why i (typically) hate social media sweepstakes

We’ve all seen them. They’re still everywhere. As consumers, you’re either intrigued by them or they completely annoy you, depending on your own personal goals. I’m talking about social media sweepstakes, giveaways, and sometimes (but not always) contests. And I hate them, well, most of the time.


I’ve been on the marketing side of so many social media sweepstakes and contests over the last five years that I am now numb to the concept.

Before I get in to why I hate them, first let me explain the thinking behind why a brand would still do such a thing, and why at some point in the strategic process it’s looked at as a brilliant sensible tactic.

1) they’re easy, and quick to implement

Sometimes. Depends on what you’re doing, but if it’s something like a retweet or comment to enter to win, then sure, that’s pretty easy and quick. But even those still need rules with a legal team’s stamp of approval. I’ve seen the “super easy” ones take weeks to implement (if done right).

2) data collection

Sweepstakes and contests always have some component of entering to win, in some way, shape, or form. It’s very common practice to do this by way of an online entry form. Companies can collect emails, birthdays, phone numbers, addresses, or answers to any other kinds of questions they want to ask. In my opinion, this is the most valuable reason to still run a sweepstakes, but at what cost to your brand? Are there better ways of getting this information?

3) social engagement

Your brand interactions and mentions will surely go up, especially if you’re promoting your sweepstakes or contest with paid advertising, but what is this really doing for you? Some brands still see value in pumping up their “likes” or “favorties” over a short period of time, because apparently that’s success. Getting sweepstakes hunters to provide your brand with hollow engagement metrics might look sexy, but it’s all smoke and mirrors. However…

4) brand awareness and PR

Those meaningless little actions by consumers are in fact spreading the word to others. And more eyeballs means more awareness of your sweepstakes, which some could say means more awareness for your brand. If this is your goal, and this is what you’re striving to accomplish with a sweepstakes or contest, then you’re good to go. But is this awareness from potential true brand loyalists? An argument against me here could be the really heavy hitting sweepstakes, like, winning a trip to Hawaii or to the Super Bowl; not your standard giveaway or prize. These bring more people out of the wood work for sure, and generate much larger awareness and engagement. But once it’s over and there’s nothing left to win, do those consumers still engage? Do they still care?

5) the contest ties to a larger brand campaign and engages loyalists

This is the caveat I can get behind, and is why I said “not always” in my intro. There are contests out there that ask people to do something that is very relevant to a larger brand campaign or movement. Thus, people aren’t just doing a one-off site visit or quickly sharing your brand’s post and disappearing forever. These types of contests typically bring out people that are passionate about the subject matter, and actually care. Loyalists. One that comes to mind is when the state of Montana partnered with National Geographic on an Instagram contest (#CaptureMontana) asking travelers and locals to share their amazing photos from around the state. So, these are people that have been there, or live there, have interacted with the “brand” before, and care about it. These aren’t people quickly throwing something together or submitting a form.

These people entering have real stories and are sharing those with others, which in turn helps the brand tell their own story in a more meaningful way. Don’t get it twisted, not all photo contests are good. Most are actually pretty desperate, but some, like the example I give, work.

Now I move forward. Here comes all the negative stuff, right? Well, this is what I’ve experienced first hand over the last five years and what I preach today. Below you can get in my head regarding why I typically avoid sweepstakes and contests like I avoid boxed lunches at conferences.

1) they engage a low quality audience, with low quality interactions

When offering a prize or a giveaway as part of a “do this and you could win,” your brand attracts what I call sweepstakes hunters. They crawl the depths of the socialsphere and the interwebs looking for that next boat they could win. They want gift cards, exclusive experiences, and free stuff. But, they could not care less if it’s from your brand or someone else’s. They are not connecting because your brand means something to them, they are connecting to win that prize package. When they share your message or engage with the sweepstakes content, it does very little for your brand position. If anything, it might even be hurting it. Doing something like this just to get engagement numbers for the sake of engagement numbers is silly, and a cheap tactic that proves very little actual value to your brand.

2) the new audience your brand gains will leave when it’s over

You know those sweepstakes hunters I was talking about? Yeah. Them. They’ll be out of there once they realize they are not winning that boat, from what I’ve seen, typically within three months. By some off chance you actually retain a few, good for you. But that means even less than nothing on Facebook nowadays. I’ve seen over the years with segmented data collection that the majority of sweepstakes fan “acquisition” turned in to detractors, and they eventually completely unliked, or unfollowed. They peaced out. Then looking back, we had a spike of meaningless engagement for a short time period, grew some fans and awareness, but then they all left. So worth it.

We want people “joining” our brand’s community because they actually care about our brand. We want them coming back for more due to that meaningful connection, not because of possible prizes.

3) sweepstakes and contests are usually recommended by non social media or marketing people

From my experience at several different companies, almost without fail, social media contests and sweepstakes are typically brought up as a “great” idea by the people in the room that aren’t within marketing, or more specifically if they are in marketing, they are not very savvy or educated with social media and content marketing from a business perspective. Everyone has a personal Facebook account, so everyone is exposed to all the noise out there from brands and companies in the public view. And, oftentimes if a competitor or respected brand does something, it’s automatically translated to be “best practice.” But, that’s definitely not always the case.

Social media sweepstakes and contests are like that weed in your front yard that you don’t really like, but then it kind of sprouts a little flower on top so you leave it alone for a while, and before you know it, you have five of these weeds. Then those five weeds with the little flowers attract all of these bees. They keep coming in large numbers. You feel good because you’re pretty sure bees are important to the environment so you think you’re doing a good thing, lots of bees right now today is a good thing right? Then the weeds abruptly go away, and so do the bees. You’re left with a dead weed, and no more hopeful positive impact on Mother Nature. The bees don’t come back. They don’t actually care about you. They only wanted you for the free little flowers on top of your weeds.

When a massive or well-respected brand does a sweepstakes or contest, they have their reasons. And maybe their goal is awareness and they really don’t care about the perception of the tactic as it relates to their brand at that point in time (or it’s because the general public actually doesn’t think like I think and the sweepstakes isn’t a negative thing in their eyes). Or, maybe they’re targeting a specific group of known or past (or look-alike) customers based on CRM data. Sometimes it’s hard to tell. Everything I’ve said depends on what you’re aiming to do with a sweepstakes or contest; what are your goals?

I’m not telling you what’s right or wrong, I’m just sharing my opinions based on first-hand experience. Yes, sweepstakes can achieve some things quickly and relatively easily, but honestly, I’m all for quality over everything else. To break through the clutter, innovation and thoughtfulness must play a role, and by and large contests usually don’t qualify in either category. If you have an execution that is classy and meaningful, like the Montana example, well done. But more times than not, social media sweepstakes, giveaways, and contests are a move to generate some quick engagement, collect some data, and create some buzz over a short period of time. I’ve gotten to the point where I can’t stand them …as I’ve seen them ultimately do so little for brands once it was all said and done.

If you’ve read this entire blog you can RETWEET AND SHARE A PICTURE OF YOU READING THIS BLOG TO WIN A FREE MAGIC CARPET. Actually, just no.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s