Sweepstakes and Contests: Yes, They’re Different

Giving away a prize sounds like a quick and easy way to attract new people to your social media sites, and an even better way to keep the attention of the fans you already have. Right?

Sort of.

Social media promotions are a good idea some of the time, but there are five main things you need to consider before launching a giveaway (or sweepstakes, or contest) of your own:

1. Know what you’re trying to accomplish

This should sound pretty obvious, but don’t have a contest or giveaway just to have one. You need to have a goal. Are you trying to develop brand loyalty among your fans and followers, or are you trying to catch the attention of people outside your current audience? What would you like to happen after the promotion is over? If you can’t answer these basic questions, you need to sit down and really think about it before you go any further. Be concrete and realistic, and set numerical goals where possible.

2. Know the meaning of sweepstakes vs. contest

These words technically, and legally, have different definitions. A sweepstakes traditionally involves the entrant filling out a form to enter, and the winner(s) are picked at random. Contests require more effort and are usually judged based on skill or voted on by the public. Examples include essay, photo, and video contests. It’s pretty safe to assume that fewer people will enter a contest than a sweepstakes since it is slightly more difficult and requires more effort on the part of the participant to enter. However, those who do enter will be more highly engaged with your brand.

3. Know the rules

Did you know that the rules governing your contest or giveaway depend entirely on which U.S. state you or your entrants are in? Did you even know there were laws for that? Surprise! There are. Social media platforms have their guidelines, too. Our CEO Shama wrote a more detailed post on Facebook’s rules when they were altered back in 2009, but Twitter and Google+ have their own sets of completely different regulations for contests.

4. Know your audience

Most people like free stuff, but it’s good to offer your audience something they actually want and will use. Another important factor to consider, if you’re holding a contest rather than a sweepstakes (if you already forget the difference, refer back to #2), is the difficulty of entry for your participants. Are the majority of your social media fans tech gods and goddesses? Yes? Then a video contest is an excellent idea and a great way to engage this group by letting them show off their skills. However, if you doubt the video-editing prowess of your target audience, something slightly less labor-intensive may be the way to go.

5. Know to be prepared for the unknown

What if your contest goes viral and you start getting thousands of entries? Are you prepared to handle that? That’s a really unlikely and extreme example, although it could still happen, but let’s take something that could realistically happen: cheating. If you rely on public voting, you’re opening your contest up for potential cheating. What are you going to do about that? In a very recent example of contests gone horribly wrong, Australian airline Qantas held a Twitter contest with the hashtag #qantasluxury and received a vast majority of negative and joke responses ridiculing their service (and the fact that the prize was a pair of pajamas). There’s no way you can plan for everything, but at least take it into consideration: What are the aspects of this contest or sweepstakes that could potentially backfire?

Have you held a social media sweepstakes or contest before? How did it go? Would you do it again? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

Photo credit: source


She is the founder & CEO of Zen Media. She has been named the “Zen Master of Marketing” by Entrepreneur Magazine and the “Millennial Master of the Universe” by FastCompany.com. Forbes, Businessweek, and Inc have all recognized her as one of the Top 30 under 30 entrepreneurs in the field of marketing. Shama has built a global audience and is known for helping brands succeed in the digital age. She is a bestselling author, an international keynote speaker, and has been named one of LinkedIn’s Top 10 Voices in Marketing for four years in a row.



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