9 Lessons For Brands On Holding Online Contests

Earlier this year I wrote a case study about the Sauza Tequila contest held in November 2010. I walked away with a lot of marketing lessons about how to enter and win a vote-driven contest. But I also walked away with a lot of takeaways for companies who are looking to hold online contests to increase online conversation and buzz about their brand. Before you think about holding a vote-driven contest, either for your clients or for your company, take this advice into account: 

  1. Know what you want to get out of it. Sometimes I think brands hold contests as an experiment, to see if they actually work or not. In my opinion you should hold an online contest to improve a specific metric – to increase Facebook fans, newsletter signups, conversation on Twitter, etc. If you don’t have a desired outcome in mind before you start the contest you won’t be able to measure its success (or lack thereof). 
  2. Decide on a platform. It’s important to know where you want to drive people. Looking to build up your Facebook page? Add the contest as a tab like Sauza did. Maybe you want to hold it on Twitter, and get people to vote by Tweeting a certain message or hashtag. Or maybe you have a separate microsite for the contest. Whatever you do, make sure it’s centralized in one location. It makes it easier to point people to the contest.
  3. Make it easy for people to vote. The biggest deterrent for me to vote for someone is a website that requires you register for an account to vote. It’s extremely prohibitive to make people jump through hoops to vote for someone, which means less traffic for the company, and less votes for the entrants. In Sauza’s case all people needed to vote was a Facebook account – they clicked on a ‘vote’ button on the Facebook tab and voila, the vote tally changed. They didn’t even have to ‘Like’ the page. If you’re hoping to get as many people as possible voting and talking about the contest, don’t provide a barrier to entry.
  4. Don’t annoy people, but if you do be consistent. When the contest started, voting on the Facebook tab would automatically post on your Facebook wall. This really annoyed people – just because they were voting doesn’t mean they wanted spam on their wall. You could opt out of the wall posts, but not everyone knew how to deactivate them. So halfway through the voting period Sauza did away with the automatic wall posts. But by then people were used to them, and liked how they reminded their network to vote. It was a case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t – they had already annoyed people, so they should have been consistent and kept that feature in place until the end of the contest. But note to brands – don’t auto-post to people’s Facebook walls. Give them the option, and let them make the choice. 
  5. Be transparent with the rules. If you’re going to make it a vote-driven contest, make only the votes count. The most deceptive thing about the Sauza contest was that everyone was encouraged to vote for their favourite finalists, and the vote tally was displayed on the Facebook page. But the votes only accounted for a small percentage of the final decision – a panel of judges would actually decide the winner based on content, creativity, and of course votes. This wasn’t apparent to everyone who was voting, and it would have caused a lot of backlash if the person with the most votes had lost based on the judging round. If votes account for 100% of the score, great. If they don’t, that’s fine too, but make sure it’s clearly stated. A great example of this is the BMW Ultimate Blogger challenge – they clearly state the stages of the contest so there’s no confusion.
  6. Keep it short and sweet. The Sauza Tequila Revolution contest lasted a long time. First entrants had to submit a video, and the top-ranked video from each side made it to the final. The final round lasted over a month – during that time entrants had to get votes, and whoever had the most votes won. A month is WAY too long to expect finalists to campaign for votes. It meant over 30 days of asking our networks to vote and creating content, which got really tiresome after a while. I would recommend keeping the final voting period to two weeks maximum – that’s more than enough time to get buzz and encourage finalists to rally their networks. 
  7. Make the prize worthwhile. There is no way anyone would have put in the effort to win this contest if the prize had been a case of tequila. $10,000 is a lot of money, and it was enough of an incentive for the participants to work their butt off. The prize you’re offering is the only thing that’s going to motivate people to enter and work hard to win, so make it something worth fighting for. 
  8. Don’t abandon the community you’ve built. The biggest criticism I have of Sauza is that the company has done absolutely nothing with the amazing community they built during the contest. The finalists had people across Canada blogging, Tweeting, updating their Facebook status, and watching videos on YouTube. This was a huge branding opportunity for Sauza – although they haven’t released any numbers, I’m positive their online conversations increased 10-fold. But they didn’t do anything with the conversation – the only people who were active online during contest were the finalists, with the exception of Facebook (the company moderated comments and posted new material from both finalists). Their Twitter account is woefully neglected, and their Facebook page wasn’t updated from December 31st until April 6th. And as far as I know they haven’t made any effort to engage the contest finalists – in my opinion they created some amazing buzz and should be working as Sauza ambassadors. 
  9. Measure your success. This should be a given, but I’m not sure it is in Sauza’s case. If they had measured their success they would have seen how much the contest raised their online profile, and they would have done something with their Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, etc. This goes back to number one – know what you want to get out of a contest. If you wanted to increase Facebook fans and you did, then you know that you should hold another contest sometime in the future, and that you should do something to engage those Facebook fans so you stay relevant.

So there are my two cents – the good, the bad and the ugly of holding an online vote-driven contest from a brand perspective. Do you agree? What lessons have you learned from other online contests?