No Contest: Why This Popular Social Media Marketing Approach Is Weak

Three reasons why I plead "nolo contendere"

I’m not a fan of contests. As a customer, I may enter one every now and then, but I don’t rush to the attraction of free stuff. The odds of winning are low, and I’m the eternal pessimist. As a marketer, I tend to dislike contests for a variety of reasons. I just don’t see the value in them.

Now, I’m aware of the conventional wisdom on this … and what I’m up against. Social media marketers love contests. By giving away some relatively cheap stuff, you can drum up a lot of buzz and bring in plenty of fans and followers. What’s not to love?

In my mind, plenty.

While a contest can generate a lot of social media action for you, I’m not sure the results would really do you much good. Of course, contests can be helpful, but it’s terribly easy to fail when you think you’ve actually succeeded. Below, you’ll see why I tend to avoid contests. If you’re committed to them, at least think about the risks below and put together a plan.

1. Contest fans aren’t worth much: if someone responds to “free,” how likely is he to spend? My guess: not very. And this becomes increasingly true with the size of the prize. Contests attract the great unwashed. In a perfect world, perfect marketing would attract buyers.

Moral of the story: contest “likes” are roughly equivalent to the endorsement of the guy hovering by the free sample tray at the grocery store.

2. Targeting be damned: a well-executed contest, of course, would be geared to your target market. But, who will actually respond? If it goes viral – which is what you ostensibly want – how close will the masses be to your ideal customer? Check the sales from your most recent contest for the answer. I have a feeling the numbers will speak for themselves.

Moral of the story: invest in prospects who spend money. Period. Nobody else is worth your time.

3. The calm after the storm: contest entrants interact with your social media content … because that’s what you tell them to do. It’s baked into the rules. What do they do after that? When the allure of free stuff has worn off, don’t expect many of these fans to become your biggest, well, fans.

Moral of the story: Facebook fans who came to you through a contest are like “prospects” filling the seats at a timeshare presentation. They aren’t in the room for the opportunity of a lifetime – that’s for sure. They’re just enduring your spiel for the free vacation and special gift.

Are contests completely worthless? No. But, you do need to be careful. Free brings out the folks you don’t want. If you do run a contest, monitor performance closely, especially in the weeks that follow. Track sales religiously. And be honest with yourself: did you just get vapid “likes”?

So, how do you feel about social media contests? Leave a comment below to prove me right or wrong.