In the world of marketing, you have to innovate if you want to survive.
Your competition will eventually catch up with your strategies, and your audience will get sick of seeing the same tactics repeated over and over again *cough* expert roundup posts *cough*.
At Authority Hacker, we’ve seen this first-hand. We’ve used content upgrades and pop-ups to great effect building out our list, but it was clear that to accelerate our growth, we needed to mix things up.
This is when we heard about the phenomenal results some marketers have had with contests and giveaways. Travis Ketchum grew his email list by 190,000, while Josh Earl got 200,000 new emails with a contest.
We figured that if we could get even a fraction of the results, we could reach the critical mass we need to make AuthorityHacker a success (we barely had 800 subscribers then).
After some consideration, we decided to launch an End of the Year contest to burst grow our list.
The results basically doubled the size of our community in just 3 weeks and certainly was a deciding factor when deciding to keep pursuing Authority Hacker or not.
In this post, we’ll lay all our cards on the deck. We’ll teach you the exact steps we took to find prizes, setup the tech and conduct the contest. Once you’re through with this post, you will have all the tools you need to conduct your own successful giveaway.
What you will learn
- How contests can help you grow your email list and social followers
- How to get high-value contest prizes for free
- How to setup the tech for running contests
- How to setup your incentives
- How to promote the contest
Why Contests and Giveaways?
Before we answer the ‘why’, here are the results from our End of the Year contest:
That’s right – we got 2,186 emails including 1,626 new ones in just 3 short weeks. We also got 7,983 views to the contest page (which we could then retarget to grow our community even more).
For a blog that was started just 9 months ago in one of the most competitive niches online, the results are very encouraging.
Contests are one of the oldest – and most successful marketing tactics around. They’re used by businesses big and small. Cool startups like Oneplus runs them all the time to grow on the cheap as do small bloggers. Countless studies have shown that contests and giveaways can be really successful in engaging your audience:
- A study by Louisiana State University showed that a promotional contest for a movie was highly effective at increasing intent among participants to watch the movie.
- According to a study conducted by Georgia Southern University, 71.6% of people remember companies that give away products (at trade shows).
- Another study showed that using a lottery prize giveaway can significantly improve response rates for surveys.
Overall giveaways are an inexpensive way to both increase engagement and gain exposure. If you count that all the traffic to our giveaway page is organic, if we had bought the traffic on Facebook, it would have costed me short of $4,000 at $0.5/click on Facebook yet I got it for free with these tactics.
In terms of actual results, I like to look at benchmarks to see how well we’ve done. Here are some case studies from other businesses running contests:
Total increase in Facebook fans for Unique Hotels
Increase in total emails for Josh Earl of SublimeTextTips.com
Conversion rate for Mixergy Premium contest
You get the idea: contests work when executed correctly.
What’s in a Name? Contests vs. Sweepstakes
You might have seen the words “contests” and “sweepstakes” often used interchangeably online. Although they might appear similar on the surface, they differ in how they select winners.
- Require effort from entrants to participate.
- Entrants can increase chance of winning by increasing participation (such as referring friends)
- Ex: A camera manufacturer asking people to share pictures, then giving away a prize to select entrants.
- Require no effort from participants
- Winners are chosen randomly; more effort does not improve chances of winning.
- Ex: A camera manufacturer giving away a prize to its Facebook fans at random
Given these encouraging signs, we decided to hold a contest of our own.
Here’s what we did to make it successful
Step I: Getting Prizes
Prizes are the most important part of a giveaway. They’ll determine how much or how little buzz you generate among your target audience. You are about to ask people to do things for you (share, join your mailing list, following you etc). If the potential outcome is underwhelming, few people will take these actions.
We can derive the incentive we provide to potential entrants with an approximative formula :
Incentive = Prize Value / Chance of Winning
Now the question of value is an interesting one.
Value is perceived differently based on what people care about. You don’t have to give something very expensive away to give a lot of value away.
Also, you can use perceived value to target specific people by making sure your prize is perceived as high value by your target market and low value by everyone else.
In our case study we offered online marketing tools. Most people will not see any interest in them and not jump through the hoops we put in front of them but our target market was very excited about our prizes.
How To Select Prizes
A good prize for a giveaway has two qualities:
- It is highly relevant. The prize fits the target market’s requirements to a T. Your audience wants it because it needs it.
- It is highly desirable. It is either not easily available, or has a high price tag. This means your audience can’t readily purchase it themselves with little resource sacrifice.
Research by the Miami School of Business Administration shows that prizes that trigger emotions work best in giveaways.
That’s why we angled our contest to “help you crush it in 2015″
Try to dig beneath the surface of what your target audience truly wants. If you’re running a nutrition blog, a year’s worth of supplements would make a nice prize. A beauty blog could give away a 6 month subscription to Birchbox.
For us, it was clear that our audience wanted access to better marketing tools. Not only were these tools highly relevant to their needs, they were also expensive enough to place them beyond the reach of the average marketer.
We also wanted enough prizes to reach a nice, round figure, like $5,000. Frankly, “$5,000 in prizes” sounds way better than “Tons of prizes!” and it’s beyond what most people can afford in this niche meaning they’ll be willing to do work for us for a chance of getting that prize.
How To Get Prizes For Free
There are two ways to get prizes for a contest:
- Buy the prizes yourself
- Get businesses to sponsor prizes in exchange for exposure
Obviously, the latter approach will cut down your upfront costs dramatically.
We took the second approach with our giveaway. We were making no money off Authority Hacker back then, and it seemed extravagant to plop down thousands on a giveaway that wasn’t guaranteed to succeed (plus it would make this case study a lot less relatable).
To make this possible, we had to first convince businesses to give us their products for free.
Here’s how we managed to get $5,000 worth of value for free:
Step 1: Create A List Of Businesses To Approach
The first step was to make a list of businesses to approach for the giveaway. I targeted products that were:
- Relevant and useful affiliate marketers
- Widely used, desired and respected to borrow authority.
- Covered a range of marketing needs, from hosting to content.
Step 2: Get Their Email Addresses
Before you can pitch a business, you need to find the email address of the right person.
For a business opportunity such as a giveaway, you can usually just contact the company directly and ask to be put through to the right person.
If that doesn’t work, just ask them on Twitter who’s the best person to contact for a contest sponsorship (that’s what I did the most because I’m lazy :)).
If you’re struggling to find the email address, this post on Life Long Learner should help you out.
Step 3: Send Your Pitch
Here’s the first pitch we sent to Ahrefs (read our review):
When they asked for more information, we sent them a follow-up email explaining the contest in detail and pitching its value.
We eventually managed to convince them to give away a 1 year, a 6 months and a 1 month pro license for a total value of $946.
Here are four reasons why this pitch worked:
- High quality content: In my original pitch, I linked to some of the best content on Authority Hacker that mentioned Ahrefs. This showed them that I wasn’t just another spammy marketing blogger, but was actually invested in my readership. By associating with the contest, they would benefit from the AH brand.
- Precise plan: We didn’t just send them a vague pitch about the giveaway; we sent them a precise promotion plan, telling them that I was going to buy FB ads, do an outreach campaign, use top tier tools and tactics such to get traffic to the contest.
- Ease their decision making: Instead of trying to negotiate the terms of the giveaway, I told them exactly what I wanted from them (“1 pro subscription for 1 year, 1 for 6 months, 1 for 1 month”). We also told them exactly what they’ll get in return (their name featured on the contest page, thank you page and thank you email). This made their decision much easier.
- Social proof: Once I had their attention, I name dropped other businesses that were already on board with the contest (Long Tail Pro, Copycog, etc.). In addition to the comments and shares on the AH site, this served as powerful social proof. If Ahrefs knows other well-respected brands are already on board, they are more likely to tag along.
We had 7 different companies on board. Together, they covered content, hosting, and competitor research – pretty much everything you need to create a powerful marketing machine.
That’s $5,000+ of value for free.
I’d say that’s a pretty decent result for a pretty small blog :)
Step II: Setting up the Tech
Now that we had our prizes, it was time to setup the tech for the giveaway. This would’ve been a laborious process until a few years ago, but today, there are a number of plugins that can handle the entire giveaway for you from a single dashboard.
After doing some preliminary research, we concluded that we had three main possible options to choose from:
We pored over their features, looked at product demos and read countless reviews. After all this research, we decided to use Gleam.io
Gleam.io is a suite of apps for handling image galleries, competitions and rewards. It’s beautifully designed, user-friendly and takes all the guesswork out of running effective contests. We chose it for four reasons:
- Built-in viral share system. This system rewards people for inviting more people into the contest with more chances of winning. This helps the contest go viral and to crowdsource the marketing.
- Powerful reporting features. It was important for us to know where our entries were coming from (so we could double down on that channel). Gleam had everything we wanted, and more.
- “Bonus entries” system where [explained]. This helps in getting people to complete more actions = more follows/shares for us.
- A large number of social integrations. We wanted to be on as many channels as possible. Besides the obvious (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), Gleam.io also supports Vimeo and Soundcloud (where we host our podcast)
There were tons of other features such as 1-click entry, verified actions, easy installation, etc. It was an easy choice considering the competitors.
You can try out a demo of the contest app right here. Or take a look at the video below:
Gleam.io was also relatively cheap – we just had to pay $39/m for the Pro plan but if you want to run social contests only it’s actually free.
Gleam.io Review & Tutorial
After installing Gleam (they have pretty nice guides on using the app), it was time to setup our incentives.
Step III: Setting up the Incentives
How you setup your incentives depends a lot on what you’re trying to achieve from the contest.
In our case, growing the email list was first priority, but we also wanted to grow our social profiles.. If we could get anyone to follow us on social media, we counted it as a win.
Gleam.io definitely helped in this aspect. The large number of social media integrations and entry combinations made our job much easier.
We adopted these two strategies to maximize our emails/follows:
- Included as many ‘Follow’ buttons as possible. Our target was to be part of people’s conversations on all their channels – email, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.
- Increased the bonus along with the action. The more action people took, the more they could win. This gave them a great incentive to follow us on different platforms. If people performed 5 or more actions we doubled their chanced to win.
Here are the results again:
Step IV: Promoting The Contest
The best incentivized contest with top of the line prizes can’t succeed if you don’t spend time promoting it.
This was a lesson we learned the hard way.
When we launched the contest, we were under the impression that the quality of the prizes, plus our existing social authority would be enough to make the contest go viral. We were also expecting all the sponsors to chip in with the promo work.
That didn’t happen.
Instead, we quickly realized that we had to do all the promo work ourselves.
We adopted several tactics to get the initial traffic flowing:
1. Email And Social Media
This was an obvious step: after launching the contest, we sent out an email to our list. We also shared it across all our social channels. We immediately got some retweets and initial traffic.
2. Advertised The Contest On Our Blog
While we were promoting the contest on social media, it was also important to advertise it to people visiting our blog.
To do this, we added a HelloBar style CTA on the blog, linking to the contest. This notified every visitor about the giveaway and that they were welcome to apply.
Unfortunately I forgot to take a screenshot but check out Hello Bar to get an idea.
3. Made Deals With Bloggers In The IM Niche.
One of the best things we did to promote the contest was to ask other bloggers to send out a promo email to their list. In exchange, we agreed to do the same with our list.
Such “Shout for Shout” deals are not just a great source of traffic, but also a good way to get into a blogger’s good books. Unlike affiliate products, contests are non-commercial and deliver value to readers. A blogger who cares about his audience (the only kind you should be targeting) is more likely to run a contest promo than a product pitch.
Plus, there are some other advantages as well:
- The traffic is highly targeted.
- The traffic converts better since it comes with the tacit approval of an authority figure (the blogger).
- You can get a lot of reach. Some top bloggers have email lists numbering in six figures and over.
For our contest, we narrowed down our list to a handful of popular bloggers we’d interacted with in the past and sent them an email. After some negotiations, we managed to get emails like this:
4. Forum Promotion
A lot of marketers write off forums as a poor source of traffic, but they can still work well if the promotion is done organically.
In our case, we never really got around to promoting the contest on forums ourselves, but a few readers started posting the link on IM forums.
We knew we were onto a winner when we started seeing posts like that pop-up on different forums. That’s reach you simply can’t buy with money.
The best part is that the incentive system got other people to do this kind of promo for us. For each person they referred, they had more chances of winning a prize. Perfect :).
5. Facebook Promotion
As part of our promo strategy, we made a list of Facebook groups where we could post our contest link and invite people to take part.
This worked decently but the traffic was low engagement and low conversion and the groups felt a bit spammy so we decided to scale back that strategy
6. Getting Others To Promote
Besides the people posting the contest on forums, we were pleasantly surprised to see many folks actually put in the effort to share the contest on social media.
We chalk this up to the sheer size of the prize pool and the clever viral system we’d implemented with Gleam. When you have more than $5,000 worth of prizes up for grabs, people tend to take notice.
Plus, top bloggers like Matthew Woodward (who topped our shares chart) are always looking for quality links to send to their followers. We made a deal that I’d promote his next contest if he promoted ours Totally worth it!
Step V: The Results
As mentioned earlier, we got 1,626 new emails from the contest.
We also got tons of social shares, forum mentions, and backlinks. Thanks to the contest, people started recognizing our name. From ‘just another IM blog’, we turned into ‘Authority Hacker – the guys who ran that $5k contest’.
That’s pretty cool when you think about it :)
Our YouTube follower count started growing right after the contest started. This, in turn, increased our YouTube video rankings, which helped more people discover our channel.
To this day the channel is still growing monthly thanks to this initial push in subscribers.
Do you want to learn more about Youtube Marketing? Check this podcast out!
Our Twitter following started blowing up around this time as well:
We can now generate 40-50 visits/day from our Twitter account alone and more people are following it daily due to our great follower/following ratio and authority.
Do you want more Twitter followers? Check this post out!
We also got lots of Facebook groups sending us some love:
Along with some forum posts and Google+ mentions:
You can’t readily buy this kind of word of mouth with money.
Overall our social media presence really took off with the event and I know that from that point I was able to get more shares for our posts, distribute more or them organically which in turn made us look more authoritative and made even more people share us.
We learned a lot from our very first contest. We learned how to pick prizes, how to setup giveaways, and how to promote it.
Of course, we made a few missteps along the way, but overall, the contest was a big success. We grew our social following, got tons of emails, and built up our presence in the IM niche.
To quickly recap, here are our top lessons from the AH End of the Year contest:
- Contests are a dime a dozen. To stand out, you need to deliver tons of perceived value or forget about viral shares.
- Try to get free prizes from businesses in exchange for exposure. It’s a win win win and product owners are happy to give product for exposure.
- Promote heavily – don’t rely on participating businesses to do the work for you. That’s your job but you get rewarded awesomely if you do it properly.
- Choose your tech carefully. Pick something that will help you maximize shares.
- Don’t overdo contests – your audience will get tired.
With the success of this contest, we might very well make this an annual Christmas tradition.
If you want to run your own contest, don’t hesitate to take a free trial with Gleam.io, they are great and reasonably priced.
I would also like to take the occasion of this post to publicly thank Bryan from Videofruit who helped me brainstorm some of the promotion strategies!
What would you like to see in our next contest? Let us know in the comments below!