Build Your Community with Contests


Who doesn’t appreciate freebies? And what could be more enjoyable than competing for and winning free stuff? People enjoy competing and winning freebies; it appears to be ingrained in our DNA. Because of these factors, social media contests are extremely popular in the digital world.

Many businesses, from local mom and pops to Fortune 500 companies, are discovering that these contests are an excellent way to connect with potential customers, raise brand awareness, and differentiate themselves in the crowded, competitive online world. Most importantly, social media contests are exceptionally good ways to create online communities.


What is an online community?

An online community is a place where people with common interests come together to talk about ideas and interact commercially and socially. A community differs from an audience format (the more traditional form of information transfer) mainly in the flow of information. An audience formats the information flowing from one central source (let’s say the owner of the business or his agents) to the customers. In an online community, the flow of information branches out from customer to customer and also to the central agent or owner.

So, with a community, you gain insight from fellow customers or participants on the website, not just the central figure like the owner. There develops a kind of camaraderie, and people seek out others for ideas, insight, and advice. The business owner benefits from this by having a place where people turn for valuable information and even social interaction.

Think of an online community like a neighborhood bar. People go there to drink and eat, but also for social interaction, entertainment, advice (from the bartender), to meet people, and even to make deals and do business. That is what the big push in online community building is all about: creating more value by sharing information from a wider and more varied source.


How are social media contests good for creating online communities?

By competing for prizes, customers, either by themselves or (even better) in teams, interact with others on the site. They meet others, they get advice from others, they get new ideas, and best of all, the interaction is about the products or services offered by the business. This interaction builds a following and, eventually, a community.


Writing contests (stories, poems, songs) can build a community

A good example of a successful contest was held by a small air conditioning parts and supply shop in Phoenix, Arizona. Phoenix is remarkably hot in the summer, and the owner’s shop often overheard his customers, HVAC technicians, who often worked in attics or on the roofs of homes, talking about the heat they had to endure.

Looking for a way to build his online community, he came up with an idea to run a contest for the best rhyme about working on air conditioners in the Phoenix heat. He was stunned at the response — over 100 entries in just two weeks.

He posted the poems, rhymes, and lyrics online and got a huge response from others who saw and appreciated the creativity and shared the same sentiments.


An AC Man’s Lament

All day long, I’m on my feet.

repairing air conditioners in the broiling Arizona heat.

In homes’ attics, I’m roasted like sausage meat.

But I’ll work all day, till the jobs are completed.

One day I was sweating like an Olympic athlete.

I felt my heart doing a funny, strange beat.

Then my face turned white as a sheet.

But if I pass, I’m not afraid to meet old Saint Pete.

I’m a Phoenix AC repairman.

I’ve spent my whole life on the hot seat.

The winner got a $30 Starbucks gift card and a new Yeti ice cooler. The contest was so successful that the owner said he plans to run it every July when the weather gets hot.


What is a really simple contest to run?

A photo contest is one of the simplest to offer. People submit pictures of themselves using your product or service, and this is one of the best and most inexpensive ways to create and build an online community. It’s easy, plus the pictures you gather become content for future posts and campaigns.

The contest can be as simple as asking people to take photos of themselves holding your product. To make it more interesting, you might give a prize for the best photo using your product in the most unusual location (on top of a mountain, in a jail cell, at the Grand Canyon), using your product in a different activity (horseback riding, hang gliding, boxing), or using your product with their pet in the photo. The possibilities are endless.


Suggestions for product additions and changes can make a contest

A contest for new changes to a product or service is a fantastic idea. Consider contests where contestants offer suggestions for new flavors, aromas, or designs for your product line. For example, an ice cream company may sponsor a contest for the best new flavor suggestion, or a perfume company may solicit suggestions for a new scent that customers would like to have available.

If your company is more in the service sector, you could hold a contest for changes or additions to current services.  For example, new, more convenient hours, a larger delivery area, or free clean-up for completed jobs could all be considered.


Seasonal-themed competitions are fun

A contest that focuses on your customers’ current interests is fantastic and is a great way to build a community. Seasonal theme contests are enjoyable and usually well received.

A Christmas-themed contest could feature “ugly Christmas sweaters.” Contestants pose for a photo holding your product while wearing a truly hideous Christmas sweater. A Halloween theme contest might require a contestant to send eerie photos of a haunted house or graveyard near their home. Perhaps your product will be featured in the eerie photograph.

Contests are a fun, easy way to grow your online community. However, with a little imagination, you can engage your customers and get them thinking about your products and services in entirely new ways. The cost is minimal — a little of your time and some good prizes — and the return in terms of new followers and page content can be impressive. Contests are an excellent way for your company to stand out in the digital world.

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