The Brickwire: What's the Right Incentive for Your Social Media Contest? - Scott Tieman - MediaBizBloggers

By Red Bricks Media Archives
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Recently, my clients have been beating a path to my door to run social media contests and sweepstakes. They've read the buzz about companies unlocking tremendous value through these programs and want to get in on the action.

My original intention for this article was to outline the key considerations I talk to them about: differentiating the concept, keeping the participation simple, integrating cross-channel, promoting the heck out of it, and aligning incentives. Each of these warrants its own discussion, but the one that seems the most obvious and yet is the least intuitive is the latter, aligning incentives. So, I'll start there first.

Too often, contest and sweepstakes planning focuses heavily on logistics without regard for the incentive structure. The reason is obvious. Marketers care about their return – increased awareness, sales, etc. But, participants only care about what they're going to get out of it. Without this value exchange, these programs fail.

Below, I outline three key considerations when planning contest and sweepstakes incentive structures: choosing between cash and prizes, using incentives as a promotion vehicle, and targeting the incentive to your desired audience and outcome.

(1)Cash may be king, but it costs more than you might think.

People barely notice anymore when marketers offer the chance to win $1,000, or even $10,000. They'll gladly take the money if it's given, but won't go through the effort of contest participation. Cash prizes only start to cut through the noise at $100,000 or more. However, at this incentive level, the program must be far reaching to earn back the investment in awareness, participation, or output.

As an alternative, consider incentives that would be valuable to the intended audience, but would require less cash. Focus on noteworthy, unique prizes that people can't get elsewhere or can't afford. This might include tickets to the Olympics, producing your next commercial, or even digital brand badges. When you do a cost comparison between cash and these types of prizes, the prizes are usually cheaper and stand out more.

(2)The incentive should help promote the program.

Noteworthy incentives generate buzz which helps further promote the contest or sweepstakes. When planning the incentive structure, consider how buzz worthy the prize is -- will it help promote the program?

State lotteries are great examples. Participation grows as the prize pool increases – not only through increased investments from regulars, but also from people normally on the sidelines. The odds of winning don't change. The expected payout may be higher, but even that isn't guaranteed given the additional participation. Yet the bigger prize pool generates increased participation despite little additional promotion. The reason is that as the prize pool rises, more buzz is generated by media outlets that normally wouldn't promote a lottery.

(3)Offer bamboo to the pandas, eucalyptus to the koalas.

In planning contest incentives, consider the audience. Look at the audience research you've done and ask what would motivate your target consumer to participate. Thinking "who wouldn't want cash or a trip to Vegas?" isn't enough.

Below, I've included an example that I think illustrates all three points very well.

Recently, a well known tech blogger took advantage of the hype surrounding the launch of the Google Nexus One by using the frenzy to increase his own online influence. Immediately following the product release, he snapped up 10 devices for $6,000. He then offered to give away one device randomly for each 10,000 followers he collected on Twitter. The only requirement to enter was retweeting his offer. By the end of the first week, he had given away five devices; by the end of the second week, another 3.

Several things strike me about this sweepstakes. It was simple. Participants only needed to retweet the offer. The timing was impeccable. His prospective audience wanted to get their hands on the product, but few had $600 lying around. Had he launched the sweepstakes a month later the response rate would have been far lower. The incentive was relevant to his audience. The people he wanted to collect were precisely the ones that would be most interested in the Google Nexus One. He astutely listened to the chatter and used it to his own benefit. The economics are astounding. Each additional follower cost him $0.06 – that's it! You can't even get one paid click to your site for that amount. Had he chosen to instead give away $600 for every 10,000 followers, no one would have noticed. The value generated is substantial. Now that he has collected this audience, his megaphone is supercharged and each additional communication is "free." What would you be willing to pay to get your message out to 100,000 customers and prospects?

Scott Tieman is an Account Director at Red Bricks Media. He is an experienced internet marketer and certified search professional. In his role, he has directed online marketing programs for SanDisk, Nestle, LA Times and more. Scott can be reached at

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