How to Run a Successful Social Media Sweepstakes : Social Media Examiner

social media how toAre you planning to run a social media sweepstakes to make your business stand out this holiday season?

Do you need a guide to ensure that you don’t miss the crucial elements of a successful sweepstakes promotion?

Sweepstakes, contests and giveaways are increasingly popular among marketers who are vying for the attention of their social media audiences. Choosing a prize is the easy part.

Whether you run your promotion on Facebook or Pinterest, it’s easy to overlook something. Making sure you’ve got all your planning, technical and legal “i’s” dotted and “t’s” crossed is critical to your success.

In this article, you’ll learn the five steps of running a successful social media sweepstakes.

#1: Assess Sweepstakes Objectives

This is where most companies shortchange themselves. How? By focusing on superficial objectives that may not benefit their business.

For example, does it make sense to run a sweepstakes to increase your already-large fan base or do you want to jumpstart your social engagement process?

Here’s a list of potential sweepstakes objectives to choose from:

  • Increase awareness of a new product
  • Increase the number of free trials
  • Collect leads with detailed information
  • Generate customer referrals
  • Increase average daily visitors
  • Increase newsletter subscribers
  • Increase social media followers (Facebook fans, Twitter followers, etc.)
  • Increase social media exposure (more repins, more retweets of your message, etc.)
  • Increase sales
  • Generate brand loyalty by delighting existing customers with a chance to win a big prize
  • Increase social media engagement

Her Campus is a good example of a company that’s using sweepstakes to increase their social media engagement.

her campus engagement

Her Campus is an excellent example of using a sweepstakes to increase social media engagement by requiring followers to tweet a picture of their dorm room along with a description of their dorm room style.

Often-Overlooked Objectives

Increase customer micro-insights: For example, tweet to win: “If I win a $500 Visa gift card, I’ll spend it on __________ #ABCgiveaway @yourcompany”. Not only does this increase social media engagement, it also gives you a much deeper understanding of your target market.

Increase customer survey participation: Brick-and-mortar businesses regularly use sweepstakes to increase customer survey participation, but this practice is rare for online businesses.

Hipmunk is a good example of an online business that is successfully utilizing sweepstakes to increase the level of customer survey participation.

hipmunk survey

Hipmunk, a travel booking company, frequently uses small sweepstakes to increase customer survey participation.

#2: Plan the Logistics

This phase can be a lifesaver. If you get this phase right, you’ll be breathing a lot easier during the promotion.

Here are the major steps in the planning phase:

Select a Sweepstakes Tool: This is the most important step in the planning phase because the right tool streamlines and automates your sweepstakes tasks. There are some key features to look for when selecting a vendor for your social media sweepstakes.

  • Automated template generation for sweepstakes’ terms and conditions
  • Multiple sweepstakes entry actions: For example, do they allow you to only collect email addresses or do they also help you conduct surveys?
  • Automation of winner-selection process
  • Ability to host sweepstakes on multiple online platforms
  • Automatic synchronization of email subscribers with email marketing tools such as MailChimp, AWeber, Constant Contact, etc.
  • Branding of sweepstakes widget with your colors and themes
  • Pricing strategy: For example, do they charge per action or per feature?
  • Are they compatible with mobile operating systems such as iOS and Android?
  • What support channels do they offer and what are their hours of support? This is very helpful if the sweepstakes tool becomes dysfunctional during your promotion.

Comply with sweepstakes laws: It’s imperative to understand the regional and social media platform rules pertaining to sweepstakes. Sarah Hawkins has a series of articles that serve as excellent guides on these topics.

Determine sweepstakes duration: 21-28 days is the ideal duration for a sweepstakes promotion. Two weeks is often too short and more than a month is too long.

Select a prize: It could be your own product or a product that really fulfills your target audience’s needs.

Here’s a good example of this from Dove. Instead of offering a cliché prize such as an iPad, they focused on providing a home upgrade to attract a targeted male audience.

dove sweepstakes prize

Dove attracts a targeted male audience by using a home upgrade as their sweepstakes prize.

Determine sweepstakes location: Where will you host your sweepstakes? Depending on your objectives, does it make sense to host the promotion on your website, Facebook page or some other popular blog? These are not mutually exclusive choices. You can host your sweepstakes on multiple online destinations, but having it in one place often leads to an easier and more efficient execution of the promotion.

Set promotion budget: How much money do you want to spend to promote your sweepstakes? How does that divide across different marketing channels? For example, do you want to advertise on specific blogs to drive traffic to your sweepstakes or does a Facebook ad campaign make more sense?

Often-Overlooked Planning Steps

Associate sweepstakes with an event: Is the sweepstakes being held to celebrate your business’s third anniversary or the joyous spirit of Christmas? Associating your sweepstakes with an event provides context to your audience and makes a deeper emotional connection with them, which increases the chances of your sweepstakes creating a positive buzz in social media.

Here’s a great example of associating their sweepstakes with Christmas.

christmas event associates their sweepstakes with Christmas to connect with their audience on a deeper level and ensure positive social media exposure.

Create a short and enticing viral loop: A big prize attracts attention, but it’s the viral loop that continues the momentum—which is why it needs to be thought out in considerable detail. A viral loop is the workflow that maximizes the probability of one contestant attracting another contestant from their social network.

Here are the key elements in each stage of a viral loop:

Stage 1: Activate visitors into contestants

  • Clearly state the action that the visitors should take to enter the sweepstakes
  • Display an attractive picture of the prize
  • Inform the visitors that it is quick and easy to enter
  • State all the relevant information to reassure the visitors that the sweepstakes is legitimate (e.g., end date, winner announcement process, terms, etc.)

Stage 2: Remove entry barriers

  • Focus on one call to action
  • Make the Submit button easy to find
  • Reassure the visitors that their information is safe

Stage 3: Entice the contestant to share

  • Associate sweepstakes with an event (e.g., Christmas)
  • Award more entries for sharing the sweepstakes via social networks
  • Award a guaranteed gift such as a discount or an ebook for sharing the sweepstakes on social networks

Stage 4: Attract new visitors through shared messages

  • Write compelling copy for the message shared by the contestants when they press the Facebook Share or Retweet button. For example, instead of “Enter to win a $500 Visa Card” being shared, modify the copy of your shared message to “Wouldn’t it be nice to go on a Christmas shopping spree for free? Enter to win!”

Make sure every shared message has a link to the sweepstakes.

#3: Launch the Sweepstakes

You’ve done all the heavy planning work. Now, it’s time to execute. Here are the most important steps for a flawless launch:

Conduct a test run: Once you’ve set up the sweepstakes, ask a few of your friends and colleagues to enter and perform every primary and secondary call to action. Confirm that you see their entry in the sweepstakes tool’s analytics; that the messages being shared are not cut off due to character limits and that the sweepstakes links within the shared messages are working.

Contact influencers: Reach out to social media influencers and ask them if they will promote your sweepstakes. The more you convince them that the prize and the associated event of the sweepstakes appeal to their readers, the higher the chance of them promoting your sweepstakes. There is a great list of tools for this purpose in this article written by Jason Falls.

Request listing on sweepstakes directories (with caution): Submit your contest to a sweepstakes directory. This may make sense for some audiences, but not for others. You really need to think through what kind of audience you’re trying to attract, because sweepstakes directories often bring in “professional sweepers” who use fake accounts to submit multiple entries or immediately reverse their entry action; for instance, unlike, unsubscribe, etc.

Determine launch day: Your promotion gets an early boost if you launch your sweepstakes at the right time and the right day of the week. While you’ll have to rely on your own data to determine the best time and day for your audience, these research articles from Marketing Profs and Beth Kanter’s blog will help you get started.

launch date data

According to a study published by Marketing Profs, Sunday evening is the best time to launch a sweepstakes.

Often-Overlooked Launch Steps

Create a support plan: Despite your excellent planning and execution, things can still go wrong, and usually they’ll have to do with technical glitches. If you’re using a third-party sweepstakes tool, make sure you have their phone number and email address handy so you can quickly resolve the technical problems.

Contact Facebook influencers: There’s a lot of focus on finding Twitter or Pinterest influencers, mainly because of the ease of finding influencers on these platforms. Finding Facebook influencers is more challenging, but it’s worth the effort, especially because many of these influencers don’t have their own dedicated websites or blogs. Raven Tools has an informative blog post on how to navigate Facebook’s search feature to find relevant Facebook pages.

facebook search tool

Facebook's search feature is a powerful tool to help you determine the right Facebook influencers for your sweepstakes promotion.

#4: Follow-up With Contestants

So you’ve launched the sweepstakes and the entries are rolling in. In this stage, your focus needs to shift to following up to meet your primary and secondary objectives. Here’s a list of the major steps that are needed for a successful follow-up process:

Follow up with autoresponders: Sending a follow-up email adds more credibility to your sweepstakes and dramatically increases the chances of contestants taking the secondary action that you’d like them to take. Schedule automatic follow-ups via the autoresponder features of email marketing tools such as MailChimp and AWeber.

Determine reminder frequency: Your fans and subscribers are really busy and they’ll either forget to enter your sweepstakes or miss your announcements. That’s why reminders are vital to maximizing the number of contestants. To ensure that you don’t annoy your audience, a good rule of thumb is:

  • One reminder email per week
  • One reminder Facebook status per day
  • Two reminder tweets per day

    Remind people about your sweepstakes with conservative frequency. Image source: iStockPhoto.

Conduct daily test runs: Technical glitches are often unreported, which translates into fewer contestants. That’s why it’s important for you to enter your own sweepstakes on a daily basis (with a test account) to verify that all of the sweepstakes procedures are working as planned.

Perform weekly modifications: As the sweepstakes progresses, you’re sure to learn a lot and generate ideas on how to make your sweepstakes better. It’s important to set aside some time each week to make adjustments based on those lessons. It could be something as simple as changing the tweet message to make it more enticing, or something as effective as reducing the number of actions required to enter the sweepstakes.

Often-Overlooked Follow-Up Steps

Reach out to contestants on Twitter: At the end of each day, look at who entered the sweepstakes on Twitter, check out their Twitter bio and see if they are the right target to engage with. Breaking the ice is much easier since their sweepstakes entry serves as a starting point for conversation. It’s simple to do and you’ll never know who you’ll find, so why not give it a try?

Follow-up for soft-selling: Sweepstakes draw a lot of traffic and attention. Why not encourage them to buy from you? Here’s a list of things for you to do on your Thank-you page or your follow-up emails to increase your sales:

  • Show contestants your business video and ask them to start a free trial
  • If the prize is your own product, give them a link to where they can buy that product
  • Give entrants a discount code to entice them to buy from you. Here’s a good example from a sweepstakes promotion.
    follow up soft sale

    Use your follow-up emails as a means to soft-sell your product to increase your sales.

#5: Ending the Sweepstakes

You’re almost done. A few more steps and you’ll have the pleasure of communicating with the winner and watching him or her respond to you with joy and disbelief. But before that point, there are still a few things you need to get right:

Send final reminders: Send out final reminders via email and social media about when the sweepstakes ends. Reiterate what the sweepstakes was for and how easy it is to enter.

Select a winner: If you’re using a sweepstakes tool, it should make the winner selection process very simple. Otherwise, export the contestant data into an Excel spreadsheet and upload it to to help you select a winner.

Remove the tool: Now that the sweepstakes is done, remove the widget from your website and/or your social media pages.

Send winner announcement: Announce the winner to all contestants via email, blog and social networks.

Contact the winner: Send a separate email to the winner asking him or her to respond within a specific time period. Also ask about the person’s age and location. This step needs to be done within 7-10 business days of the sweepstakes’ end.

Mail the prize: Once you’ve confirmed all of the details with the winner, mail the prize to the winner’s address and let him or her know the estimated date of arrival.

Often-Overlooked Ending Steps

Create an internal assessment report: This is the moment of truth. Did you meet your objectives? What was the return on investment for the amount of money you spent? Would that money have been better spent on direct ads or other PR activities? What worked very well and what would you do differently? Sweepstakes are not a one-hit wonder. They’re supposed to be done with some regularity and these kinds of post-sweepstakes assessments ensure that your next sweepstakes generates even better results.

Share your results: Everyone loves to see stats, a final report card or a set of lessons learned during a promotion. Now that you have completed your sweepstakes promotion, you’re sitting on valuable data. Why not share that data on your own blog or with a different audience through a guest blog post to gain additional coverage of your business?

share results

The contest widget that had the fuzzy image collected 22% more email subscribers than the widget that had big text and no image.

Unbounce has a good article on post-sweepstakes statistics on 8 factors that lead to the best results.

Add Your Tips

These are important steps to follow when running a successful sweepstakes. However, these steps aren’t the only ones. Running sweepstakes is a social activity and there’s a lot of room for creativity.

What do you think? Do you have some tips of your own? What successes have you had with running a sweepstakes? Please share some of your own tips in the comments below.

Image from iStockPhoto.
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