Has anyone here tried running a contest before?

I’m doing some pre-launch marketing for a project that won’t be complete for another couple months. In addition to a typical content marketing strategy, I want to try running a simple giveaway contest with the goal of building a mailing list and eventually a community around the startup.
I know I’m not the first person to try this so I’d love to hear from anyone who’s already gone down this path. Here’s a few questions that I’m sure anyone else thinking of running a contest would find useful.

What startup was your contest for? What did you give away? How did you get the word out? How long did it run for? What were the results?

Our contest is for a project called Shadenut (http://shadenut.com). It’s an app to help professional and DIY mechanics look up the technical details of any car. I’m think of giving away a fancy torque wrench since it’s something that every person in our market needs and will put to good use.

I’ll be sure to recap the details of my own contest here when it’s complete.

One thing to watch out for is any legal implications regarding running a contest. You should most definitely consult a lawyer prior to doing one, as running something that the government might decide is illegal gambling would work out very bad indeed for your company. It’s possible you may have to modify your contest in some way, such as to introduce an arbitrary test of skill (which could be as simple as “Solve the math equation: 1 + _ = 3”, or have police attend the draw, or even (ugh) have to get a license.

Thanks @kyanar. Just read up a bit on the legality of it. It looks like the FTC, who regulates these, differentiates between a contest and a sweepstakes. A sweepstakes is where people simply enter their contact information and hope to win. Requiring them to do anything else that could be considered payment (not just money) would be considered a lottery which is illegal. A contest on the other hand, requires people to display some sort of skill (drawing, writing, social likes, whatever) and the winner is judged on their merit. Based on that I would advice myself and others to try running an actual contest as opposed to a simple giveaway if you want to avoid legal troubles.

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I tried a couple contests earlier this year.

Both were run through Shortstack, which can handle some of the nitty gritty of setting up a page, allowing entries, Facebook integration, voting (if you want that), etc.

The contests didn’t quite get the virality that I had hoped. Still, a few of the contestants did manage to spread the word among their friends in order to get them to vote. It also gave me a topic to write about on my mailing list, blog, Twitter, Facebook, etc.

I would definitely recommend a prize that’s specifically related to the field you are marketing to. So don’t just give away cash, popular gadgets, etc. So I think the torque wrench is a good idea.

The simplest thing is a photo contest with voting, with a theme related to mechanics, cars, etc.

While working on my own projects I oftentimes freelance gigs to pay for living expenses. I recently completed a big social media campaign for a client who was trying to raise awareness for a book he wrote.

The client’s name was Dr. Scott Sampson and he wrote a book called How to Raise a Wild Child. If you google it you should find a BUNCH about it.

I helped him come up with a hashtag (#raiseawildchild) which we used on Twitter in conjunction with a photo contest. People submitted pictures of their kids outside and tagged the photo with #raiseawildchild. Winners of the photo contest (based upon number of retweets) won a backpack, a book, etc. Overall the contest was a big success, bringing in over 3 million impressions for the hashtag (see my tracking screenshot attached).

The campaign ran in total for about 2 months, mainly on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Scott already had around 1000 followers on Twitter, which helped to get the word out, but what really helped is that it was tied to social cause, which was getting kids out into nature.

Running a campaign is not an easy addition you can slap on. You have to really think long term about what would engage with clients and then plan out content, the influencers you’ll reach out to, timeline, and much more. That being said, if you execute it right, you can make a huge impact and drive a ton of traffic to your site.

To get you started, think about it from a customer perspective. What would make you give your email to a random, unproven startup in beta? Would you do it for a chance to win a wrench or would you want something deeper?

I’d be happy to help you brainstorm a campaign. Just shoot over any other questions/ideas.