6 Questions to Ask When Running an Online Contest

Attention Business Owners, let 2012 be the year that you take your social media engagement tactics to the next level. After months and months of trying to build your community, it’s time that you start doing more to engage that community. What might surprise you is that by shifting your focus from solely trying to grow your online community to trying to engage the members you already do have, your community will begin to grow organically. This happens only if your current community gets actively engaged in your social media efforts, so much so that their online network can’t help but be intrigued by all of the activity going on. A percentage of those folks will click over to see what all of the commotion is about. If the commotion is of interest to them, they will become new members of your online community.


Good. So where do you start?

There are many tactics to use for engaging your online community. One that has been working for a few Catalyst clients is running online contests. Running online contests is a great way to get your online community active, involved in your brand, sharing information with you and other community members, learning more about your product or service, and spreading that information to their friends. Running an online contest for your small business could be a great way to drive engagement from your online community. With that said, there is a lot to think about if you want to launch a successful online contest. Before you do anything, be sure to ask yourself these 6 questions:

What Are My Goals for this Online Contest?

help online contestIf you’re a long-time reader of our blog then you know we always recommend beginning new marketing programs by setting goals. What are your hoping to achieve by running an online contest for your small business? Some different goals might be:

  • Increase activity from my online community – More participation in responding to content that I promote online.
  • Feedback on products, services, business environment, etc.
  • Increased sales

Set 2-3 goals for your online contest and then go about figuring out how you can achieve them.

Which Online Tools Will I Use to Run My Online Contest?

There are 3 main “customer-facing” components of executing an online contest:

  1. Contest Explanation – You need to explain the contest to your online community. How will you go about doing so?
  2. Contest Promotion – All good online contests feature a specific set of promotional efforts. Yes, you want your online community to share contest information with their friends, but how will you share it will your online community? What will you do to get contest information in front of prospective online community members?
  3. Contest Fulfillment – Determining how winners will be selected and notified is a big piece of the contest puzzle. Also, how will you fulfill prizes to contest winners? You must think through this piece before starting your online contest.

Blogs and YouTube are great tools for explaining your online contest, providing details about what to do, how to win, what the prize is etc. Facebook is a great tool to run the contest through (all of the main contest activity can run on your Facebook page). Twitter is a great tool for sharing contest information with prospective contest participants who are not currently participating.

What Response Do I Want from My Audience?

This is the section where you tie in the goals you set above. Do you want more activity out of your online community? What shape will that activity take? For example, does “more activity” mean more comments on Facebook? More ReTweets on Twitter? More feedback left from customers? Figuring what you want your online community to do in order for you to consider the contest a success, and in order for them to have a chance at winning a prize, will go a long way towards ensuring you achieve your goals.

How Will I Achieve the Desired Response From My Audience?

Now that we know what we want our online community to do during the online contest, now you must decide how you will go about eliciting that response? Will you play some sort of game? Will you have them watch videos or read articles and then provide feedback? Will you ask them to share the contest with friends? What incentive will you offer them in order to ensure they do what you ask? These are all questions that you need to answer before moving forward with your online contest or else you get into it and find out you have no call-to-action, thus contests participants won’t know what you want them to do.

How Will I Keep My Audience Engaged Throughout the Contest?

Say you’re running a monthly contest, or better yet, a quarterly contest? How the heck do you plan on keeping the first contest participant engaged throughout the duration of the contest? You don’t want early participants to trail off and lose interest. This means you must come up with a way to keep their level of interest. Here are some ways to do that:

  • Give out prizes throughout the contest, not just at the end
  • Profile some early participants and turn them into contest advocates throughout the campaign
  • Switch up the activities throughout the contest and make eligible for the grand prize only people who participate throughout

You have to give people a reason to stay involved.

What Methods Will I Use to Pick and Notify Winners of the Contest?

This is one of the most critical questions to answer if you want to achieve your contest goals. This is also the step most overlook. They just figure, “ehh, I’ll figure that out at the end”. Not good. You must at least have a plan for how you will pick winners, as you need to explain that in the contest overview. This way participants understand the rules. As for notifying the winners and fulfilling their prize, these two pieces should also be thought through. Now, at the end of the contest you might have to tweak your plan based on things that happen throughout the contest, but it’s better than coming up with something on the fly.

Someone who wins a prize in an online contest is more likely to become an advocate of the company from which the prize was won. It’s important that you understand this and be sure to take advantage of it after the contest. Interview your winner(s). Feature them in some way on your social media. Put them in front of your other customers to show them that if they get engaged with your brand, they too can be winners. All of this isn’t possible if you mess up winner notification and fulfillment during your contest.

Run an Online Contest for Your Small Business

So, again I ask, will you let 2012 be the year that you take your social media engagement tactics to the next level? Set up an online contest for your small business. If you follow the steps above you should set yourself up to have success. Be sure to stop by to our blog and let us know how it goes!


  1. I really like the concept of utilizing a video to detail the contest. Very engaging. Small business people that go this route just need to remember to take the video down once the contest is over. Awarding prizes throughout the contest is a good idea too!

  2. Jim – Thanks so much for the feedback. We agree, when possible, video is best for explaining most things. Great point on being sure to follow-up on things once the contest is over. I’d say, instead of taking down a piece of content that took a while to produce, simply add a comment in the description (ie. if it’s on YouTube or another video hosting tool) explaining the contest is over. This way you can still take advantage of the SEO that the video provides.



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