The run-of-the-mill holiday sweepstakes is getting a social twist with the addition of sharing features brands hope will extend their reach.
Brands like Microsoft, Sephora, Nascar and Comcast have kicked off Twitter sweepstakes promotions this month, in the hopes of luring customers into chatting up their brands on the hot social network.
Microsoft this week is promoting the launch of its new line Windows Server 2008 R2 with a competition for users to Tweet haikus about them. The R2Haiku takes submissions via Tweets entered on the contest Web site that are then broadcast to a submitter's network.
Sephora has also turned to Twitter to reinvigorate the holiday sweepstakes it has run in the previous two years. Unlike those contests, this year's "Sephora Claus" campaign takes submissions in the form of Tweets completing the sentence, "Dear @sephora, all I want for the holidays this year is _______." A drop-down menu gives Sephora items to select. The brand will reward one Twitterer with a gift each day until Dec. 18.
The brands are turning to Twitter in the hopes of igniting some kind of viral buzz around the promotions. Sephora's gift Tweets go out with the #sephoraclaus hashtag. Over 1,000 were sent in the first day. In its first five days, Microsoft's contest received more than 300 poetic submissions.
"The last couple of years we've done wish-for-what-you-want sweepstakes," said Bridget Dolan, vp of Sephora Direct. "What we felt was falling short was their friends weren't hearing what they wanted."
There's a similar motivation at play for Microsoft, which is targeting a very different audience than Sephora's beauty fans. Its customer base of IT pros mostly listens to advice from each other. With its new server, Microsoft feels the product is good enough that it can allow customers to broadcast its key selling points to others, said Sudhir Diddee, senior marketing manager and IT pro audience lead for the U.S. at Microsoft.
"We wanted a low-barrier campaign to drive engagements," he said. "They look to their peers while making tech decisions."
Microsoft digital agency Fuel Industries built a campaign site where users can enter by tweeting and also see the haikus submitted. Submitters can win a home entertainment system.
While the entries are unlikely to put anyone in line for poet laureate honors, they do often stay on message. One entry reads: "R2 scales 'em up/and powers them cores down/Clusters share their volumes!"
Twitter changes the center of gravity for the campaigns. While most sweepstakes remained centered on a campaign site, these efforts live equally on Twitter, with their reach expanding beyond only those who visit the sweepstakes site. Sephora's campaign doesn't require visiting the site; Twitter users can simply Tweet their wish using the hashtag. In fact, Sephora digital shop Poke originally proposed doing away with the campaign site altogether. It ended up building one, where users can see wish tweets, submit their own, and broadcast them as well to Facebook.
"It's a billboard for the conversation," said Tom Ajello, partner at Poke. "In my mind it shouldn't be more than that."
The added benefit is they give users a reason to interact with and talk about a brand -- and can lead to more followers for the company Twitter account. Comcast in September began promoting the launch of ESPN360 on Comcast.net by running a trivia game that required entrants to follow @comcastsports in order to answer questions. Nascar has taken a similar approach with a contest it ran earlier this month. It gave away a trip to Las Vegas and other prizes when users answered trivia questions posted through its Twitter account.
The risk, of course, is brands polluting social streams like Twitter by inducing customers to broadcast out brand messages in the hopes of winning a prize. Back in June, blogging service Squarespace shot up as one of Twitter's trending topics thanks to a sweepstakes that required entrants to Tweet #squarespace for the chance to win one of 30 iPhones given away over 30 days.
Dolan allowed it was possible marketers could "pollute the environment" with contests, but she believes the Sephora audience is defined enough as beauty consumers to obviate such risks.
"It's a very qualified audience," she said. "It's not this bribery of we're giving away a car or 100 iPods."
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