Compassion International recently attempted to takeover the Twitter account of Water.org. We were unsuccessful in our bid, coming in second by 190 votes, after three weeks of campaigning. However, we still view the outcome as a success because … well, more on that later.
For now, before committing your brand and its supporters to an online contest, you should review these six decision-making filters to help weigh the potential benefits and risks.
Once you know what you’re getting into, take action deliberately and decisively and you can’t lose.
1. Not All Contests are Created Equal
Most contests promise prizes to the top vote getters, but there is always more to the story. Read the contest rules carefully and make sure you understand how the contest works.
This may seem like common sense, but common means “to be generally expected,” and that means not everyone knows what you know.
Don’t work from assumptions based on marketing copy.
2. Who’s in Control?
Participate in contests where your actions directly determine whether you win or lose rather than simply giving you a chance to win. Participate in the contests where you have the greatest amount of influence on the outcome.
Will you get the monetary grant or other prize if you get the most votes, or will a panel of judges pick the winners from the top vote getters?
If the latter, do you know what the judges’ selection criteria will be? And are you able to assess in advance how you might fare in the judging?
Also, do you have the patience to stick to your strategy regardless of what your competition is doing? Do you have more than one trick up your sleeve, a counterpunch, something to keep you from getting discouraged and knocked out early?
3. Should I Invite My Friends?
Is your supporter base long and shallow or deep and wide? Can you only mobilize a few people for a gargantuan effort or can you motivate a lot of people for a simple act over the long-term?
Do the contest rules allow people to perform the required task only once or can they do it multiple times? The answers to these questions describe different contests and require different plans to get people to act.
4. Don’t Show Me the Money
The opportunity to get an “easy” monetary grant is appealing, but the money isn’t actually free.
Every tweet, status update and email you send emphasizing the chance to win money costs you social capital. What you talk about communicates what you consider important, and although donations are important, the message, “Help us win $50,000” gets stale very quickly, even among your most ardent supporters.
In some cases, it may be wiser to simply ask your supporters for a one-time donation rather than repeatedly asking them to help you earn a chance to win $50,000.
5. Is the Playing Field Level?
You don’t want it to be. You want the advantage. Consider your potential competition and your supporters’ technographics (i.e., how they use technology), in advance.
- Will the heavy hitters be competing; the non-profits that have demonstrated an ability to mobilize their supporters in the past or that have hundreds of thousands of Facebook fans, Twitter followers and email subscribers?
- Do contest participants need a Twitter or Facebook account to vote, and are your supporters on the platform? Will they join if they’re not?
- If the contest is platform centric, will you use your website, your automated voice response message, your email list, etc., to speak to a potentially small niche within your overall audience? If 10 percent of your supporters use Twitter, will you talk to your Facebook fans or your website visitors about the contest or just talk about it in Twitter?
- How much time, and copy, will it take to explain what you’re asking and why you’re asking? Can you do it in 140 characters? Do you need a blog post or downloadable instructions? Something else?
- Are there other organizations or influential supporters that can help extend your social reach? Are you comfortable asking them for help? Is it worth asking for help?
6. Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket
The best singer on American Idol doesn’t always win. And the best solution to a problem doesn’t always get attention and get adopted. Figure out, in advance, how to benefit from the contest if you don’t win.
- Can you identify who took action on your behalf? If so, what can you do with the information? Will it add value to your supporters and your organization or just you?
- Is it labor intensive to collect the information? What if you’re only able to identify 50 percent of the people who spoke up for you? Is it worth it?
The 450,000+ @water followers represented a whole new audience for Compassion, an audience unaware of what we do and why we do it.
They’re also people with an interest in safe, clean drinking water, something we have a simple, cost effective and proven solution for giving to families in need.
Although we didn’t receive the most votes in the contest, and didn’t officially win,
- We demonstrated an ability to mobilize our supporters.
- We learned who of our 42,000 Twitter followers would get out the vote for us and how hard they would work.
- We were competitive.
- We identified areas we can improve upon and we made connections that may present future opportunities worth pursuing.
We didn’t lose either.
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