Competitions for Social Media – the dangerous waters we carelessly tread

As social networks continue to grow, online competitions are being used more often as a mechanism to encourage people to follow a brand. As these online competitions become more popular, people are being faced with something they’re not so used to in our world of instant gratification; patience.

You win a movie ticket – that will be next day delivery. Something bigger like a fridge – we’ll be expecting delivery at some stage this week. Simple. Or is it?

None of this takes into consideration items getting lost or not being sent, the delivery guy running late or the demand for free giveaways far out weighing availability.

It also doesn’t take into consideration the biggest problem of all – competition winners typically do not expect to have to wait, and if they have to? Expect complaints.

Before the internet the barrier to entry for competitions was significantly higher. You had to collect 5 coupons from brand x, post the barcodes to y and hold onto your receipts for the next 7 months until the competition was closed. It makes me tired just thinking about it.

The result? Not many people entered, but if they did and they won, everything typically ran smoothly, and if things went wrong? Who cares because complaints were restricted to a letter or a phone call and a few negative grumblings with friends over lunch.

With social networking we see these barriers removed. The success of a competition is based on how viral it becomes, as this means more people will see and want your brand.

This means we’re seeing a growing trend to skip over the planning, set-up and smooth running of the competition, and focus instead on the removal of any kind of barrier to entry to make it as popular and “successful” as possible.

The unfortunate result of this is seen all too often where supply doesn’t equal demand and the brand gets a flood of negative commentary online with future posts by the brand being over-run by irate people who haven’t received the item they were promised.

A popular detergent brand recently experienced this with a Facebook competition promising a free sample of washing detergent for Liking their Page and filling in a form. From the looks of the page they got a good amount of extra “Likes”, and many happy customers who received the product quickly and loved it. Unfortunately, many customers had to wait up to a month to receive their product, which resulted in the wall and posts being over-taken by complaints:

found in the early days of Twitter when music and radio stations were getting involved in social media.

Back in 2009 one popular music channel used to have Friday give-aways on Twitter, but the prizes often didn’t actually get to fans. An insider tells me they were never actually sent as this role was outside that of the Digital Marketer and so hadn’t been factored into the equation. Irate brand mentions and replies were ignored and the end result was an increase in completely unnecessary negative brand sentiment.

So what should brands do to ensure their competitions are as successful as possible? The simple answer is:

Plan for the worst.

If the competition goes viral:

  • Can your server handle it?
  • Do you have enough stock?
  • Do you have enough resources to actually send the stock?
  • Do you have a dedicated (preferably very thick skinned and good humoured) community manager who can handle the heat and put in extra hours if required?
  • Are you capturing email addresses at point of entry to alert entrants if something goes awry?

Competitions can be a very effective tool to increase brand awareness and acquire new brand evangelists if the competition is a success. While things can go wrong, the above steps will help reduce any fallout and hopefully turn at least some negative experiences around.

Anyone else have other competition do’s, don’ts or learning’s? List them in the comments.

Written by Kate Reuvers


See Bruce's author page for links to connect on social media.

Comments (1)
Filed under: Social Media Marketing
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One Reply to “Competitions for Social Media – the dangerous waters we carelessly tread”


There is a difference betwene a comeptition where only a limited number of people get a prize and a give away like you describe (where there will be a lot of items sent out). From your heading, I had hoped to read about competitions not give aways so somewhat disapointed really.


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