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07/26/2010 5 Reasons You Shouldn't Have a Facebook Contest

I talk with a lot of brands, companies and organizations that have just started a social media program.  It seems as if every one who's just launched its Facebook page wants to immediately have a Facebook contest. Somehow the idea of the contest carries this glorious idea of a huge rush of passionate fans that will participate and then keep hanging around. 

Facebook contests can be fun and successful, but they're not a panacea. Here are some reasons why you shouldn't hold a Facebook contest, at least not right away.

1. It's not a good way to build fans - Most of the time, new brands on Facebook want to rush to a contest as a way of building up a fan base on Facebook. The intrinsic problem is that most of them use their social media channels, all of which have low volume, to drive traffic to the contest. Usually, these contests don't see a lot of activity.

Having a contest on social media usually won't get people to line up to your Facebook page. If you have a big email list, or generate lots of traffic to your site, you could use those to promote the contest. But if you have those, you've probably used those to announce that you have a Facebook page in the first place. And if that hasn't worked to drive traffic, a contest gimmick usually won't either.

If you can convince someone to come and fan you just because of the contest, you need to ask yourself if that's the right type of fan you want.

2. The contest itself isn't that fun - There are a ton of "send us your picture" contests out there today. While that might be easy, it's not very interesting. Yes, you've created a low barrier for participation, but the content you've gathered isn't really worth talking about. Remember, popular contests gain attention when the user-generated content gets talked about or passed around. One of the driving ideas about contests is that people will spread the word about them, allowing you to grow your fan base.

If you're not asking for something interesting or even a little odd, chances are people will be less inclined to talk about it and perhaps less inclined to actually participate in the contest itself.

A contest is not a substitute for a good idea. 

 3. The payoff is insignificant - If the contest isn't fun, let's hope there's a big prize. Usually there isn't one. Remember, if you're using this to build your fan base, then a big honking prize might go a long way. If your prize is nice, but not that great, or if winning it requires you to spend money on something else (I'm thinking travel here), there's not much of an incentive to play. Again, it gets to the idea of word of mouth as well. If you can have a cool prize that people will talk about, you could have a winner on your hand.

Usually, though, the prize isn't really something special. Instead it's something that's easy for the brand to procure. 

 4. You're not talking to people who are passionate - Holding a contest for the large group of people who are passionate about your brand could be a good thing. Most Facebook contests, especially for new brands, hope to attract people who either know little about them or who haven't moved into the loyal customer fold. Without the emotional connection to you, a contest is just another thing and it's difficult to ask people to use your brand in their user-generated content. 

The other mistake is not talking about something people are actually passionate about. People are passionate about their pets, their cars (sometimes) and lots of other things. At least some people are. Most aren't though. If you're talking about cars to people who aren't passionate about theirs, you're wasting your time.

But finding out what people are passionate about, and who those people are takes time. And contests are usually shortcuts.

5. The cost/benefit is too high - A number of Facebook contests now use apps that ask for access to your personal information. Most of these are fairly benign - they want you to be able to use your Facebook photos, to tell your friends when you've participated in the contest, and to be able to update you regularly.

The problem is that if someone doesn't already have a trusted relationship with your brand, you're asking a lot of them upfront before you've delivered anything. Remember that your Facebook contest is supposed to feel as if it's a benefit to them, even if you get more out of it. Once you step over that invisible line, people will flee.

It's the same with the information you ask for from your participants. If you ask for too much, and the gain is too little, people will back off. Asking for access to people's Facebook information is a little like asking them if you can read a few pages of their diaries.

When you come right down to it, a contest is not a substitute for hard work. If you're looking to build a loyal base of Facebook fans, you still need to prove your value to the people you want to communicate with. Once you've created that value, that's when you could start thinking about a contest.

Want a good example of a Facebook contest? When Starbucks launched its Via instant coffee, they let people create a coffee mug with a photo from Facebook. When they entered into the contest, they received a $1 coupon to try the new product. It was fun (creating a mug with your mug on it), easy, and had an instant reward. It helped that Starbucks already had a huge group of passionate fans too.

You don't have to be Starbucks, though, to be successful. You just need to think through why you're doing the contest in the first place.


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