Leveraging Social Media for Contest Promotion

This guest post is by Eric Schwamberger, President, Zezza Network. Zezza helped the staid old whiskey brand, Canadian Club, create an online game called the Canadian Club Hide A Case contest. It’s an interesting look at how to build engagement without resorting to retweets.

When leveraged correctly, social media is an undeniably powerful tool for contest promotion. It’s important to strike the right balance between contest promotion and organic conversation. Consumers want to feel they are part of something, not just on a list with numerous other people. Facebook is a great place for brands to help create a real connection with their consumers, and, in turn, create valuable loyalists.

Through our experience we’ve identified a few simple strategies and considerations that nearly all successful contest-focused social media campaigns have in common.

Have a plan

When you set out to engage your fans through social media, the logical place to start is by thinking through your overall goals.

When Zezza Network took on the social media management of Canadian Club’s Hide a Case campaign, we evaluated the online footprint of Canadian Club and learned the brand needed a strong dose of social media to get online whisky enthusiasts talking. Equally important, we needed to grow a base of consumers to talk to. We started with three core objectives to provide a sustainable impact on Canadian Club’s digital presence:
• Expand the overall reach of the brand
• Drive user engagement
• Create and grow connections with the online whisky community

Chances are, if your brand has a presence on Facebook, it will likely have at least a small following. Growing this audience will be a critical factor in the success of your campaign.

When the Hide A Case campaign launched in late April, we had grown the group to about 16,000 loyal fans. To keep growth steady throughout the course of the campaign, we offered an incentive – giveaways are a great way to create buzz and grow connections. We launched the friend-get-friend Facebook application to encourage users to invite their friends to the fan page. For each five friends a user converts through the app, they get a free Canadian Club t-shirt.

To date we’ve gathered nearly 30,000 fans and are growing at a rate of about 4,000/week – not bad for a brand that had fewer than 9,000 a few months ago. This fan base has given the page well over a million impressions since the campaign launched – a metric that literally increases exponentially with fan growth.
Know your audience and find your brand’s voice: Each brand needs to find its own social media “voice.” To learn the voice of your brand, you must listen to your audience. To get the audience talking, you need a call to action in the form of a question.

We knew a simple post to Canadian Club’s Facebook page about the campaign wouldn’t engage the audience. Instead of posting self-serving campaign plugs, we asked the fans to share details about their journey, which, in turn, created engagement and excitement. We also talked to the fans about a variety of topics, not just the Hide A Case campaign. It’s important to maintain the organic conversation to keep the dialogue authentic.

Keep your audience interested and engaged

Regular involvement with your audience and creating opportunities for them to engage increases their investment in the campaign. This increases the likelihood that they will talk about it, which is the ultimate goal.

The Hide A Case campaign included a set of “weekly missions” (puzzles, brain teasers, etc.) that contestants need to complete to move to the next round. We took advantage of this structure by tapping into the conversational nature of Facebook and asked the fans questions about their experiences with the “missions” along the way. We found many of the participants started sharing their experiences organically on the brand’s Facebook page. Also, allowing users to register for the contest via Facebook made it easier to participate and a smaller “ask” for most people, thus increasing the likelihood of participation.

A low barrier to entry is also an important consideration. For example, for the Red Stag by Jim Beam’s “Call of the Wild Sweepstakes,” in partnership with Kid Rock, users were able to register via multiple platforms, including a mobile website, SMS, Facebook and the contest website. Mobile registration isn’t a perfect fit for every contest, but it’s a great way to turn on-premise promotion into online connections.

Another example that illustrates engagement well is Jim Beam’s “The Remake” video contest. The contest was the first user-generated video contest for a bourbon brand and was promoted heavily on Facebook. As with any campaign relying on user-generated content, it is critical to make it easy for those that participate to share their experiences with their network. We gave participants the tools to promote their own videos and earn votes. By allowing participants to take the odds of winning into their own hands, we unleashed an army of brand evangelists and received hundreds of submissions.

Build buzz and keep the conversation going: Encouraging ongoing participation by leveraging influencers is central to keeping the conversation going.

In addition to asking your fans questions on a regular basis to keep them talking, contests and giveaways are another way to add additional excitement – and ultimately buzz. But if the budget doesn’t permit hosting giveaways, leveraging important online influencers is an important way to get your message out through additional conversations.

Knowing your ambassadors/influencers and communicating with them in an authentic voice will ensure that they are able to effectively spread your campaign’s message and help to bring your campaign to the next level. Influencers can play such an important role in the success of your campaign. When identifying influencers, it’s important to not only consider the friends/followers/visitors they have, but also the value of their audience and that audience’s connections and relevance.

We’ve found research tools such as Flowtown, TweetReach, Sysomos Heartbeat and Klout very helpful indentifying the right matrix of influencers.

In summary, by adhering to the recommendations above and focusing on engagement over visits and conversations over impressions, you empower the online community to take the promotion of your contest into their own hands. A good rule to remember: your brand’s Facebook page should be about facilitating genuine conversation among fans, not about spamming marketing messages.

Shifting digital metrics from old school page views to connections is at the core of Zezza’s social media strategy, promoting contests and across the board. If no one is talking about your contest, then no one cares. If they don’t care, your brand is destined to be viewed less favorably than a Fail Whale.