Digital Traffic Factory A full-service internet marketing company specializing in optimizing clients sales funnels

Scott Gerber is the founder of the Young Entrepreneur Council, a nonprofit organization that promotes youth entrepreneurship as a solution to unemployment and underemployment. The YEC provides young entrepreneurs with access to tools, mentorship, and resources that support each stage of a business’s development and growth.

Online contests and sweepstakes can be great for business. Besides creating a fun customer experience, consider the lure of increased publicity, the spike in traffic to your website, and all those shoutouts on Facebook and Twitter.

But for every online contest success story, you’ll also encounter a story of doom. The angry emails, phone calls, tweets and Yelp reviews. The sharp drop in traffic following a so-so spike, the total lack of interest and participation. And worst of all, loss of money or reputation.

SEE ALSO: How to Successfully Run a Social Media Contest 


The key to a successful online contest is planning — you can’t wing it and expect to succeed just because you’re giving something away. Freebies come a dime a dozen. You know what doesn’t? Online contests that generate lasting sales.

I asked 10 successful entrepreneurs to share contests that caught their eyes in 2011, and why they thought these contests presented genuine business wins.

1. Citizen Eco-Drive

Citizen Eco-Drive were sponsors for the 2011 U.S. Open, and during the competition they ran contests on both Facebook and Twitter offering one lucky person each day a free watch. To win, people had to simply follow, retweet or answer trivia questions. This campaign proved to be successful due to the ease of entering, a great prize, and the brand benefited from all the increased fan engagement.

Anthony Saladino, Kitchen Cabinet Kings.

2. Magnum Heir Contest

Recently I was involved in a social media activation project with Magnum and Ogilvy. During this contest, they put out a call for the next Magnum Heir and encouraged people to first submit a video and then forego a voting period. The prize package alone was to die for and following the new ‘heir’ for the next year, via social media, will keep the brand recognition alive and well. Loved it!

Erin Blaskie, BSETC .

3. Bing’s Use of User Generated Content to Drive WOM

Bing launched a Jingle contest which required users to upload a video of their ‘Bing Jingle’ for a chance to win a monetary prize. They promoted it across all of their social media outlets. The end result was increased viral engagement and substantial word-of-mouth marketing. A byproduct of the viral component was increased ‘air play’ on major blogs, which drove organic content development.

Erica Nicole, YFS Magazine: Young, Fabulous & Self Employed.

4. Viral Content is the Golden Egg

Some of the most successful online contests have content that is entertaining to users that don’t necessarily care for the brand they are about. A theme song for a brand, or even a viral video can be entertaining to listen, watch, and most importantly, share. band contest is a great example of success.

Ilya Pozin, Ciplex.

5. Find the Dodge Journey

To me a good online contest incorporates offline elements. The recent ‘Find the Dodge Journey’ competition was brilliant. It was like a real-life scavenger hunt with the prize being a free car. Dodge weaved together effective television ads with an awesome YouTube challenge to create the ultimate adventure. Yikes, now I sound like I work for Dodge!

John Meyer, 9 Clouds.

6. Oscar Mayer Good Mood Mission

One of my first jobs with Weber Shandwick was working with Oscar Mayer on their 2010 campaign, the Good Mood Mission. For every ‘good mood’ shared on their website, in combination with other tactics (hello Wienermobile), a pound of food was donated to Feeding America. Social happiness sharing? Feeding the hungry? So simple. They reached their goal within six months of the program launch.

Sydney Owen, 3Ring Media.

7. Great Contests Get Emotional

Lifestyle entrepreneur Marie Forleo recently ran a successful online contest for her ‘Rich, Happy & Hot Live’ event. She had contestants record heartfelt videos about their current challenges and dreams for their business. This provided Forleo with excellent in-depth data on her market, and the emotional content made the videos prime for sharing. In the end she received over 250 entries.

Laura Roeder, LKR.

8. Visa’s Ideas Happen!

I worked on an amazing two-year campaign with Visa a few years back that encouraged young people to come up with great ideas and share them with the world. In return, 12 winners were given $25,000, and we were hired to put on an incredible weekend workshop to arm them with tons of tips, resources and connections to make their ideas come to life and rock. Campaign was huge with billions of impressions!

Jennifer Kushell, Young & Successful Media.

9. Basecamp Tell A Friend

Basecamp recently held a ‘Tell A Friend’ contest, offering a discount to new users who signed up through their friends. This worked well because most business owners who use Basecamp are friends with other business owners who would also benefit from using the software. This gave potential users a chance to try the software at a great price!

Nathalie Lussier, Nathalie Lussier Media.

10. Carnival Cruise Lines Didja Ever

Carnival Cruise Lines launched a wildly successful social media campaign this year, asking people to create a ‘Didja Ever’ list. This was to get people to dream big about the things that they wanted to fulfill in their lives from travel to experiences. It was extremely successful and helped them to cross over the 1 million mark in terms of Facebook Likes.

Greg Rollett, The ProductPros.

Image courtesy of Flickr, Thomas Hawk

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