Why? Contests offer the egalitarian promise that everyone has something to offer--a key concept with today's audiences--along with prizes, recognition, or further achievement. Want to test a product, build a following, test the customer-opinion waters? A contest may be the thing to do.
Even more important when engaging audiences with social media: contests suggest an open, authentic, anyone-can-win process -- and also suggest that you don't think you have all the answers. That's critical. One university I know attempted to create a video featuring students by pre-selecting a student, working with a professional video company and going through lots of edits and approvals. While that was happening, other students got wind of the project and blogged about the 'secret marketing campaign.' Had it been opened to the crowd's ideas in contest form, that tag wouldn't have been attached to the project. The video went on, but an opportunity was lost.
Here are a few creative contests that are using social media to crowdsource their content, ideas, or followers:
- Need a blogger? McDonald's 'Station M' blog for employees--a closed site--held a contest for employees. To become the blogger for a year, they had to submit a video and an essay. Rick, the winner, got the ultimate prize: He was taken off of deep-fry duty for a year. Now that's an employee incentive! McDonald's goals for the blog, aside from employee engagement, are to boost sales.
- Want a young spokesperson? South Carolina Federal Credit Union's looking for a 25-or-younger spokesperson, and has pulled out all the stops with a special website,offers for iPod Nanos and Flip cameras, and a photo gallery of young people who've entered, letting the audience see themselves and their competition.
- Want to build a cadre of active members? GottaMentor.com has a 5 Million Mentor Challenge on, aiming to get mentors and those they're guiding to sign up for this specialized social-media site. The challenge page offers reasons to mentor, opportunities to sign up with your current mentoring relationship, and ways to share the idea and recruit others.