What Comes After All the Facebook Contests?

There’s a contest, sweeps, or promo around every corner in Facebook. Forrester predicts that by 2014, businesses will be spending more on social media than either email or mobile, though still not nearly as much as they spend on search and display advertising. Much of that social spending is on Facebook and, specifically, in building Facebook-based contests and promotions.

Brand managers are under extreme pressure to build fans, answer competitive moves, and make their mark in social media. They have clearly discovered the value of fans and that the quickest route to fans is through a contest or sweeps; terms that I will use interchangeably for this discussion. Facebook contests and promos are emerging as the overwhelming tactic of choice in social media due to more consumers on Facebook, more brands on Facebook, more good case studies to emulate and success stories to covet, and more new tools that are easier to deploy. But what comes after all these contests?

What’s a brand to do following a successful Facebook contest beyond planning the next one, and the next one, ad nauseam? As our Wild Fire rep shared “…from our experience, instant wins and giveaways are the most effective ways to garner Facebook fans. Two biggest reasons are low barriers to entry and high incentive to share, since I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t like free stuff.” It is indeed a real challenge to provide additional reasons for fans to revisit a page and participate with the community and brand without a carrot of some kind, but that carrot need not always be a chance to win. By overreliance on sweeps and contests, we may be creating one of two equally dismal scenarios.

Scenario No. 1 – Contest fatigue. Consumers are overwhelmed with numerous daily opportunities to “like” brands for potential gain and the interactions become meaningless. There will be the cadre of super submitters who enter everything but display no brand affinity, are much less qualified as prospects for the brand, don’t engage or get involved in the community in any meaningful way, don’t share their social capital, and don’t contribute to brand strength at the end of the day. In this scenario, contests and sweeps become less and less effective as a means to move business forward and less valuable to brands over time.

Scenario No. 2 – Costs increase. In order to break through the clutter, brands continually raise the stakes with more elaborate contests and more costly prize packages. These programs start to take a big chunk of marketing budgets, squeeze out the smaller budget brands, and, for the reasons laid out in scenario No. 1, they primarily bring unqualified prospects into the conversation. Those same unqualified prospects have multiplying costs to the business through email, direct mail, and other channels as they are wooed unsuccessfully by marketers who mistakenly continue to invest in those prospects without sufficient differentiation.

These two scenarios are flip sides of the same coin. In order to avoid consumer contest fatigue, ineffective results, and spiraling costs, it is important to plan and manage a long-term social strategy that thinks broader and beyond just the contest. If that strategy does include contests, promos, or sweeps, think ahead to what comes after. Literally – how do you measure the results from this effort? How do you follow up with all the entrants – some qualified, some not, to maximize the contest opportunity? Work those relationships within social media and outside of social media using CRM and segmented email lists to cull real prospects from contest enthusiasts and adjust your messaging and approach appropriately. Generally, contests that require a higher level of participation, more information, or longer term commitment weed out the less qualified.

The immediate future probably holds a lot more Facebook contests for consumers for many reasons.

  1. Contests are a proven tactic for building “likes” and fans as well as email lists and other remarketing channels.
  2. The current state of social media measurement probably overestimates the return on social contests.
  3. Costs and other barriers like technology hurdles to Facebook contest promotion are coming down.
  4. Brands know they will have many more social marketing options down the line if they can build a significant fan base to work with.
  5. Brands are racing to engage and capture consumers before their competitors have created a connection that could possibly be an obstacle for them.
  6. We now have a larger population of marketers comfortable and experienced in social media promotion.
  7. No one wants to be the first to step away from what is currently and on the surface a very successful strategy.
  8. We’re still on the upswing in social media spending.

While incenting customers is certainly not new to marketing in general, our sources at Wild Fire cite studies that show that 40 percent of people who “liked” a page did so because of promotion and/or sweepstakes. It might be argued that this approach is a true extension of the social media mindset of giving back, but is it a jaded version that threatens to take over the social media landscape? Social encounters, even with businesses or brands, can be so much more than the superficial “like me today and there may be goodies in it for you” mentality.

While contests in social media are a strong and effective tool, they shouldn’t be the only tool in your social media toolbox and shouldn’t be overly relied on. Most fans can be bought with a fabulous prize package, but if we want to retain the worth of these channels, we might want to be judicious in when and how we use contests as part of a larger strategy to provide value in other ways to our customers and potential customers. Brands must show they can offer value in exchange for a consumer’s time or personal recommendations in ways that are not so highly commoditized, or we might be paying dearly for those easy wins down the line.

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