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How to Use Contests to Build Your Brand

From caption contests to photo competitions, the power of contests generates buzz, engagement, and traffic.
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Presenting a contest can be one of the most effective and rewarding methods to build your brand's presence and attract eyeballs to your product. From caption contests to photo competitions, the power of contests generates buzz, engagement, and traffic.

To help you create the right contest for your brand, I've put together a brief guide of the top performers:

1. Writing Contests
In 2012 and 2013, the Guardian hosted a flash fiction contest on Twitter. It encouraged readers to publish stories in 140 characters, which is extremely hard to do. At around the same time, Mary C. Long of the Social Times attempted to emulate this contest by holding a one of her own because she was dissatisfied with the London newspaper's decision to only post the "top writers."

Both fiction and non-fiction writing contests build brand awareness by inciting reader engagement. This type of contest can be held on the company website or on any of the primary social media outlets. It's also important for the host to determine the purpose and criteria, outline the details (who, what, where, and when), highlight the prizes, and produce promotional materials.

Here are four steps on how to establish a writing contest:
  • Get Started: Sign up for an email service, create a list, design a landing page and produce a sign-up form for entrants.
  • Promotion: Seek out the contestants by advertising the contest on your website, social media accounts, and newsletters. In addition, the contest can be advertised on various freelance websites, such as Elance, oDesk, and ProBlogger.
  • Prize: List the prizes. As an added incentive, offer a product that is scarce and, if possible, seek out a sponsor to offer the prize instead of using capital from your business to acquire the item.
  • Engagement: For the best possible audience participation, engagement is imperative. Emailing, tweeting, and Facebooking are avenues to explore. Once the proper route is chosen, inform readers about deadlines, criteria, future contests and minor details about the brand itself.
2. Photo Contests
Everyone's a photographer these days. This is why photo contests, including selfie contests, have become very popular tools to enhance a brand. A lot of contests are commonly held on Instagram and Facebook. For instance,
asked contestants to take a selfie Instagram with an Om Nom Nom Cookies product for the chance to win a T-shirt. The
gained some momentum during the 2013 back-to-school season as it held a photo contest for mothers to showcase their child's back-to-school outfit. The prize was a trip to a day spa. GuruShots, an online gaming site for photographers, turns contests into a fun game with a real-time online photo contests system. Photographers compete against one another, vote for their favorite photos, gain exposure, and earn equipment and cash prizes.
Here are four steps on how to construct a photo contest:
  • Objectives: Prior to the launch of the photo contest, determine what your goals are, such as an increase in social media followers, a larger number of newsletter subscribers, or a boost in search engine rankings.
  • Venue: Decide where to host your photo contest. Will it be on Instagram, Facebook, or your website? There are advantages to any one of these outlets; however, Facebook photo contests are usually the most popular because participation is easy. Remember, read the social network's user guidelines before building a photo contest.
  • Hashtag: A contest-specific hashtag is essential. Once the hashtag is agreed upon, you should then encourage readers and users to upload and share images with the hashtag because then it can expand your reach and make collection much simpler.
  • Audience: The photo contest should relate both to your brand and your audience. For example, if you're a health and fitness company, run a photo contest of people exercising, cooking a healthy meal or turning down decadent desserts.
If you have existing photos that feature your brand, hold a caption contests. Caption contests provide a hilarious contribution to the conventional photo contest. Many publications, like the
New Yorker
, run regular caption contests and they generate comical results, which also generate headlines, reader engagement and increased viewership.
3. Video Contests
Thanks to Vimeo, YouTube, and Vine, brands can engage with their customers and audiences on video as well as photos. One of the more well-known video contests came from
, which asked fans to create a video of a certain noise you'd make when someone says "Nandos."

Virgin Media gained the spotlight in 2013 when it ran a short film competition for aspiring filmmakers; the prize was having the winner's work featured in cinemas across the United Kingdom. The winner of the competition was "Touch" (see here).

Here are four steps on how to launch a video contest:
  • Social Network: The social network you choose should be determined by the length of the videos themselves. Vine offers 6.5 seconds, Instagram offers 15 seconds, and YouTube and Facebook allow you to create your own limits.
  • Criteria: Create a list of details on how to submit videos, how long they should be, how many can be entered, what the file size limit is and which file formats will be accepted. This eliminates complications from the get go and allows the process to be simple and fun.
  • Sample Submission: Posting a sample video can help display your brand's creativity and what exactly your company is looking for in submissions from audiences.
  • Logo and Name: If your brand's video contest happens to be successful then the odds are it may become an annual tradition. This is why your team should generate a logo and name for your video contest.
4. Naming Contests
When your brand needs a name for a new product or service "crowdsourcing" via a contest is a great way to go. This is what NASA did last year when it
for a free-flying robot expected to launch to the International Space Station in 2017. In February, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP)
for its latest police dog recruits.
Here are four steps on how to produce a naming contest:
  • Promotion: Inform your customers that you are holding a naming a contest soon and you would like their participation. Once the contest has commenced, advertise it, outline the details, and confirm what the prize is.
  • Crowdsource Websites: You can utilize a variety of crowdsourced naming websites -- NamingForce, NameStation, or Name Contests - or launch one on your corporate website or blog.
  • Idea for a Product: Take it one step further and ask your audience to submit new ideas for products or services. Be sure to study the legal aspect before moving ahead with this concept to avoid false allegations.
  • Final Say: Ensure there is fine print that your company will have the final say in what name(s) will be used for the new product.
5. Challenge Contests
This past summer, the world was swept up with the
, a campaign to raise funds for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) research. Everybody got in, from Bill Gates to former President George W. Bush. The
was another viral double-dog dare, though there wasn't any specific brand attached to it, probably because of the safety hazards associated with the challenge.

Challenges that highlight the "best use" of your product or success stories are also very engaging. Metamucil launched a year-long national sweepstakes in the U.S. last fall to inspire improved health options by incorporating small steps into their everyday routine. Earlier this year, Reebok established its physical "Be More Human" challenge campaign, an initiative to get more physically active and test your limits.

Here are four steps on how to start a challenge contest:
  • Video: First, record a video explaining how the challenge works and then dare someone to do it, whether they're a colleague, friend, family member, or celebrity.
  • Hashtag: In order to make the challenge easier to share and increase the chance of virility, a hashtag must be associated with the challenge contest.
  • Microsite: If the challenge is a success then your brand can design a microsite that features a compilation of challenge videos. It can also allow your company to garner user data and subscribers.
  • Safety: Finally, be sure the challenge is safe and healthy. Otherwise your brand could risk a public relations nightmare.

The primary purpose of contests is to establish your brand presence and authority. Still, a writing, photo, video, naming, or challenge contest is fun - for both you and your audience. Enhancing the power of your brand can be accomplished by exploiting the power of contests. Start one today and your brand will flourish to new heights.