Do Social Contests Build Community?

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At Tailwind, we often see that marketers are under intense pressure to generate results quickly. Getting organizational buy-in to support long-term investments can be a challenge.

Yet, as the consumer journey becomes increasingly complex, the best strategies for building and sustaining community are becoming longer-term in nature. So, we often find ourselves in limbo between what we know will work over time and what will drive results (or at least vanity metrics) today.

Social contests, sweepstakes and other promotions have become a go-to tool for social marketers seeking to generate rapid traction. Each month, thousands of brands run social contests across facebook, twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and other platforms. And they are often successful at driving vanity metrics- more Pinterest followers, more page likes, accelerated retweets and so on.

With so much time and energy going into social contests, it’s worth asking: do they drive long-term value when it comes to building community? The answer is often “no,” but there are best practices marketers can follow to change that.

Let’s look at an example:

In Fall of 2012, Maggiano’s introduced their first “Pin it to Win It” contest (note: it is now against Pinterest’s contest guidelines to use that name for a contest). The contest was designed to be ongoing: each week, they would pick one winner who pinned recipes from their blog or pinboards. The prize was a $100 gift certificate each week. Despite the ongoing weekly prizes, however, the traffic pattern was a rather immediate jump, followed by a flat line.

Growth of followers for chain restaurants on Pinterest - September 2012

Impact on followers from Maggiano’s Pinterest Contest – September 2012

Why did the growth in followers fall of so quickly on an evergreen contest? There are likely a few reasons:

  1. Contest entrants tend to engage for the chance of winning a prize more so than because they truly enjoy the content related to the contest. This limits ongoing virality compared to other strategies. Lesson: Let contest entrants choose the content they wish to share, so it is something they’re truly passionate about.
  2. Contests require promotion to drive attention. In this case, there seems to have been a lot of promotion at the onset of the contest, but once that initial buzz died down, there were not many people being driven to participate. Lesson: If you’re going to run a contest, set aside budget and time to promote it through to the end.
  3. Since brands usually build email lists off of contest entries, the same users were likely being asked to join week after week. This strategy yields diminishing returns, as often there’s not enough new content to keep those users engaged and attracting new entrants. Lesson: Plan to have a steady stream of new content released on an ongoing basis; if you do, contests will fit more naturally into your ongoing content marketing efforts.

Over time, it seems that Maggiano’s has adjusted their tactics. They continued to run Pinterest contests, but must have learned the lesson of needing to provide ongoing promotion, as future contests appeared to have increasingly long-term impact.

Less than 2 years later, Maggiano’s has over 11,000 Pinterest followers- m0re than 25x growth since they ran that first content in Fall of 2012. There’s not doubt that the contest strategy helped generate that traction.

However, looking at their performance more recently, it appears that pinning more frequently and optimizing their content strategy has had a much bigger impact in driving engagement. Check out the below charts from Tailwind Pinterest Analytics, which show that while Followers grew ~67% for Maggianos in the past year, Repins grew >3x in the same period. Smoother growth curves such as these are indicative of an effective content strategy, whereby followers are repinning more of your content each day out of organic interest.


Track Repin Growth

Maggiano’s Repin Growth: Mid 2013-Mid 2014

Track Pinterest Follower Growth

Maggiano’s Follower Growth: Mid 2013-Mid 2014

Ultimately, building community effectively requires a combinations of tactics and strategies over the lifetime of a campaign. Social contests can be effective at driving initial awareness on a new platform. However, promotions are not a substitute for consistent, high-quality content marketing.

Daniel Maloney
This monthly Social Media and Community Building column is contributed by Daniel Maloney. Daniel is CEO and Co-Founder of Tailwind, the leading Pinterest Marketing and Analytics platform. Tailwind supports over 17,000 brands and 300 agencies worldwide in crafting, executing and optimizing Pinterest campaigns. Prior to Tailwind, Danny was GM-Video at AOL, where his team rebuilt AOL's US video business from #13 to #2 behind YouTube. Danny was also Head of New Initiatives at YouTube and Google Maps/Local, where he focused on incubating new products and services with a focus on driving monetization. +Daniel Maloney
Daniel Maloney
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  1. says

    Thank you so much for point #2! I cannot tell you the number of times a day I get requests from PR companies and ad agencies requesting I promote their contest. I send them my services documentation, my success rate (I average 2x-10x the entries overnight) and 99% of the time I get the same response, if at all, “Sorry, we don’t have any money in the budget to promote the sweepstakes.” They don’t work for free. Why do they expect me to?

    Also, your closing paragraph is spot-on, as I consistently tell prospects the exact same thing. The only thing I would have added to your article is ensure companies add in back-end promotional marketing. Most companies only do front-end and then wonder why they are not successful in creating trust with the entrants.

    • says

      Thanks for sharing, Carolyn. That’s a sentiment I’ve heard often, especially from influential pinners. The good news is that brands are starting to get it- and at most SMM conferences I speak at I hear at least one other speaker warn brands that they need to treat bloggers and influencers as professionals.

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