Business Creators

Contests Suck for Creators

Lottery Giveaway Contest

Creators love running contests. They’re easy to set up, they (seem to) get traffic, and they make you look (feel) influential. But in reality, contests are a waste of time and resources. In fact, at best, you’re reaching 22% of your audience, and they’re only responsible for 17% of engagement as a result. Worse still – your audience only wins approximately 2% of the time. So who are the people entering, engaging and winning your contest? Professional Contesters.

Your contest doesn’t reach your audience, they don’t engage with it, and they don’t win it. If that’s not the definition of broken, we don’t know what is.

How Creators Run Contests

Creators all run contests in the same way. You start with a service such as Gleam or Rafflecopter, then you add different ways to enter. The most common ways to enter the contest include:

  • Social Following (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram etc.)
  • Social Sharing (Tweets/Retweets/Facebook Shares)
  • Newsletter Sign Up
  • Watch or Read Something

Then it’s just a matter of socially sharing the contest and waiting for the results. In an ideal world, your audience enters the contest en masse and it exposes you to new audiences. In the end, a creator can look at their contest as a success. You’ve proven your influence, you got a ton of traffic and everything FEELS good. Based on the single point of data, there’s no reason to assume that anything is amiss. But, once you start to compare your results against additional data points – the truth is revealed. Your contest fed a cottage industry of professional contesters. Traffic was mostly derived from contest accounts, forums, and websites. Your winner is more often than not a contester. And your audience never had a shot.

Gleam Form

A Broad Sample of Contests

We analyzed 65 different contests hosted by 37 different content creators across Canada. The creators represent different niches including Mom, Dad, Beauty, Tech, Fashion, Vlog, Entertainment, and DIY creators. They also represented different locations across Canada including Toronto, Halifax, Vancouver, Calgary, Ottawa, Moose Jaw, Montreal, and Hamilton. Ages of the creators varied between 22 and 56. There are also race, religion and sexual orientation differences represented. Lastly, the contests ranged from December 2016 to March 2018. So, we really did take a WIDE snapshot of Canadian creators for this analysis.

Your Audience Can’t Win Your Contest

We collected data through Twitter’s open search. Other than private accounts, this allowed us to build a database of every person who has entered any of the 65 different contests. From there, we could filter based on username to generate a frequency chart for each user. That master list enabled us to classify users by frequency at which they entered each contest, and gave us crossover statistics that showed how many other contests they entered. Considering the creators sampled, this data should have been SO diverse, that the crossover would be very limited. But, the data proves otherwise.

Revelation: 78% of all contest entrants entered at least half of ALL contests.

When we’re talking about 65 contests, the fact that audience crossover is 78%, is shocking. That’s absurdly high. To get a sense of how crazy that is, talk to 65 people and find 25 that agree on everything. If we drop the ‘contester’ minimum to 1/4 of all contests then we’re in the 90% range. No matter how you cut this up, it shows that a MASSIVE element in all contests are professional contesters. Across 37 creators, the diversity of entrants should be so wide… but it’s not.

Revelation: Tens of Thousands of Tweets – Most from Professional Contesters

Running a contest with a ‘tweet to enter’ element is a good way to spread your content to new users. The idea being your audience has their own (small) following that may like your content. But the data shows that 83% of all tweets are coming from contesters. All that engagement your contest creates isn’t actually reaching anyone. We looked at a sampling of the contesters Twitter accounts and found that 97% of those accounts ONLY shared contest related entries. 85% had stock photos, incomplete profiles, or fewer than 10 followers. They are spam accounts created to enter contests. The small group of ‘single tweet’ accounts (the 17%) are the only ones we can assume is real engagement.

Revelation: Your Audience Never Wins

Contesters make it a habit to enter contests as often as they can. If they can tweet daily, they will. If they can enter an unlimited amount of times, they will. Anything to increase their odds! As a result, we looked at the 65 winners of these contests and compared them to our tweet database. Of the 65 contests, only ONE person in the ‘legit’ category won. Contesters (those that entered more than 50% of the contests) won the other 64. Yes, your REAL audience only has a 2% chance to win your contest. Think about that… every single person who regularly reads/watches your content… and they only have a 2% chance to win versus the contesters.

Contesters are Human, but they Aren’t Your Audience

While contesters are human, they are not your audience. That’s why this is such a huge problem. When we last wrote about Contesters, a few commented that they were real people and they entered contests for different reasons… that’s all well and good, and in fairness to them – they are doing NOTHING WRONG. But as creators, you need to be making sure that your effort is going into GROWING your fanbase. You must be nurturing the relationship with real people who will consume your content every time you post. You cannot afford to waste your time creating contests that only contesters will enter.

How can we Fix this Broken System?

Contests are Broken

Contests are broken, so how do we fix it? For starters, STOP DOING CONTESTS. As we proved, they are not providing you, your audience or the brand any real value. They do create a number that feels good but has almost nothing behind it. Once you accept the fact that contests are broken, we can start to brainstorm ideas to fix this… Right off the top, here are a few of ours:

  • Reward Fans Randomly. The people that interact, share and engage with your content on a regular basis – randomly reach out to them and give them something. No entries, no follows… just a random reward for your community.
  • Reward Loyalty. Look into gamification tools that work like loyalty programs – the more they read/watch/share, the more points they earn. That way you can track your most engaged and active fans and reward them directly.
  • Make it an “Insider” Program. If you insist on doing public giveaways, make a condition for entry something that ONLY long-term fans would know. It will weed out the contesters, and ensure only your most loyal of fans can enter.
  • Set the Rules. You can set rules that discourage entrants from suspected contesters. An example is requiring users to be ‘authentic’. If an account looks like a bot (ie. the entire feed is contest entries), that is grounds for removing them from the contest. Authentic accounts engage, interact and generally, have completed profiles. So, if someone appears to be inauthentic, you can set that rule as grounds for being disqualified.

Other suggestions? Share them in the comments below! Together we can come up with some great ideas on how to make sure our audiences are being rewarded!

First Image Credit to Dylan Nolte. Third Image Credit to Hal Gatewood.

Also, thank you to Casey Palmer for some additional editing on this post!

Editors Note: This post only analyzes Twitter because it’s the only PUBLIC data we can grab freely. That paints an incomplete picture. That said, we do have the complete data on over 20 contests and these numbers hold true. In fact, Twitter is the single biggest means of entry into contests (making up over 70% of total contest entries). So, basing our analysis on Twitter alone will hold true with only minimal variation in the number of overall entrants (some people just enter into contests while sharing publicly).

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Mitch Aunger
4 years ago

Such different data than I get in the contests that I run. I’ll totally disagree with many of your points. But I also am not looking at the same data you are. Maybe the contests you looked at were just poorly run! My data shows twitter is not #1, but FB is. My data shows that some sweepers enter my campaigns but that they’re real humans AND they’re typically genuinely interested in my prizes. But my prizes are TARGETED to the right audience. My data shows that many of the people who win my prizes are genuinely interested in the… Read more »

Simon Ragoonanan
4 years ago
Reply to  Mitch Aunger

You run contests for a living? Then your audience are compers – they’re genuinely interested in your service, but are of little use to anyone trying to promote a product or service. Compers do rarely engage outside of giveaways.


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