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Put Out the Welcome Mat: How to Run a Blog Contest with Panache

This guest post is by Nathalie Lussier.

Whether you’ve got a new blog or want to jump start your existing blog, you have two options: 1) keep blogging and hope it pans out, 2) try something different.

In this post you’ll learn how to run a blog contest with panache. Just like you want to organize a great party that everyone continues to talk about weeks after, your blog contest should create a great experience for everyone involved.

People love participating in contests: it makes them feel like they’re a part of something special, whether they win or not.

Before we dive in, let’s look at how running a giveaway on your blog can shift your blog into high gear.

Nurture what you’ve got and watch it grow

Ever notice how people who are good at taking care of what they have tend to get more of it? For example, people who are great at saving and investing money tend to make more of it? The same is true when it comes to taking care of your audience.

A new way to look at blog contests is to consider them as:

  1. a way to thank your existing readers for their loyalty
  2. a way to bring in fresh new readers.

Most of the advice on contests is about creating a buzz and getting more traffic to your blog. But I think it’s even more important to remember that, with a contest, you’re saying thank you to your existing audience.

Contests are also the perfect way to ask people what their challenges are, which will give you an idea of what topics to cover in future blog posts.

Contests create social proof.

If your blog is brand new and you want to build up social proof right off the bat, then consider setting up a simple contest. You will get more comments, social media props, and testimonials than you thought possible.

Giveaways increase engagement.

Ever publish a blog post only to hear crickets chirping? Yuck. No fun.

With a giveaway you’re sure to get lots of responses—if you do it right. The trick is to make your giveaways simple to enter, so you remove the barrier to entry and get more people to participate. The more people participate, the more likely they are to come back for more of your content and become loyal fans.

Start a buzz.

How do you know when something is creating a buzz? When everyone starts talking about it. People love sharing things that are useful, relevant, and fun. If you build your contest with these ideas in mind you’re going to give people something worth spreading.

Share your products or services in a fun, non-spammy way.

One creative way to use contests and giveaways is to offer your services or products as the prize. Structuring a contest around what you offer is a great way to make people aware of your products and services. If people like what you’ve got and they don’t win, they may decide to purchase.

Create a contest with panache

Now let’s look at how to structure your contest to ensure it’s a win-win for everyone involved.

1. To get sponsors or to go it alone?

Depending on the size of your blog, you might be approached by sponsors to offer their products as the contest giveaway. My rule is that you must feel like it’s a good fit for your audience, and stand behind the product, if you’re to give away an external party’s product.

For one giveaway, I mailed out two of my favorite books, so there was a values match there.

You could also approach sponsors that you think would be a good match for your audience. However, like Darren demonstrated in a previous article, it’s actually easier to give away your own products or services if you have them.

Delivering digital products is much easier than following up with someone to ask for their mailing address, and it’s also a great way to debut a new product or service.

2. Keep it simple, sweetie.

The easiest way to invite people to participate in a giveaway is to have them comment on a blog post. The easier you make it for them, the more likely they are to participate. You want people to participate and get excited about the contest.

I also recommend emailing your newsletter and directing them to the contest blog post so they can enter, even if they haven’t visited your blog in a while.

3. Add a social media component.

It’s easy to assume that people will be so excited about your giveaway that they’ll be shouting it from the rooftops. But unless you ask them to spread the word, they probably won’t. We’re all busy and after someone enters a contest they’ll probably be off to the next thing. One way to get the most bang for your contest buck is to build social media sharing into the contest.

Ask participants to tweet, Facebook like, or blog your contest for extra points. If it’s just a matter of clicking a tweet button, they’re a lot more likely to take action.

Be clear that sharing on social media sites (using a hashtag so you can track it, for example) will give them a greater chance to win.

4. Ask people to get creative.

If you’re offering a more highly priced, valuable prize, and you know people will be chomping at the bit to get it, then make them get creative.

The perfect example of this is Marie Forleo’s contest, where she gave away a seat to her live event in New York City, complete with accommodations. Marie was very clear that she wanted to get people to take action in a way that would get them moving toward their goals, whether they won or not. So she fashioned the contest in a way that rewarded people who filmed creative videos. This got many people to post their very first video online!

5. Decide on the winning criteria.

Often the easiest way to identify your winner is to select someone randomly, using a number generator. That may be the most egalitarian way of giving out a prize, but I think you’ll get a lot more engagement if you set selection criteria. For instance, you might let readers know that you’ll pick the response that’s most passionate.

You can also set up your contests using a two-step process, if you’re having a hard time choosing a winner and the prize is substantial. First, gather the contestants and have them comment or film videos, then set up the finalists in a poll. In this case, the numbers will clear show who the winner is. Having a poll will also get the participants to share with their networks to gather votes, thus bringing in more visitors.

Being clear that you’ll be the final decision-maker is just as important as the rest of the criteria I’ve mentioned here.

6. Keep to a timeline

One of the biggest mistakes I see new bloggers make is to have a contest every week. Unless your blog is set up to be a contest blog, you want to build contests in as a fun surprise and not a regular occurrence.

The problem with too many contests is that you’re essentially bribing your readers instead of giving them good value through your content. I recommend running contests once per quarter.

Most giveaways run best with a deadline that’s about a week away. This gives people enough time to enter and to share the contest with friends. The timeframe’s also a short, so it won’t get lost or forgotten on a to-do list.

Your contest giveaway action plan

Here’s a quick recap that you can use as a checklist to plan your first (or next!) contest:

  1. Choose your purpose: good will, buzz, engagement, launch.
  2. Decide whether you’ll go with a sponsor, give something you possess/buy, or offer a product or service you provide.
  3. Choose the scope: make it super-simple or ask people to put some skin in the game.
  4. Pick a time frame: no more than a week, and no more often than every quarter.
  5. Kick off the contest with your social media network, blog, and email newsletter.
  6. Keep the energy going after the contest ends by giving everyone who participated something really cool like a free ebook or special piece of content.

Have you ever used a contest on your blog? How did it go?

Nathalie Lussier is a contest loving blogger and a finalist at the Infusionsoft contest, who will love you forever if you vote for her Raw Foods Witch here. It takes less than 5 seconds, and you’ll see how to run a high-end contest at the same time! Tweet her at @NathLussier.

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Comments

  1. Shane says:

    Hi Nathalie,

    Thanks for this post because I have actually found that this really does work to increase activity, loyalty and engagement. One thing I have been experimenting with is how to announce the winner. Do I publicly announce it or just privately?

    Another thing I do are unannounced Twitter contests. So, for example, I will help promote other’s blogs by giving away an app that is related. A recent example is Chris Garrett’s last webinar on productivity. So to help promote it for him, I gave away a free productivity app to two of my readers that went and signed up.

    This is another way of helping other bloggers out and holding a contest at the same time…..I guess I could call it “Contest Buddy Blogging” :-)

    • I usually announce the winners on the blog, that way there’s a sense of closure. I’ll usually just put the names of the people from the comment fields (or twitter if they have an account), and then email the people privately to make sure they know they won. ;)

      I like your idea of Contest Buddy Blogging, it’s definitely a great way to encourage your readers to expand their circle of blogs/people they read. :)

  2. I am preparing to run my first contest. Much my my surprise I was able to get a sponsor for my giveaway but I’m also reviewing the product (I ordered it first, then asked for one to give away in a contest) so I have to wait to try it out before I do the contest.

    I’m with you on making the entry simple. I’ve entered giveaways where it’s so complicated to enter that I end up not participating. One time I won something and I never heard from them and even when I tried contacting, they ignored me.

    Anyway, this is great information. Thanks for writing!

    • That’s a great idea Tina – it sounds like it’s a product you believe in and that your audience will benefit from you trying it out first. :) It sounds like you’re well on your way to making your contest a success by keeping it simple! ;)

  3. tim says:

    A few years back I ran a contest looking for more Twitter followers. I wanted to hit a specific mark but didn’t make the giveaway contingent on achieving that mark. I did make it very shortly after the end of the contest so I was happy. I also garnered some great RSS followers, quite a few of which still follow my blog today.

  4. Rick says:

    I did caption competitions several times but prizes were only given to locals I could give the prizes too. It was fun doing it. See http://www.rickety.us/category/fun/competition/

    In retrospect I should have been willing to mail out the prizes. Oh well.

  5. mrtom says:

    Nice post and great timing as for me. I’ve just been thinking about running a contest. Anyway, I’ve heard that Facebook doesn’t like it when bloggers use the LIKE button to get participants. Is that true? What is your experience?

    • Hm that’s a good question, I’d say it’s no different to have someone like a blog post than like a blog post mentioning a contest, but then I haven’t researched specifically into Facebook’s rules on that. I think if you want more than just “likes” you can ask people to post to their Facebook pages and add a comment saying why they’re participating.

      Hope that helps!

  6. Sean says:

    Great Post,

    This makes me consider doing something like this…but I still need to figure out what :P

    Thanks!

    • Ahh yes, the what can be a tricky question depending on what type of blog you have & what your audience might like. :) Let us know how it goes!

  7. Andy Hayes says:

    Great points Nat – I’ve found well thought contests with a prize that readers will value (either funny or truly worthwhile) is a huge plus for your blog.

  8. Great timing & lots of cool info Nathalie. I especially like # 6 – I’ve been doing an entrepreneur interview series on my blog and giving away their books & products and have been randomly selecting out of a hat cos I didn’t want it to seem like I was picking favourites.

    The idea of encouraging passionate replies is cool, that’s what brings real engagement instead of people commenting just to win.

    The # 1 thing though is to have a giveaway that readers would really want. I thought a social media package giveaway would be really popular but it’s a Mike Dooley book that is instead, so this shows me who my readers really are and what they want.

    So yeah, knowing your audience well is key, it’s basic but something people tend to forget. Thanks for the post! Tia

    • Ooh that’s a juicy insight Tia! I love that you’re getting to know your audience better and that they get lots of cool stuff at the same time! And yes, sometimes asking for a little extra will get you that much closer to understanding your people. :)

  9. Kathy says:

    I’ve had a lot of success with running contests on my blog. I take a picture of a small part of an object and let my readers guess what the object is. It’s purely for enjoyment and creates a fun, competitive spirit. My prizes are novelty gifts that cost me less than $10. It’s easy to pick a winner. Whoever guesses correctly first wins. In cases where they don’t get it exactly correct, I might give a hint and still reward the person who got really close. It’s great fun and lets my readers know I really appreciate their visits and loyalty.

    • Ooh Kathy that sounds like a really fun original way to go! It’s definitely got that playfulness that will bring people lots of joy. Love it!

  10. Nice tip. Rewarding your readers make them more engaged in your blog.

  11. Hi Nathalie,
    A very comprehensive guide. I was thinking of doing a bi-weekly Q&A session, so people ask a question and I answer it at the end of the week. If added some prizes and made it once a month, could take off. Reader engagement and content for me. Plus prizes everyone gains.
    Cool, thanks for this, has given me some ideas.
    Pete

  12. I’ve done several book giveaway contests via my blog. Some books are more popular than others of course but I consider them each successful. The way I do it is I consider each comment and entry to win an autographed copy of the book. I select a winner at random using a random number generator or I put a bunch of names into a hat an select a winner by picking a name out of the hat (I’ve recorded this process before).

    They’re fun for me. I love getting autographed copies of books and I love spreading some of the knowledge that I derive from what I consider to be good reads.

  13. Adaeze says:

    Nathalie, thanks a lot!
    This is very informative, especially since my blog is very new and I’m in the process of finding loyal readers. I guess the hardest part is to find a worthwhile contests that will sustain readers’ interest. For rewards, I might give out retail gift cards, especially since my niche has to do with fashion and money-saving. I definitely agree that keeping the contests to a quarterly affair make them more special. I’ll be trying out some of your tips over the next few weeks. I’ll see how that works for me.

    • Definitely let us know how it goes! And I like the idea of gift cards since you’re doing a fashion/consumer type blog. :) And welcome to the fun world of getting new readers & having them come hang out with you!

  14. Great way to get more traffic.

  15. Nathalie,

    I have not done give away or blog contest in awhile. In my last blog I had given away 2 copy of 4 hour work week books and it was very successful. Great reminder to do it again. I think planning a bit better in week ahead may bring better ROI.

    • Great idea Mike, and now you can give away copies of the 4 hour body too! ;) Though you might want to make sure it’s suitable for your audience, hehe.

  16. Heather says:

    This is a great post, good ideas,

    But, I know there are some stipulations when running a contest and asking folks to “like” your facebook page. Be sure to check into that first

    • Thanks for bringing attention to that Heather, it’s best to have people post a link on their facebook page like an update. (That will also drive people back to your blog, which is nice for traffic, retention, etc.) :)

  17. I recently ran a contest on my Facebook page where I gave away a free business card design (I’m a website/graphic designer). It was the first time I’ve ever done that, and I needed to get fans over from an old FB page to a new one. It went great and the gal that won is interested in having more work, which I’ve already quoted on, so that’s encouraging!
    The thing I’m most sketchy on though, is if you ask people to post about your contest on numerous social media sites, how the heck do you track it? I know you can track through Twitter with the hash tag, but what about all the other sites out there?

    • Theresa that’s a great point! One way is to make those things optional, or have them post a link to where they posted about it. My hunch is that it’s probably not worth the effort (and hence people won’t do it) so you can make posting on Facebook and other untrackable places a bonus brownie point type of thing. People who are happy to do it, will. :)

      And congrats on your success with your past contest!

  18. Jef Menguin says:

    I use contest in my blog. The only problem is that everytime it gets noticed, my blog is down and my server – philhosting.net – is not always available to help me. My blog is down for three days now. So, I am transferring to another hosting provider.

    So far, my contest are never successful because of the hosting provider who cannot accept more than 50 comments everyday. Sad, but true.

  19. Great tips! My first blog contest, I foolishly let the sponsor determine the parameters and realized a day too late that the product SUCKED! Only had three or four entries. We had another contest a few days later to “fix” it. This is a great guide to contests, wish I had found it 9 months ago!

    • Aww there’s no time like the present Lizzie & no reason to feel bad about the past. ;) I’m glad you found this guide helpful, and you never know when you’ll have a chance to do another contest!

  20. TJ says:

    I’m loving this blog and all the interesting guests. It’s such good information for me…I wish I’d have known about you 3 years ago!! I’m trying not to focus on all the crap I’ve done wrong but instead keep looking ahead… thanks for another great post. TJ in germany

  21. Great post, we have just started our first competition to win a free book. We’ve made it simple to enter but also asked for our readers favourite place to visit an why resulting in some great feedback. We got a lot of entries at first with the use of promoting the comp on competition sites but these died off fairly quickly but still get a few each day now for the last month. Would definitely recommend running a competition.

  22. Hi Nathalie!!

    These are some EXCELLENT tips! Thank you, thank you, thank you! Will be very helpful for launching my first contest later this week.

    I really like the idea of asking people to get creative! Marie did an awesome job at that with her contest. ;) Hmmm, now I have some more ideas for my contest, as well…… :)

  23. I was toying with the idea of a contest where people send me photos or video of a room they need design help/advice with, they tell me their needs and desires for this room, and then they are voted on by viewers as to which won gets makeover help. I give them my pro advice (floor plans, color options, design tips ect) and if they implement any of the ideas I send them a large framed piece of art for that room. Do you think this is to complicated? Should I give away the art to winner with out asking for them to make improvements?
    After seeing the above comment about guessing what objects are I am thinking something really simple like that might be better.

    • I think it’s a great idea, but it might be hard to make it happen… people are pretty busy, so getting them to send photos/videos means they need to clean their home (or at least that room), and then capture and upload, and then keep voting. It’s got a lot of potential, say if your prize was like remodeling the room for them… (I can see a TV show doing this.) But it’s probably easier to get started small like you mention, and a framed piece of art is a great prize for your market! :)

  24. Melyssa says:

    This article came in at a perfect time for me. I have something that I want to give away, but really wasn’t sure how. thanks!

  25. Natalie,
    Have you ever sent notification of your contests to blogs or contest hubs that specifically advertise those events?
    Did you also put a limit on how far you’re willing to mail the prize…international?
    I like the idea of the final contestants writing a comment or doing a video and having others vote on them.

    • Hi Donna, I usually set the limits and write it out – say U.S. & Canada, and also do a little research on the laws for prize giving (I know Quebec has some funky laws).

      I haven’t sent in my contests to hubs that advertise those mostly because of the very specific market I operate in, but I definitely recommend it.

      :)

  26. Michael says:

    I’ve run a contest where readers can enter by simply leaving a comment. I’ve run into two problems.

    1. Sometimes the readers have thought they need to leave something really clever or witty (despite not stating this is needed) and are scared off.
    2. Many readers leave a message without a link to a webpage or their contact details! Leaving their email address in the comment is not an option so it’s been tricky to get in touch with the winner.

    Any thought on this?

  27. Nathalie,

    Thanks so much for the great advice and good ideas. I think we’ll use some of them right away. Do you always have a contest running on your blog? Can you overdo contests?

  28. I’ve just drawn my second huge competition on my blog – the first was when I re-launched in May. During the month of November 3000 entries were received, the comment flowed and my page visits quadrupled! Lots of new visitors and yes, I pitched it as a thank-you for to my readers for being loyal throughout the year.
    My concept was centred around beauty gifts – which are everywhere at Christmas time. The PR companies want to plug them and I simply asked for one gift from each. That request netted 20 prizes ranging in value from $329-$20. And this morning I got to email 20 lucky winners and make their Christmas!
    I’m already organising my next promotion for January. It’s definitely something that my readers (new and old) are looking for. I’m happy to put in the effort.

  29. Mike says:

    I’m about to do a Holiday Giveaway and this is exactly what I needed to read! Thanks for sharing your insight!

  30. Gabi Logan says:

    What timing! I have been putting together a month of giveaways on my blog — one each day, like an advent calendar.

    I see your point about not having giveaways/contests too often, but I really like the idea of giving my readers holiday gifts and spreading the holiday cheer. Part of my blog is motivating people to do nice things for others (invite them over for dinner and cook them a nice meal), so I’m hoping this helps promote a sense of goodwill with my readers that they will pass on. A sort of pay it forward thing.

    The rules of my giveaways are here: http://www.30minutedinnerparty.com/2010/advent-calendar-giveaway/

    I would welcome any feedback! It’s my first giveaway, but I have tried to make the rules comprehensive and clear.

  31. I have quite a lot of giveaway contest on my blog but it’s hard to keep it as simple as commenting on the blog post. Since we want them to tweet or share the post, I normally put a requirement for them to share the contest.

    Since you are going to pick your winners randomly, people have a tendency not to share since it’ll lessen the chance of them winning the more people know abou the contest

  32. rosemary says:

    I have been giving giveaways…they go well but wish I could get more people from them. I have a handmade cannoli necklace on now from a crafter on etsy and it has about 14 comments of entries. I also have issues finding things for the guys as well as the girls. I have the post on twitter and facebook but still cannot seem to generate more interest.

  33. I was inspired by this article to try my first contest, but it had no entries at all. I tried the simple approach someone mentioned in comments of having people guess what the object in a photo is and offered free $25 dollar valued print of theirchoice from my fine art website. They had to email their guess to me. I tweeted, facebooked (on mulitple pages) twice in 3 days, and put info on my two blogs on wordpress and got zero response. Any suggestions?

  34. Alison Wood says:

    This is a great post – thank you.

    I think contests are a great way to drive traffic, however I just have one question about the legality of giveaways, contests and sweepstakes. Is there a need to be concerned about this? It hadn’t really crossed my mind until I saw someone asking about it in a forum.

    Many thanks, Alison

  35. satori_image says:

    Great idea! ^_^

    I’ve been planning on doing a contest frequently as a way to promote not only my blog but also my photography.

    Lots of great ideas in this post that I hadn’t though of before that will certainly make my first attempt of a contest on my blog much smoother.. thank you ^_^