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Using Online Contests to Promote Your Business


Who doesn’t like winning? No one.

Who likes getting cool stuff — for free? Everyone.

If you understand those simple truths, you understand the psychology behind online contest marketing. While one or more people entering the contest will walk off with a neat prize, your business can be the real winner — if you play your cards right.

For starters, what do we mean by “contest”? Unlike a sweepstakes, a contest requires participants to complete some sort of challenge — like answering a trivia question or guessing the number of thingamabobs in a whatzit.

Why even have a contest?

While everyone loves Santa Claus or that rich uncle who’s always pressing a few bills in your hand at the family reunion, you are not that guy. You’ve got a business to run. Acts of goodwill have their place, but tangible benefits give warrant to spending time and money on a contest.

Since we’re talking about online, first and foremost is creating interest and activity on your website. A well-done online contest can increase time spent on your product pages, as well as gaining you social media followers and email subscribers.

And, of course, there’s that goodwill we mentioned. An online contest creates a feel-good moment between your business and potential customers, while attracting attention and creating buzz in the marketplace for your company.

There’s also the sound of your cash register going, “Ka-ching!” But more on that later.

Follow the rules

Remember those board games you played as a kid? Every box came with a set of rules. In fact, there’s no game — and no winner — without rules. If you lost the rules to your favorite board game, you might make up your own, but that won’t fly with an online contest.

Because online platforms like Facebook and Twitter are fussy about these things, the first step to launching an online contest is knowing the rules for the platform.

For instance, these Facebook rules can keep your contest from getting shut down.

Your online contest will also need a set of written rules specific to the contest. You can find advice on writing a set of contest rules (where else?) online, or you can use this general template.

Best practices make best results

We’ve already defined that, in a contest, you can’t get something for nothing. As economist Milton Friedman said, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” To participate, your potential customers have to do something.

In marketing, we call this “engagement.” Requiring Engagement is Best Practice No. 1.

Forms of engagement include following or liking your business on Facebook or other social media, filling out a form that includes their email address and, of course, completing your little parlor trick — answering that question or guessing the number of doohickeys in the toby jug.

Engagement creates a connection between the customer and you, increases their knowledge of your brand, and gives you further opportunities to sell to them. However, make sure the engagement you require remains within the rules of the platform you’re using.

Best Practice No. 2: Always Have a Landing Page.

Although you’ll promote your contest on social media, it should be embedded on your website. Your posts should drive traffic to a dedicated landing page, where participants actually enter the contest.

A landing page is a great place to collect information from contest participants (like that email address) so you can continue marketing to them later. It also gives you a chance to further promote your product and brand.

Remember what we said about that free lunch? Best Practice No. 3 is Prepare to Pay.

Of course, there’s the prize itself. Even if it’s your own product (as opposed to an all-expense-paid trip to Knott’s Berry Farm), it’s going to cost you something.

You also need to think about the cost of promoting the contest. In addition to organic posts, you’ll want paid advertising on social media platforms and Google to get maximum exposure. And, promoting it offline is also a good idea.

After the contest

Always follow a contest with strong sales messaging because it’s likely more people will see your posts. After all, you gained a swarm of new social media followers with that great contest you just completed.

If you required an email address as part of entering the contest, you can also market directly to those prospects.

With increased web traffic, social media followers and — best of all — sales, you could be the biggest winner in your own online contest.

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