Sweepstakes, Contests, and Giveaways!

yeti-sweepstakesSweepstakes, contests, and giveaways are all based on a simple premise: Everyone likes getting free stuff.

You don’t need a master’s in psychology to explain the precise reasons why. As a business owner, all we need to know is that these methods work with increasing your brand awareness. They drive shoppers to online stores and can help drive them to buy if you play your cards right. Social media—in particular, Facebook and Twitter—has only made organizing these events that much easier.

So what’s the difference in the three? Let’s take a look.

In sweepstakes, the free stuff is won through chance, while in contests, the free stuff is won through skill. In giveaways, the free stuff is given to all comers, so you can say that everyone walks away a winner. No matter which one you choose to promote your business, you should consider the following advice:

Get creative (and smart) with your free stuff

A decade ago, the mention of “sweepstakes” might have conjured the image of a brand new car sitting in a mall and those pesky forms or one of those large manilla envelopes in the mail emblazoned with “You may have already won!!!” solicitations.

No more. Social media has changed all that in a big way. Prizes no longer have to be whatever product it is that you’re selling. Since the consumer already connects with you through Facebook or Twitter, you don’t need a branded product to establish a relationship. Therefore, your prize need not even be remotely related to your business in particular or your field in general. It could be anything from a gift certificate to an iPad.

In general, the hotter the item, the higher the response. This may seem obvious, but it goes beyond the simple Pavlovian “I want that!” response. SEO (Search Engine Optimization) can play a big part of this.

Here’s an example: Imagine your online business sells Widget A–a device that has absolutely nothing to do with the iPad. After the Apple keynote announcing the next iPad, both bloggers and the mainstream media talk about it all week. Everyone knows about it; people start to search for it–including “free iPad mini retina deluxe” (or whatever the name may be).

Your business shows up in search results and attracts people who have never heard of you or your wares. Now is your opportunity to introduce yourself and what you offer. Through national radio and TV advertising, this sort of reach could cost 20x your annual budget. But doing it this way? Only the cost of that iPad and a little time.

The prize doesn’t even need to be tangible, as many companies have given away digital prizes, such as an e-book, to experiences, such as having lunch with a local celebrity. The only requirement for a prize is that it should be desirable enough to draw entrants, as well as be cost and time effective for the business.

Put a hook in the free stuff

While aggressively promoting the sweepstake, contest, or giveaway to potential entrants is a given, reaching out to the media is also a must. Media publicity will draw even more entrants to your event, which will translate into more business. This task will be made infinitely easier if the event is designed with the media in mind. To do this, put a hook in it. In other words, think of story angles that might play to the interests of whatever media outlet it is you’re targeting.

For instance, if a local news show does a feel-good segment at the end of every show, it would not make sense to contact them about your sweepstakes for an autographed football—that would be a non-story. On the other hand, what would be a story is if you ran a contest for a local boy or girl to spend time with a role model of an athlete.

As this example shows, the prizes most likely to draw media attention may be more time intensive to organize, but the results may be well worth it.

Give the free stuff away in the right way

No matter the website you choose to organize your event through—Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and so on—it’s imperative to follow the correct procedure for promotions.

On Facebook, for example, the terms of service for Facebook pages forbids entry into a contest or sweepstake solely on the basis of a like, a comment, or an upload. Companies must require more of participants to enter into a promotion. Any company in violation of this rule risks punishment from Facebook, and in extension, the platform that they so dutifully built.

Businesses should protect their pages by doing their promotions the right way, so they can focus their attention on where it matters the most: Harnessing the pull of the sweepstake, contest, or giveaway to convert participants into patrons.

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