In February 2012, we participated in the American Family Go Get Your Dreams Challenge – it was an online vote-getting contest, with the top ten voted dreams going on to be contest finalists. Of 2700 entrants, we were fortunate to be in the top ten, but didn’t win in the final round. Along the way, we learned a lot of important lessons for anyone entering a similar contest in the future. Here are some of the things we learned:
You’ll need more votes than you think. The number of votes required to win these contests is substantial, so make sure you have a good social network in place and a lot of time on your hands.
People will be excited to vote for you at first. After a few days, weeks or even a month, their interest will wane. You need to be prepared to send out a lot of reminders. A month can be a very long time.
Be flexible when supporting your voter base. Some people are on Facebook, some on Twitter, and some prefer email. Be prepared to hit all major social media sources to garner support.
People are on social media at different times of day. If you post a reminder on Facebook early in the morning, people who are on at night won’t see it and vice versa. We found that 7am, 3pm and 8pm central were our sweet spots for posting.
Suggest people add their voting time to their online calendars to make sure they don’t forget.
Post reminders and advertisements from multiple sources. Because we weren’t sure how Facebook would treat our posts, we took turns posting from my account, from my husband’s account and from our travel account (we have social media accounts set up for ontheroadwithlewisandclark.com).
Go to your email contacts. We emailed people A LOT! It wasn’t always the same people, and if I knew they’d voted because they posted on Facebook, I’d remove them from the email so they weren’t inundated with requests.
We also realized that by emailing, we were potentially reaching people in our friend’s email address book that wouldn’t see Facebook or Twitter. Our parents, for example, forwarded emails to some of their friends.
It’s tough to keep momentum for more than two weeks. Our contest ran over a month. We hit it hard the first week to get into the top 8 because our particular contest posted the top 8 vote getters on the front page. We knew that if we could get on that page and stay there, it not only would make it easier for people to vote, we might also pick up votes from people who just happened to browse the page. After the first week, it was hard to keep people interested, so we would alternate who we were reminding. During the last few days, we hit just about everyone we knew, even people we hadn’t asked before, just to get a final push. It was fresh to those people and we got a lot of votes that way.
Be prepared to help people figure out how to vote. Our contest had significant technical issues and people would come to us if they had trouble. I searched Twitter to find the company sponsoring the contest and tweeted them to ask them what to do and they responded to me. In our case, links to our photo would often break. Often clearing the cache helped. Put detailed instructions on a page on your website to help people out.
Link your voters to your website instead of directly to the contest. Instead of linking directly to the contest, which was buggy, when we asked people to vote we linked to our website and featured the photo they would be seeking to vote. This made them aware of what they were looking for and it really increased traffic to our site. When they got to our website, we had a VOTE NOW box front and center that took people to the appropriate spot on the site. The Alexa rating on our blog dropped significantly because of this and most of the people who voted this way had no trouble.
Read the contest rules and criteria carefully. Many people will submit an entry that does not meet the judging criteria.
When creating your entry, think it over carefully. We were so excited we didn’t really think about how what we were saying would be perceived by strangers voting for us. We figured our families knew of our plan, so we didn’t really have to explain ourselves. We found that our families did not make up the majority of our voters, and after reading other entries, we wished we’d been more thoughtful with our submission.
Choose your photo carefully. I think this was the one area where we did a great job. We used a photo that reduced to thumbnail easily and conveyed what we are all about. There were a lot of landscapes or photos that were indistinguishable or didn’t match the dream very well.
Don’t cheat! Don’t try to set up other accounts to vote more than once, you’ll probably get caught. In our final round someone was eliminated. We don’t know specifically what happened, but it was someone who came up through the ranks very quickly, so our guess is that he was doing something he shouldn’t have been doing. The delay of 24 hours between closing the contest and announcing the finalists likely meant they were checking to make sure that everything was above board.
Be prepared to work your contest. In the end, we probably spent close to two hours a day working on getting votes, monitoring votes, monitoring other voters, helping people with the site, voting ourselves and worrying about whether or not we had enough votes. These are not easy contests to “play” in.
I’ve seen similar contests where the top 10 vote getters go on to yet another round of voting. Honestly, now that I’ve done this once, I wouldn’t enter one of those unless the voting rounds were much shorter. Our voters were sick and tired of hearing from us and we were sick and tired of reminding them. I wouldn’t have wanted to ask more of them.
And if you’re planning to RUN a similar contest? Well, I have tips for that too… stay tuned!