How to Measure the Return on Social Media Contests : Social Media Examiner

social media how toHave you thought about running a social media contest? Wondering how to best measure your return on investment (ROI)?

This article will help with three case studies.

But first, about that ROI… It took some time after the advent of online advertising before marketers started asking, “What are these ‘eyeballs’ worth that I’m paying for?”

With social media, the tough questions around metrics started being asked much sooner. As marketing budgets stay tight, it’s no surprise that the need to show results is high.

So when it comes to contests on the social web, how do we go about evaluating ROI?

Investing in Your Social Media Contest

Before you can demonstrate a return, you must first make an investment!

As mentioned in my previous post on social media contests, it’s important to have a well thought out marketing plan for any promotional campaign. The first step is always to define objectives: are you trying to engage existing customers, acquire new users or gather data? Only then can you set realistic goals and build a campaign to deliver on them.

Once the objectives are set, you can determine the type of promotion and how you’ll communicate. You’ll likely need to invest in marketing beyond the cost of merely setting up your contest.

This investment will generally focus on driving traffic to the promotion site or application. If you’re running a contest that includes user-contributed content, be sure you take advantage of sharing this content in both your social and traditional marketing efforts.

If you’re running your contest in Facebook, Sponsored Stories are a great way to promote. While the platform you use to run your contest should include integrated sharing tools, those shared items may get buried in the news feed.

sponsored story

With Sponsored Stories, your promotion will remain visible as users see that their friends just interacted with your page or application.

Other forms of investment outside of Facebook advertising could include Sponsored Tweets on Twitter, targeted online advertising and email campaigns to your existing customer list or through partner email channels. Note that co-marketing can be a huge bonus if you find partners that can be brought into your campaign (potentially as sponsors).

Of course there are some campaigns that can succeed, again depending on your objectives, without major cash investment. However, even in these instances, it’s rare that a campaign simply “goes viral.” Generally there’s a good deal of forethought and effort that goes into building the momentum for something to truly take on a life of its own. So even if you aren’t investing hard costs in advertising, you must be prepared to allocate resources in the form of human and social capital.

What’s the Return on Social Contests?

Return on investment doesn’t have to mean solely financial return. Bottom-line results clearly matter, but they can’t be the sole objective for any social media campaign.

Objectives drive outcomes. By setting your objectives clearly up front you can establish what goals matter to you and track against them.

Return on investment doesn’t have to mean solely financial return. Bottom-line results clearly matter, but they can’t be the sole objective for any social media campaign.  In this post, Dag Holmboe provides a good perspective on social media ROI.

Depending on how you set up your promotion, these are some of the key metrics to consider:

  • How many people visited your promotion? How much time did they spend engaging?
  • Of those who visited, how many actively participated? How many entered? How many voted (if applicable)?
  • How much sharing took place?
  • What type of content generated the most interaction (i.e., comments, Likes, retweets)?
  • How many new Likes on Facebook or followers on Twitter?
  • What was the level of Twitter activity (especially if you have a contest-specific hashtag)?
  • What was the redemption rate of any coupons or offers?
  • How many users opted in to your email list?
  • If you included any outbound links to drive traffic, what was the click-through rate?
  • And ultimately what new business (revenue/profit) can be attributed to the promotion?

Here are several case examples to compare and contrast different forms of investment and return on that investment.

Crate and Barrel’s Ultimate Wedding

crate & barrel

Giving one lucky couple $100,000 to create their ultimate event.


With its Ultimate Wedding contest, multi-channel home furnishings retailer Crate and Barrel sought to drive gift registry creation and engage consumers online.

How it Was Done

Users were required to create a gift registry through Crate and Barrel before being eligible to enter the promotion. (Note: Requiring this type of “consideration” to enter a contest introduces greater legal complexities than a contest with no consideration to enter.) After a user’s registry was verified, he or she could submit an entry to the contest, which consisted of a photo and short answers. Public voting narrowed the field and a panel of judges ultimately picked the winner of a $100,000 dream wedding. The contest was promoted on the Crate and Barrel website and through other online advertising, as well as in-store.


This contest has now run two consecutive years and generated more than 17,000 entries, each associated with a registry valued at more than $2,000. That’s $34 million in registry value, the majority of which represents new customers for the retailer.

While the amount of product purchased from these registries is confidential, even a conservative estimate yields a large number. In addition to the financial results, Crate and Barrel also experienced a lift on numerous key social metrics as well.


So after all I said about focusing on results beyond the bottom line I’m starting with one that shows some impressive financial metrics. Obviously not everyone has the ability to offer a $100,000 prize and to put such significant resources into marketing a contest. Read on to see how smaller investments can also yield powerful results.

But remember that there are lessons here that apply to any contest: First, prize matters—even if it’s not $100,000, it must be something appealing to the target audience and must be commensurate with the level of effort users are expected to put in. Second, it’s important to tap into all possible channels to promote your contest, whether that’s social media, online ads, email lists or offline promotion.

Cosmopolitan Orthodontics Photo Contest


Contests have proven to be an effective marketing tool in a field not traditionally perceived as fun or cool.


Ingenuity, a marketing firm catering to orthodontists, wanted to develop a creative means to drive new patients into orthodontists’ offices.

How it Was Done

Utilizing the simple premise of a photo contest, existing patients (generally children and young adults) were asked to “show their smile” for a chance to win an iPad or similar prize. The entrants were then encouraged to share through Facebook. Their friends, and more importantly the parents of their friends (who were potentially in the market for orthodontics services), would then see the mention on Facebook.


Based on a number of contests that Ingenuity has run with multiple orthodontists, the approach has proven quite effective. While there’s no guarantee of new patients with each contest, in a field such as orthodontics a single new referral is worth quite a lot. And social media contests can greatly amplify exposure to new potential clients. In the case of Cosmopolitan Orthodontics, you can see the amplification effect as follows: 50 entries generated 100 shares, which yielded more than 1,500 clicks and 800 voters!


This is a great example of how a small independent business can tap into the power of social media to drive meaningful results. I’m certain that there are other service industries (that have historically relied on word of mouth or traditional channels such as Yellow Pages) that can utilize contests as a great entry into social media.

While any business with a high lifetime customer value can benefit from this type of promotion, you need to be prepared to potentially invest in running more than one before seeing that new business convert.

“Help Me Launch” Contest


This contest was geared to small business owners.


Social Media Examiner’s own Mike Stelzner wanted to create awareness for the release of his book Launch.

How it Was Done

A contest was held on the book’s Facebook Page where people were asked to submit a photo with the words “Help Me Launch.” Entries were voted on by the public and then judged to select the winner. The grand prize was 3 hours of private consultation with the author.

The Facebook Page started with virtually no existing fan base (50 Likes), so building awareness for the contest required tapping into other channels. Social media was the primary means of promoting the contest, with regular Twitter messages to a base of approximately 70,000 followers across two accounts (80,000+ subscribers). The contest was also featured on the Social Media Examiner Facebook Page (40,000+ fans), in email newsletters and to an audience at a webinar event.


Approximately 80 entries were received and these entries generated 4,475 voters. At the conclusion of the contest, the page had 1,300 Likes, an increase of 2600%! This provided a much larger fan base with which to share information and to begin an engaging dialogue about the principles outlined in the book.


I realize 80 entries may not sound like a large number to some of you, but bear in mind that this contest was targeted at a niche audience of small business owners and entrepreneurs rather than the mainstream consumer. Had Stelzner chosen to give away an iPad, he might have generated more entries, but might not have connected with the audience he wanted.

When setting up the contest, Stelzner was clear about his objectives (it wasn’t just about sheer numbers, but about reaching the right people). However, it’s worth noting that attention was paid to both driving entries and driving votes as it became clear that voters also represented a valuable group who were engaging with the page.

Hopefully these examples help frame a variety of ways that social media contests can generate ROI beyond what you may currently be considering.

What do you think? How do you measure ROI on your social media endeavors? What do you feel are the important metrics to track when it comes to contests and promotions? Leave your comments in the box below.

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