentives).

One other thing to note: the incentive to share for both the soft and direct shares actually decreases the original person’s chance of winning. In my mind, this is evidence of using technology for technology’s sake instead of with the end user in mind.

The Importance of Customer Relationship Management

In an earlier Social Media Examiner post about running successful social media contests, author Ben Pickering does an excellent job of laying out the different types of consumers relevant to a social media contest:

  • Spectators: view shared media but don’t participate
  • Joiners: view and participate in shared media
  • Creators: view, participate and create shared media

Within the context of a brand running a sweepstakes, these designations are important because they can change over time. However, it’s only through the creation of a customer relationship management strategy that marketers can track these changes over time and use them to their advantage.

Sweepstakes are not the end-all be-all between brand and consumer; rather they are a launching pad or enthusiasm generator within the context of creating customer lifetime value over time.

Which brings me to one last viral sweepstakes example:

#4: Another Incentivized Share

sugarbowl viral sweepsmobile

Participants in Sugar Bowl's sweepstakes can increase their chances of winning by referring others.

Here is a case where each subsequent participant in the sweepstakes has a clear incentive to refer others without upsetting their own chances of winning. The tricky part is that such a contest requires a CRM system (in this case, customer mapped to mobile phone number) to track each new entrant as either organic or referred.

On the positive side, you can now gain an understanding of various customer distinctions over time and reward those spectators or joiners who graduate toward the next level of brand engagement.

The Bottom Line

Marketers can increase the benefits they receive from a sweepstakes campaign if they include a viral component, which can increase brand recognition, brand equity and customer acquisition. However, the benefits of viral components require a detailed understanding of a campaign’s goals, customers and resources.

Ultimately, social media marketing has one goal: to use interactive messaging to maximize customer lifetime value over time. A sweepstakes provides an excellent means to bring on new customers and enrich the brand experience for current ones. Pushing a sweepstakes beyond a one-off engagement using CRM only increases the value to the brand.

And the best part about viral marketing? Consumers do the marketing on behalf of the brand. A marketer’s dream realized.

What do you think? What are other ways to use customer engagement to increase brand value? Have you found any other viral sweepstakes campaign to be particularly successful? Leave your questions and comments in the box below.

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  • Hi Kane,
    Do you have any suggestions for contest software to us for Facebook or twitter? Some examples i know of for marketers for Facebook are aristo,, and There are a lot of others, apps like wildfire get expensive quickly.

    Have a great day!

  • Awesome article man, thanks! Do you know what
    typically returns the most engagement/return:1) Non-monetary (“This video
    is so cool that you just have to see it”) 

    2) Monetary (“Share this and get a
    coupon”) incentives. 3) Mix of bothFor instance, would a million dollar sweepstakes trump, say the hilariously viral old spice commercials? I know a lot of it is based on how you leverage it, how likable your brand already is etc. But say Old Spice had those awesome commercials for a year AND then did a million dollar sweepstakes the year after. Would the effectiveness of both campaigns be equal?  Is a fantastic non-monetary campaign with hilarious viral content > Monetary -Chris 

  • I’ve heard of OfferPop and GroSocial, but have never used them. For mid to large organizations that will do promotions throughout the year, it is often cheaper to have someone create the iFrame app backend because then it’s just a matter of new graphics (which would happen anyway) each time. 

  • Kane, great article! Thanks for linking to mine about the legal aspects of running a promotion. Surely don’t want something that could be legally suspect to go viral and end up losing some great momentum.

  • Debbie

    Can you qualify what is legal and not legal in Facebook Contests?
    Ultimately, we are looking to get our fans to pass on and promote a prize/contest for us, but as far as I understand, you can ONLY ask someone to ‘like’ your page as the requirement to enter, is that correct?
    Can I run a contest where I ask fans to submit a photo or story and share it on their wall, and ask for votes or comments on our wall to determine a winner?  I see this a LOT even by large companies, can it really be ‘illegal’?
    Thanks, Debbie

  • Eric has a sweepstakes contest app for Facebook, and it’s far less expensive than the alternatives.  Keith is right – some of the others can get expensive real fast. for details.  There’s a whole suite of apps, and it’s very low cost.  They’re very helpful too, to work with you to setup your campaigns, etc. 😉

  • krussell

    The ones I am most familiar with are the ones you all already mentioned, GroSocial, Wildfire, Strutta and Wisehive. You might also want to check out Votigo and North Social. Sorry I cannot be more helpful. 

  • krussell

    Hi Chris – great question. The short answer is that it depends. What would be great is to have more data about how successful some of these companies are that run viral sweepstakes campaigns. I know that recently Old Spice came out and said that its sales massively improved thanks to the Old Spice Guy campaigns, but that came from Old Spice itself (if my memory serves me correctly) making the information less reliable than a third party study that could match up Old Spice guy ads with people deciding to make purchases (this is a magic wand wave unfortunately). The best perspective that I can give you is to think about customers first rather than the type of sweepstakes. It’s not so much “what sweepstakes would work best for my brand” but “I understand my customers and I know that because of how they purchase from me (this data you should have) that this type of sweepstakes will be the most effective. Run with that idea, test your results and then iterate for the next time. Marketing is an ongoing conversation with your customers, collect data at every step of the way that can help you make better decsions moving forward. 

  • krussell

    Sara – your article was awesome! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and ideas with the SME community. 

  • milenaregos

    Good article and thanks for showing Sugar Bowl as an example. Did you do this with them? In your opinion, what is a good incentive for a ski resort to create a viral contest? Is giving away lift tickets sufficient or should they try to come up with something different? What do you think?

  • IEShineOn

    As a snowboard enthusiast m/b other prizes could include a discount on food at the resort, free drinks, VIP parking, free/discounted rentals.

  • IEShineOn

    Great article.  Thank you!

  • It really depends on your actionable goals at hand as well as where you want it hosted like blog or fanpage or maybe both… 

    to give you an idea of  how simple can become extremely viral i would sugest the following and  have a live demo for ya..

    This simple app for contests is FREE  but very powerful,may be    embedded in to facebook,    wordpress,site,etc.. and will soon be offering many more business driven and UI features..

    Below find the LIVE CONTEST DEMO using this app on facebook which i suggest you simply join to see how it drives  likes, followers, twitter exposure, mailing list subscription and even a Facebook comments in this specific case all in one shot..

    disclaimer: i have no connection to this product, just a user trying to help

  • Shane Petty

    Check out – it handles all the compliance with Facebook contests, etc.

  • Carl Eppolito

    Kane I loved the “Economics of a Sweepstakes Campaign.” Obviously, everything relates to the dollar and showing the ability to grow your customers at a rate higher than rising costs exemplifies the value in viral sweeps. Thanks!

  • This was a great article. Sweepstakes are a really great way to increase brand awareness as well.  After you get your sweepstakes promotion running you still need traffic. I would highly suggest Sweepstakes Advantage,

  • Jeff Rozic

    Great article, Kane.  Few people can illustrate these points as effectively as you did and with such great examples.

    Keith Griffis- even though Votigo has primarily focused on premium (full-service) brands, we have a new self-service platform with all the essential features and at much lower price points that I’d invite you to check out!

    Finally, I’d echo a point Kane made.  Think hard about Sharing Modes and Outlets.  I haven’t seen someone break it down as nicely as he did, but it’s a universal truth. If you want to make it easy for any participant to spread the word, you’ve got to cover lots of bases and tons in the sharing options you build in. It can make or break the promotion!

    Best wishes to everyone. Thanks again, Kane.

    Jeff (from Votigo)

  • Al

    what’s the deal with patents and mobile. i’m hearing more and more chatter about potential liability from mobile campaigns that trample on existing patents.  who has the patents and how does this affect my brand?

  • Guest

    I would have to say that contests and promotions are only good for brand recognition and cannot be justified as being a major player in successful social media on a local level. 

  • Yes – we powered the Sugar Bowl example. I actually love the lift ticket incentive for a ski resort – depending on the type of customer. If you are going after season pass holders, they might not care as much. But a family headed up skiing would certainly be grateful for this type of promotion. I also think that what IEShineon mentioned is true – food, drinks, VIP parking are all awesome incentives to get people to engage with a particular campaign. I know it’s a tough answer when it comes down to “it depends,” but that’s really been my experience. Even within ski resorts, the placement and target of a promotion will change the incentive, but thinking of things that enrich the ski guest’s experience (another idea: integrating with a loyalty program) wil put you on the right track. 

  • IE – thanks for the comments and insight. Much appreciated. 

  • Carl – thanks for the comments/feedback – much appreciated. 

  • Al – I am not sure which patents you mean. All over the technology world there are patent holders (and unfortunately at times patent trolls) who will try to take advantage of an opportunity. If you have a specific one in mind I am happy to discuss with you if you want to reach out directly. If not, I would just ask your service providers what patent litigation has affected a particular industry and see what their response is. You’ll also want to be very careful reading over any Ts and Cs in any agreement that you sign with a mobile service provider to make sure to understand where the protection lies. 

  • I think you make an interesting point. Do you have an example of a contest or promotion that was particularly ineffective at the local level? 

  • Jeff – thanks for the insight and assistance of the social media contest platforms – much appreciated. 

  • It is an awesome post. Now I came to know some important points by reading this post Thanks for sharing. Keep updating.

  • Barry Hanson

    Great artical, helpful feedback – Thankyou all for sharing 🙂

    Seems that I don’t know our customer well enough despite over a decade in skate sports 🙁

    We are currently looking at web ecom / etail solutions however with limited resources and minimal information of brand loyalty / buying habits etc, what would be the best way to, build the communication with and profit from our database of 8k+ customers (each has bought product or service from us), ?

    I will really appreciate your suggestions,…..
    Happy New Year.

    HANSON (pending new site)

  • Barry Hanson

    Great artical, helpful feedback – Thankyou all for sharing 🙂

    Seems that I don’t know our customer well enough despite over a decade in skate sports 🙁

    We are currently looking at web ecom / etail solutions however with limited resources and minimal information of brand loyalty / buying habits etc, what would be the best way to, build the communication with and profit from our database of 8k+ customers (each has bought product or service from us), ?

    I will really appreciate your suggestions,…..
    Happy New Year.

    HANSON (pending new site)

  • Kane Russell your article was awesome ! Thanks you for sharing your thoughts of viral marketings ideas .

    Thanks for again,

  • Good read. Tried the soft share approach already for my market. Wasn’t that effective or maybe my call-to-action was weak. Testing the direct share approach for the next campaign.

  • Ali Mamode

    Hey Kane!

    I love the way you illustrate the economic benefits so vividly and that ultimately customer lifetime value is what really matters. Too often Social Media is used either for customer acquisition or brand equity only. Leveraging it with CRM definitely adds another dimension.

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  • Great, thanks! 

  • Shane Petty


    Posted a reply yesterday, but it didn’t show up. Sent you a tweet about how we are using @ TETCO and Walker’s convenience stores. Ping me on twitter if you want to discuss. @shane_petty:twitter 

  • Thank you all for the positive feedback – it’s much appreciated. 

  • Barry – thank you for your comments. What I would advise is to see if you have learned anything about your customers after a decade in the industry. Is there any data or trends you have tracked or noticed? If not, I imagine that you have a feel for your customers at this point, ie going by your gut. What to do then is to try to wrap some metrics around what would allow you to test your gut feeling to see if it in fact proved true. If you don’t really have a gut feeling, try to just go with metrics that measure your average customer, seeing as that you have skate customers, maybe it’s a younger demographic that is your target customer. Use general trends about this demographic to inform your decisions. 

    One other thought about building communication from the inside out, especially for a company that has been in business as long as you have (very impressive). What about reaching out to your most loyal customers to see what kind of forum would be the best way to build out a communication in their opinion. This insight may prove fruitful as you continue building out your strategy. 

    I know it’s a lot of information to throw at you. Happy to discuss directly if you want to reach out to me at the link provided. All the best. 

  • Barry Hanson

    Hi Kane, thank you!

    Consisting my situation and relevance to the original topic, please advise whether you’d prefer i write here, (case study) or email direct to you?

    In the meantime….., some reference points;

    a) Our primary customer is parents of 6-12 year olds, secondary market is teenagers

    b) trends, yes we have inline skate (rollerblades) as a stable however a we are the only pro shop specializing in “Skate products & classes” we flex with trends on skateboard, casterboard, ice skate, and other skate products

    c) tapping onyal customers, building mums groups etc, the largest issue we’ve faced is the lack of an affordable integrated system CRM. ERP ABC & EFG (you know what I mean) so we’ve used various 3rd party services to do the job which has created more admin and possibably less efficiency + confusion. MYOB pos, constant contact, formsite, Paypal, etc
    We are looking at comprehensive intergrated cloud based systems which offer pos and ecom with CRM ERP etc on one platform. like “interprise” and it’s more expensive competitor, Magneto.

    As the solo head of business development & operations I’m overwhelmed and bias no doubt. If there’s people who can help virtually online with our quest to establish system and launch into China them please do help us connect 🙂

    All of your suggestions are appreciated Kane & friends here. Cheers

  • Barry Hanson

    Hi Kane, excuse me….. How do I contact you?

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  • Hi Barry, my company is at Thanks very much. 

  • Barry, you can reach me at the link provided,

  • Thanks Shane. sounds promising. By the way, love the hat!

    Thanks for your insights.


  • If you can engage local consumers who share with local friends, would that not produce huge impact for local merchants?  For instance, if you allowed contestants to get additional entries by checking into the merchants store, on top of sharing with friends.  That achieves not only brand recognition on the social web, but also drives foot traffic.  

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  • Hey could you share the link to the app website or facebook page?

  • Todd Julian

    A viral sweepstakes can have a massive ROI and generate huge traffic.   In order to set the viral process in motion, you need a core group of people to first enter the sweepstakes and evangelize it.  Luckily, there are many well trafficked sweepstakes sites that act as directories where you can list the sweepstakes for free.  Such sites are frequented by sweepstakes enthusiasts, so if you’re sweepstakes stands out and has viral potential this is a great place to start.  One such site is and there many others like it.  

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  • Jamie Long

    I literally researched 12+ companies to host a social sweepstake for my company. None of them did what I wanted to do – embed the promotion right on my website, not my Facebook Page. Then I found , which is exactly what I wanted. I figured I am not the only one with such requirements, so I figured I’d help you guys out.

  • G Mireski
  • Victoria Brooks

    Thanks for the article, Kane.  Someone suggested trying that for a project that I am currently promoting – .

    While it is hardly as sophisticated as the methodology discussed, we figured we’d try and see if it increases registrations for our conference within the animal welfare community.  We’ve also done non-incentivized content as well, however, we are still trying to find that magic combination to make it really go viral.  If nothing else, we are learning.  Learning what works and what doesn’t.  The article is very helpful in outlining the different options and the pros and cons of each.  Thank you. 

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  • Prenda Mex

    Can you share the link please