How To Organize Contests & Get People To Participate

We promised to share about organizing contests online. If you’ve been following us recently, you’d know that we organized a contest to celebrate Malaysia Day in September and another contest to celebrate our 16th anniversary in October. Basically 2 contests back to back. Or almost.

Many of you would have seen contests on Facebook. And the thing about contests is this – how do you organize a contest that your fans or clients can participate easily?

You see, running a contest is all cool but if no one participates or sends in even an entry, you’re doomed. So our main concern is this “How do we get people to get excited about our contest?”

This blog post answers this question.

People are essentially lazy.

Yes, sorry to say this, but we want the shortcuts, the quick fixes and the easiest way to win and gain something.

So feed into that lazy monster.

Make your contest really easy. Don’t make people jump through countless hoops just to join. They’d get fed-up and leave.

Our contests are easy. For our Malaysia Day contest, we were giving away a 32GB pen drive in the shape of our robot mascot in return for the all-correct answers to a simple quiz. No strings attached.

Don’t ask for proof of purchase just to participate. Our belief is, if you want to give your fans something cool, just give. Don’t make it so hard for them to win a prize from you.

The quiz took less than 3 minutes to answer and that’s it.

We had very few rules too. I hate it when “terms and conditions” pop up so don’t use that bogeyman on your fans. I mean, they’re your fans because they like you right? Why treat your fans badly?

What this did for us is that it allowed people who knew us but not quite yet familiar with our website product, Redbox Easyweb, to get to know the product a little better by answering the quiz questions.

From looking at the entries we received, we got quite a few new people.

So here’s how we planned it (and how you can use this as an example to follow the next time you want to organize a contest of your own).

1. Create a page dedicated to the contest. 

In this page, describe the contest. Spell out exactly what you want the participant to do. Don’t let it be vague. The more vague it is, the more headaches you will have later. Second, list out some rules and regulations.

One of the objectives of our contest was to reach out to newer fans and friends, so we opened it to all. Anyone who lived in Malaysia was eligible to join (since we were going to post the pen drive to the winner and limiting area of residence made it easier to absorb the costs of the postage).

2. Decide contest duration. 

In the same contest page, be clear when the contest starts and when it ends. Nothing spurs action like a deadline.

How long should your contest be? We’ve done contests that are 4 weeks long; others are 2 weeks. Anything that is more than 4 weeks can be a bit drawn out and you can lose the fizz and excitement of the contest.

Also factor in the time needed for you to promote the contest. Yes, you need to promote the heck out of it. You can’t just organize a contest and sit back and hope people come by to join.

3. Decide the prize.

Sometimes all people want is the prize. They don’t care about you or your products. Besides being greedy (and I say this in good faith), people are also selfish. They just want to win your stuff because they want to win. It makes them feel good.

So if you want lots of people to join, make sure your prize is good. Nothing kills a contest more than a lousy prize. We’ve seen some businesses give totally awful prizes. A good prize is something that is valuable, new, edgy, useful, potentially able to be shown off – an iPad, iPhone etc.

But don’t forget your own products. You can also give away your own products especially if you know the product value is perceived as high in the eyes of the winner. We gave away one unit of Redbox Easyweb website to the winner of our 16th Anniversary Photo Contest. She was thrilled to bits when she found out her photo had won her a website!

4. Decide how you will choose the winner. 

This is a toughie. You want to make the contest as easy as eating peanuts BUT you also want to make sure you can decide fairly on a winner when the contest ends. Picking a winner shouldn’t be so subjective that other participants can dispute your choice.

In our Malaysia Day contest, we ran a quiz. This was easy as the participant either got the answers right or wrong. Our staff checked and marked the entries which came in (and in this case, ensure you set up a spreadsheet to make everyone’s life easy) and only those with all-correct answers were shortlisted.

So what happened then? We still had to pick a winner from this shortlisted list of people. We turned to to help us. We gave each of these people a number and used the free service called True Random Number Generator on to generate a winner.

Example, you have shortlisted 50 people. Give these people a number from 1 to 50. Key in your min (1) and max number (50) at and let the software pick a number for you. The number they pick (16) is the number of your winner.

This lets true randomness work its magic. We don’t want to be biased and pick someone we know as the winner. Let the software do the work!

For our 16th Anniversary Photo Contest, we uploaded the 3 shortlisted photos and got people to vote for the winning photo. This created quite a frenzy on our blog as we gave only 3 days for voting. When you shortlist the photos, email the shortlisted participants and let them know too!

5. Promote the heck out of your contest.

This is where the more channels you have, the better your chances are of getting the word out. Inform clients, fans, friends, family of this contest. Get them to forward the email to their circles. Put up the contest on your Facebook page. Pay for an ad to boost this if you want.

If you have a store, tell everyone who walks in that you have a contest, and they can win something.

You can even tease people BEFORE the contest comes along – we put up a Facebook cover graphic which told our fans about the upcoming contest.

You always need to promote the contest before it happens, when it happens and when it closes or ends. That’s how you keep the momentum going. (And you wonder how Apple sells so many units of its iPhones and such?)

6. Give the winner a loud shout out. 

Of course, you will email the winner and inform her she’s won. But you can also shout it from the tree tops or in this case, your blog and your social media platforms right? It’s exciting for people to win so make sure you announce it with loads of fan fare and make it an event for everyone. But don’t forget the non-winners too. Email them and let them know nicely they didn’t win but get them to try again when the next contest happens. People always feel better if they’re consoled about not winning.

7. Send the prize to the winner. 

This is such a no-brainer but people do forget! I remembered I won a bottle of fragrance from The Malaysian Women’s Weekly and until today (3 months after I won their Instagram contest) my prize is still not here yet. Don’t let the winner regret the contest.

Send the prize to the winner as soon as you can. Make it an express shipment if you can. Whatever it is, make sure your winner knows you value and appreciate her. She did take the effort to join your contest so make the effort to treat her like the winner that she is.

8. Revisit the participants’ data. 

Now this step is important. You organized the contest and you got some data. Oh remember, don’t ask for more data than is needed (you’re asking someone to participate in a contest, not interviewing her for a job so keep the data requests minimal). We usually ask for Name, Email & Phone Number.

Before you ask anymore, ask yourself: “How useful would it be if I asked for Location, Occupation, Age etc.?” You can ask all of these other information if you want later. For the purposes of joining your contest, get the basic data.

When the contest closes, look at the data. Do you see more new participants versus current clients or friends? Did you fulfill your goal of getting new people to know of you, your brand and your company? If yes, congratulations. If no, find out what didn’t go right. Maybe you needed more time to promote the contest. Or you need to get a better prize.

9. Rinse and repeat. 

Organizing a contest to raise awareness about your product is often fun though there are some logistics to iron out in the beginning. Once you have the contest framework figured out, you can rinse and repeat. However, don’t overwhelm your fans and customers with too many contests. Just because you can do it does not mean that you should.

Have a reason to organize a contest. In our case we wanted to celebrate and highlight Malaysia Day (Nic is Sarawakian by the way so Malaysia Day is far more meaningful to him than Merdeka Day) and we wanted to underline the fact that we’ve been in this web design industry for 16 years with our anniversary contest.

Have you organized a contest before? What did you learn? Share and let us know too. And if you haven’t organized a contest, why not? What’s holding you back?

1 thought on “How To Organize Contests & Get People To Participate”

Leave a Comment