How to Run Giveaways and Sweepstakes for Fun & ProfitFor a few months, I ran a small site called Giveaway Jungle that featured one giveaway a day worth at least $100. I started it because I wanted to discover how all of these mommy bloggers had extraordinary social media metrics. Blogs that seemed to have modest readership statistics, based entirely on comment counts and Compete metrics (both of which are not accurate measures), had 10,000-15,000 likes on their Facebook page. Some would have enormous Twitter followings and their Pinterest counts would be through the roof.
I was baffled.
How were they doing it?
How were these sites getting tens of thousands of likes on Facebook?
The answer: Giveaways and sweepstakes.
With just one $100 cash giveaway, Giveaway Jungle jumped to a thousand likes on Facebook, seven hundred followers on Twitter, and a thousand subscribers to the email newsletter. (current counts are slightly higher because I ran a second giveaway)
In this post, I discuss everything you need to run an effective giveaway that will boost your social media stats and email subscriber counts, whether you should be doing this, plus everything else I learned in running a handful of my own giveaways.
How to Run a Successful Giveaway
First things first, you are running a sweepstakes or a giveaway. You are not running a contest. You are not running a lottery. Whenever you talk about it, it’s a sweepstakes or giveaway. The reason for this is for legal reasons. A sweepstakes is when the winner is chosen at random. A contest is when the winner is chosen based on something, like having the best comment or the best photo. It’s not random. A lottery, which is a huge no-no word since lotteries are regulated, is a drawing where entrants have to pay for their entries. Be sure to use the right word!
Now, it’s really easy to give stuff away. You collect some names, you draw one out of a hat, and you send them their prize.
Giveaways rely on three things:
- A valuable prize: Since every giveaway takes approximately the same amount of time to enter, the bigger the prize, the more entrants you’ll get. I think $100 is the minimum (and why Giveaway Jungle used $100 as the minimum value of any promoted giveaway).
- A good giveaway widget: There are several popular giveaway tools out there but there is one that is better by far, Rafflecopter, and why it’s able to command a $60/mo fee for the premium version.
- A targeted promotional strategy: No one will enter your giveaway if they don’t know about it and, obviously, it’s not the kind of thing people are likely to share with their friends since it reduces their chances of winning (even if you offer incentives to share).
A Valuable Prize
This probably doesn’t need much explaining but the difference between giving away a pair of movie tickets worth $20 and an iPad worth hundreds is huge. I went with $100 because it’s a round number and everyone thinks a hundred bucks is a lot of money. When you give away movie tickets, you select out folks who don’t go to movies. When you give away cash, it’s unlikely there are people in the world who don’t want cash.
How big of a prize do you need to give away? It doesn’t matter. You can’t use the prize to filter out entrants. Someone willing to enter a $10 sweepstakes will enter a $100 sweepstakes. You can’t segment out only those who enter in $100 sweepstakes because the $10 entrants will sign up too. If you’re willing to hold a $100 sweepstakes so you can build a list with $100 entrants, with a lot of $10 entrants mixed in, then it makes sense to go as big as possible.
If you want to get more complicated, there is a way to segment the list but it requires more giveaways and only to the list you’ve created. You start with a $1000 prize, thus getting entrants who would only enter $1000 giveaways along with the $500, $200, $100, and $5 crowd. Then you run a subsequent $500 giveaway just to the people on that list. You can put the subscribers that open the email but don’t enter the giveaway into the “will only enter $501+ giveaway” category (it’s not 100% accurate because people can choose not to enter for a variety of reasons – but it’s the best you can do). For practical purposes, segmenting on this level is often not very useful.
You can, however, target the giveaway by choosing what prize you use. When you use cash, anyone and everyone wants it, right? If you want to promote a personal finance site, you might opt for a collection of personal finance books worth $100. It’s difficult to segment by value as easily this way but you can get better targeting for your lists. If we were to run a giveaway on Microblogger, we might give away copies of Darren Rowse’s Problogger or Bryan Eisenberg, Jeffrey Eisenberg, and Lisa T. Davis’ Call to Action. Those are books that would interest the crowd I’m trying to reach but is likely uninteresting to the average giveaway sleuth.
One final note about the prize, if it’s worth more than $600, you’ll need to report that to the IRS. If it’s over $5,000, check with state laws to see if there are certain bond requirements you need to fulfill.
A Good Giveaway Widget
Here’s what I look for in a good widget – easy entry for entrants, easy reporting and easy winner selection for operators, and email newsletter integration (that was my key performance indicator on the giveaway but it requires Rafflecopter Premium, which costs $60/month). I researched a lot of options and Rafflecopter won out because it was the only one that integrated with seamlessly Aweber (it will also work with Constant Contact and MailChimp).
The features that you want to look for in a good widget are:
- A clean intuitive interface.
- Easy way to select a winner. I want the widget to select the winner and Rafflecopter uses Random.org to select the winner.
- The ability to export entries. This will be data that you may want access to later and being able to export it into an Excel spreadsheet will make it much easier to manipulate.
- Good email integration. Good email integration means they can click a button and subscribe, instead of forcing you to reconcile it later.
- Covers all your legal bases. Various state and federal laws govern the legal nature of giveaways and it’s important that the widget you use will cover all of this for you with the necessary disclosures and legalese.
You may look for different features in a widget but those are the ones that I feel are most important.
A Targeted Promotional Strategy
You can’t rely on a giveaway to promote itself. Unless you have a good network of other blogs willing to promote it, and you ask them for help, chances are you’ll need to bring in some extra support.
Where do you go for that support? It depends on your goal.
If your goal is to maximize your metrics, then you will want to get exposure to the giveaway crowd. For that, you’ll need to use giveaway promotion sites. Not all giveaway sites are created equal, the sweet spot for a blogger is a site that promotes other blog giveaways. The big names in the giveaway promotion industry are Sweeps Advantage and Online-Sweepstakes.com. I do not recommend them because you end up competing with giveaways run by major corporations and brands. An iPad is considered a tiny prize when you’re competing against Hawaiian vacations, HGTV backyard and kitchen renovations, and new cars.
The two that gave me the best return on investment were Giveaway Promote and Giveaway Scoop. For my giveaway, Giveaway Scoop sent me 15% of total traffic while Giveaway Promote sent 13%. Online-sweepstakes.com sent 2.8%.
Should I pay for a featured listing? If your giveaway prize is worth $100 and you’re paying $60 for a widget, paying a little more for a featured listing made sense. The cost to do so is small relative to the entire giveaway and the pickup is significant. Giveaway Scoop charges $10 per week for a Featured Listing and $25 per week for a Featured Plus Listing. A side benefit of being featured is that other giveaway sites might pick you up also, so there is a domino effect. One listing I posted was picked up by Emperola (3.9%) and other giveaway sites, which sent even more entrants.
If your goal is to maximize readership or loyal followers, you need a different approach. Giveaway sites will get you the giveaway crowd and they don’t care about your site, they only care about the giveaway. You might get a few folks sticking around but the vast majority will be one and done. It’ll boost your metrics so your follow and likes counts will be impressive, but that’s it.
You need to find similar blogs willing to promote your sweepstakes to their readers. It’s not much different than guest posting, except instead of a post you offer a giveaway to their readers. You could also offer the blogger a prize, or cross promotional opportunities, in return for mentioning the giveaway to their audience. The goal is to get exposure to people interested in your subject, not exposure to anyone and everyone with a pulse.
Running a Giveaway with Rafflecopter
Rafflecopter, and most other widgets, make it simple to create a giveaway. You simple have to pick your prize, add the entry options, and come up with the start and end date. Here are a few tips on each:
- Prizes: Make sure you include a good image that represents the prize, it’ll make your giveaway stand out. When we gave away $100, we used a pile of hundred dollar bills. Also, include the actual retail value of the prize so your readers can see, very quickly, whether it’s worth entering.
- Entry options: Use as many as you want. Once someone has decided to enter, it’s near trivial for them to click a few buttons to follow, tweet, pin, etc. I make sure that the required entries are the ones I care about – namely join my mailing list. As for assigning point values, give the most points for things you want them to do (even though they are required) so it feels like a big accomplishment. +10 points for the mailing list, +2 for everything else. Points are all relative anyway.
Then get the widget and paste it into your post while viewing the HTML editor, not the visual editor. For whatever reason, the visual editor will break the widget, so stick with HTML view. When you view the preview of the post, you may need to refresh a few times to get the widget to appear.
Determining Key Performance Indicators
In order to assess how successful something is, we have to come up with key performance indicators. We might define a successful giveaway as one in which we can get a lot of Facebook Fan Page likes, Twitter followers, Pinterest pins, and email newsletter subscriptions. After you run one giveaway, you will be able to calculate how much each like/follow/pin/subscription will have cost you. You can use that to decide whether you’re willing to “buy” likes/follows/pins/subscriptions at that price.
Let’s say you pay a total of $200 for the prize, promotion, and widget for your giveaway. You get 500 likes, 500 follows, 500 pins, and 500 subscriptions. If you value them all the same, you paid ten cents per like/follow/pin/subscription. If you only care about email subscriptions, then you paid forty cents per email subscription and got the rest of the social media boost for “free.” If you only care about likes and follows, then you paid twenty cents per like and follow. Make sense?
How do you know if forty cents is a lot or a little? In the beginning, you won’t. Eventually, as you use your list to promote yourself, your products, or third-party products, you will get an understanding of how much a subscriber is “worth” to you. Until then, it’ll be a guess based on your comfort level.
Closing Out a Giveaway
Kicking off a giveaway is just the start, you need to close it out the right way. You need to do all the obvious things, like select a winner, email them, and send them the prize. It’s also recommended that you have the winner take a photo of themselves with the prize itself. This will add credibility to your giveaway should you do it again.
The Giveaway Jungle I linked to in the introduction was actually the second $100 giveaway I ran. In it, you can see a picture of a former winner holding her hundred dollar bill. I was fortunately that it was in the United States so I could send her the cash instead of sending her funds via Paypal. A Benjamin looks sexier than a Paypal screenshot or printout.
Should You Run a Giveaway?
It really depends on your site and your goals. For a lot of mommy blogs, they get a lot of advertising from brands because of their impressive social media statistics. Big brands see a mommy blogger with 50,000 Likes on Facebook and they want to have their products reviewed on the site. Their goal is to get a bigger social media metric. More Twitter followers. More Fan Page likes. To a brand, all other things equal, 50,000 likes is better than 500 likes – the blogger with 50k will get the deal.
Your niche may be different. Or you might not want to dilute your site’s fan page followers with a thousand extra names that have a passing interest in your site. Given Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm, diluting your following might hurt you. EdgeRank determines what gets displayed on a user’s news feed based on your relationship (between fan page and user), how many likes/comments/tags it gets, and how quickly it accumulates those metrics. If you dilute your fan base, your shares may not get liked quickly enough by people who see it in the news feed, which makes it less likely to appear on other fans’ news feeds.
For example, let’s say you have 1,000 likes of your fan page and of that only 500 are really fans. The other 500 liked your page because you were giving away a prize. When you post an update, 50% of your fan base will have zero interest in your updates. You post an update, it goes out to 100 people. Of the 50 who care, a handful click Like or leave a comment. Instead of seeing 10% engagement, Facebook sees 5%. It becomes a big hurdle to overcome.
Update: EdgeRank was replaced with Story Bump and Last Actor, two algorithms that change how people see stories. Story Bump shows stories a user hasn’t seen before while Last Actor uses past history to show them new stories. More interactions with a page means those updates get seen more frequently. So it appears more followers can’t hurt.
That said, if you run a more targeted giveaway (relevant books instead of straight cash), you can get the best of both worlds. More relevant followers and bigger numbers.
Bottom Line on Giveaways
Giveaways are great to juice up your social media stats and an email list if you want a quick jolt. Whether or not that jolt is a good thing will depend a lot on how you execute your giveaway, to whom you promote it, and how closely you monitor the results. Regardless of how you promote it, chances are the giveaway crowd will find out about it so you might find that your giveaway is flooded with entries from people you aren’t necessarily interested in reaching. That said, maybe more is better.
If you made it this far, I commend you! On Wednesday, I’m going to write about a strategy that can get you all of the social stat boosting benefits of a giveaway without actually giving anything away (here it is!). This is not a scam, it’s a trend that is very real and very effective at increasing your statistics.
Have you used giveaways to increase your exposure and readership? Do you have any pro-tips that others could implement to get a bigger bang out of their giveaways? Please share!
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