Contests: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

We run across a LOT of contests in our day-to-day travels around the web and social media platforms.

THE GOODContests are a terrific way to build up your audience with new fans and encourage engagement among your current fans. They get people excited – after all, who doesn’t love to win something?! So, do we love contests? Absolutely! … But what we really love are good contests. Read on for some tips…

THE BAD: We see some of the same mistakes being made over and over again. If you have not thoroughly thought out and tested your contest, more than likely you will have one (or more) of the following errors:

  • Incongruity With Goal: What is your goal? Make sure your contest will help get to your goal. For example, if you want to gain followers and get some traction on your new Pinterest account, then a Pin-to-Win contest is a great choice. However, if you are trying to drive traffic to your new blog and get more blog subscribers, a Pin-to-Win, although fun, will not be aligned with your goal.
  • Unclear Instructions: Ask this: Is it easy for the entrant to understand the entire entry process? When you have worked a long time on developing  your contest, it seems perfectly obvious to you about how to enter. BUT to that first time reader, it might not be so easy to understand. So get someone who has no idea about your contest and have them walk (click) through each step and give you feedback.
  • No Start and Stop Date: This might seem obvious, but surprisingly there are many contests where there is no end date listed. How likely would you be to enter a contest where there is no clear statement of when or if the prize winner will be determined?
  • Mis-Matched Themes: For instance– a contest from a Med Spa to win a free facial that asks people to share a photo of their favorite pair of blue jeans. It just makes no sense. Especially if your business has nothing to do with fashion. Try to think of an over-arching theme and use it to the fullest. One example we saw recently was a Pin-to-Win contest to launch Sarah Jessica Parker’s (#SJP) new shoe line in Nordstrom. It was called “A Day in Her Shoes” and they asked people to pick shoes from the new collection, pin them on a dedicated board, and then show on an interactive Pinterest map where they might wear said pair of shoes. Now that’s great theme execution! It got people to check out her line of shoes, consider where they might wear them, and interact with the brand both on Pinterest and on the Nordstrom website (where, coincidentally, you can buy that pretty pair of #SJP Mary Janes you just pinned).
  • Work-to-Prize Ratio is Out of Whack: If your prize is $5 Starbucks gift card, don’t ask the contestants to write a 500 word essay on why they love your business, make them give you all of their contact info, sign a bunch of disclosures, upload the essay to a special site, and get their friends to vote on their story for the next three weeks. It’s just too much work for too little of a pay-off.  But, if your prize is round-trip airfare to Hawaii, then yes, asking for a little elbow grease from the contestant is certainly understandable. And believe us, they will do a lot for a good prize!
  • Clunky Interface: A frictionless user experience is an important key to a successful promotion. Make sure you are using an interface that works well on the customer-facing side, but also give you great data on the backside. We have used quite a few of the top apps over the years (Wildfire by Google, WooBox, Northsocial by Vocus, Votigo, Rafflecopter, etc.) and are happy to make a recommendation in this area.
  • Mobile Incompatibility, Spelling Errors, and Broken Links, oh my: Please, do a spell check and make sure more than one person tests the links. And that goes for testing using multiple browsers and using both desktop and mobile! If your contest is not compatible on a mobile device, it will not be successful. Period. Most of the good (paid) apps mentioned above will work on a mobile device.

THE UGLY: The above items are pretty bad. But here are a few more items that are huge no-no’s:

  • Contest Rules, Terms and Conditions: You have to take a bit of time and make sure that your contest meets federal, state, and local laws. A good place to check and make sure you are not doing something illegal is the FTC. The Federal Trade Commission oversees contests and protects consumers – check out Also we found this helpful article from the Small Business Administration (SBA) on how to keep yourself out of trouble: click here. Make sure your terms and conditions are thorough. One great way to see if yours are up to snuff is to take a look at what other big brands are doing. Look at their terms and conditions and use as a framework as you draft yours. Finally, make sure you run your contest rules, terms and conditions by your attorney to be extra sure you are covered in case someone has a complaint.
  • Branding: If you want people to follow and interact with your business, you have to make them proud to do so. This is where branding comes in. Does your contest look and feel like your business? Have you taken the time to have a beautiful and coherent graphic design applied? And most importantly in the era of social media – will they be proud to share your contest with their friends? Only promotions that have a professional look and feel are the ones that get passed along on a viral level.
Questions? We are always happy to help. And if you are thinking of running a contest and would like some assistance, we are more than ready to be of service. (877) 401-5485 or