The Paradox of Blog Contests: A Case Study

Since John’s too busy getting into rock fights with baby pandas and making an absolute goof of himself at Computex in Taiwan, he’s asked me — along with Jane May — to step in with some guest posts. I’m sure he’ll still check in to tell us about his antics and the fine dining he’s experiencing, but in the meantime, you’ve got me and Jane to keep you entertained, informed, and thinking.

Anyways, I recently ran a contest on my blog where I was giving away a free t-shirt from 1234 Pens. Beyond the Rhetoric doesn’t get nearly as much traffic as John Chow dot Com, so I wasn’t expecting a big response. I was quite surprised, though, that I only got three entries. Yes, only three. Contrast this to the 100+ entries that John got for his evil Nintendo Wii contest.

This comparison illustrates at least three key points that separate successful blog contests from ones that aren’t quite so successful.

  • Size of Audience: Currently, John Chow dot Com has in excess of 5000 RSS subscribers. Beyond the Rhetoric has about 40-50. Repeat visitors make up a large part of the traffic to John’s blog, whereas the primary (60%+) source of traffic for my blog is Google. Needless to say, in order to get a lot of hype and attention drawn to your contest, you need a big audience. And then you hope that it gets viral (as it did with John’s Wii contest). If you have a relatively small audience, there really is no point in holding an expensive contest, because you will not get bang for your buck. If you have a large audience, however, contests are great for moving up on certain search terms (like “make money online”).
  • Appeal of the Prize: The Nintendo Wii, despite being out for a solid six months now, is still hard to find in stores. Everyone and their mother, literally, want to get their hands on one. By contrast, a t-shirt from a promotional pens company isn’t quite so highly sought after. In future contests for Beyond the Rhetoric, I intend on giving away more substantial prizes.
  • Ease of Entry: You want it to be easy to enter a contest. Stephen Fung had a contest where he was giving away the world’s smallest USB flash drive. All you had to do was post a comment that made him laugh, and the “best” comment got the prize. If the instructions are too complex, people won’t bother, especially if the prize is “just” a t-shirt.

Yes, my contest wasn’t exactly a success in the traditional sense, but it was a great learning experience for a budding blogger like myself.

On a side note, I’ve taken these learnings and applied them to my new contest where I’m giving away a USB TV tuner. I’ve addressed all three of the issues described above: by mentioning the contest here, I’ve automatically opened the contest to 5000+ RSS subscribers; the USB TV tuner is probably more attractive as a prize than a t-shirt; and I’ve provided three ways to enter instead of just one. Full contest details are here.

This post was guest-blogged by Michael Kwan. He is a freelance writer based out of Vancouver, Canada.