Too many people are making mistakes in how they view contests. Social media contests seem like a great way to drive business: you set something up, you make people like you or follow you and voila! You’ve met your objectives — sales and brand loyalty are going to soar! Right? Wrong.

There is a lot more to the social dynamic than just counting up the number of fans on social networks. Even though expanding the number of people following you can certainly gain more exposure for you than if you had less, the quality of the interaction, and the potential to actually reach the people who follow you are more important.

Before you plan out a contest, you need to consider more than numbers because if you don’t, you will just be wasting your time and money. Make every interaction count to really make an impact! You can start here with the 12 Most Strategic Goals for Winning Social Media Contests:

1. Establish what you want to achieve

If your answer is more followers or friends, I am going to play the role of a two year old and ask: Why? Why? Why? Why do you want more friends and followers? Why is this going to help your business? Now play the why game with yourself. When you have asked why to every answer you come up with you should be well on track to having narrowed it down to your true goal. Something like: I want to expand my reach. I want to raise awareness about our brand. I want to build a community and loyalty. I want to show others that we care. Every business has a different objective, but I guarantee you the reason for getting more followers is not to just have numbers — you want some kind of result. When you know your why, you can then figure out your how. Do not just do a contest to do a contest, you will get nothing out of it.

2. Get people to care — start a movement to connect

By simply offering a contest, you are not making people care. Do you have any idea how many contests are out there? There are actually people who make a living off just entering contests online. If you set up a contest that just involves a click, you stand no chance of creating a movement or making an impression. You are giving something away — you have to get value out of it. The best way to get people to care is to make them get involved. Find a fun, easy way to make them invest. When people have invested into something, even if its just time, or thought, they are likely to remember you. Create a situation where the person has to think about their entry, and ideally make it something that relates to them personally. This will help show them the connection between your brand and them — connect.

3. Get to know people and let them lead!

Creating a situation with your contest where people have to give their opinion or share something about themselves is a great way to get to know people. Whether it is an existing client, or follower or a new one. The whole basis of social media is building relationships. This is a great way to start. Have them share a picture, a moment, an opinion, or story. This will certainly drive dialogue, allow you an opportunity to acknowledge their entry, and make the relationship more personal. It also allows for community building, others will now be able to participate and keep the energy of the contest in motion as people have something to comment about and discuss. You can also learn a lot from what matters to your community as you see how they direct things, or what they choose to talk about. Now isn’t that a better start to work with than just a like?

4. Create a situation where people get to know you

You’re important here. Your brand is what you are trying to build. You’re giving something away to promote your business. Make the experience stick. Consider bringing your brand into the contest by asking people to share stories of why they want what you are offering, or what they like about your brand, or how they got to know you or ask them to reference a previous post from your site/content. Your fans will post this publicly and new people (their connections) will have a chance to read this too. In essence make them promote you through cool stories or kind words as part of the contest. It’s a win all around.

5. Ask people for their opinion (a.k.a. Free Market Research)

You can ask new followers to share with you what they like about your page, ask them to comment on other posts you have besides the one about the contest. Get them involved with your brand. You will not only create a better opportunity for yourself to lock in with new people, but you will also get some feedback about what you’ve been doing so far. Feedback is extremely valuable, and social media has given us opportunity to collect it in easier ways than ever before. In addition, people appreciate when their opinions are taken into account, that’s building dialogue, trust, and relationships. Here’s a great example of how this plays out from David’s Tea

6. Expand your points of contact to make an impression

Involve more than one social site as part of the competition. If you’re working off Facebook, then make part of the contest to send a tweet about the brand or contest. Or put the answer to a question you’re asking somewhere in your blog, or how about your Pinterest or Instagram account! Give people options to do what they are most comfortable doing but make sure in the process you touch them from a few different sites. You’re increasing your exposure and potentially building loyalty by getting them involved in multiple places where in the process they learn more about you. If you’ve done it right, they will like what they see — and you’ve made an impression.

 7. Get people involved with video and photos

The key to engagement is sharing, share something with your community, but let them know you also care about them, and what they care about. Give them a chance to post pictures or videos. Let them share their lives and be acknowledged. Share their submissions on your photo sharing sites (and look at number 6 above — double bonus — expand your contact points!) Or check out “Tout” a very cool interactive video “messaging” tool. You can “Tout” the info about the contest and with Tout, anyone with a mobile, webcam and Facebook account or email, can leave a “Tout” reply! Its fast, its easy, its creative and it is engaging. Get people to share any way you can think of, and you’ll be ahead. Haven’t tried Tout? Check it out, 15 seconds to engage your community and spotlight them.

Here’s an example of a Tout. I asked for an idea to do more “Social Good” — it’s not a contest, but it gives you the idea. (Feel free to jump in and Tout me back with the reply button! It’s easy!)

8. Leave the bureaucracy and red tape behind

I recently saw a contest where the rules of the contest on Facebook stretched about two pages long. If I was entering this contest, and saw the detail I had to read through, I’d leave without even checking out their page! Consumers don’t have time for this. People do enough paperwork at work, don’t make them bring it into their spare time too. If your contest requires that much CYA, maybe you should rethink it a little — make the rules & prize appropriate to your risk and audience.

9. Be creative and encourage creativity

People love a challenge. If you invite people to be creative, it makes it interesting for them. Creativity also produces incredible ideas that may provide new opportunities for your brand. By making this a part of your contest strategy, you really create an opportunity for added value from your “give-away” investment. One of my favorite examples of this is from a post on the David’s Tea Facebook page (click to enlarge):


 10. Make it easy, fun and relevant

Whatever you do, make sure you are making it a fun experience. People remember things that stand out, that make them feel good. Don’t weigh things down keep it light, and entertaining. The challenge then is to make sure whatever you do doesn’t lose sight of your brand and what you want to accomplish. Whatever the content make it somehow relevant to your brand. Don’t just give away an iPad if you have a fishing supply store, unless you tie it in with the value it will give in the field you are promoting. For example, giving away an iPad so people have access to your super cool website when they are out fishing. You get the idea right? Tie it in so people remember you as part of the contest, not so they just take the prize and run.

11. Create a feeling of being part of something

Everyone likes to feel a part of something. If you integrate the steps above, I think that you will accomplish this. Do something that makes your participants enjoy being in the conversation, or using a brand that they can relate to. Bring the brand home, make your community feel like they matter and are part of everything you’re doing in their participation.

12. Be present and find a way to make it last

While you run your contest, you need to make sure that your social media responses are there — don’t leave your community alone and answer every 24 hours. Be there actively, keeping the momentum of engagement going. Comment, encourage and motivate. This doesn’t end with the end of the contest. You need to remember the vibe of the contest even after it’s done. If you ran things right, you will have engaged and commenting followers — keep it up. Once you’ve opened that door, keep the energy flowing, do not disengage.

All of the points above list opportunities to build relationships. To learn more about how your brand is perceived, to understand what your community values, and to most importantly for you to respond. If you run a contest with all these ideas and objectives in mind, you will not only end up with one happy winner, but with a whole added community of actively participating members.

Engaged communities are the ones who will drive sales, who will be your advocates when something goes wrong and who will shine their light on you, because they like you.

By the time your contest is over, you’ll realize that even if you may have started off to just get some attention, what you end up with is a great group of people who support your brand and are having fun doing it. I used David’s Tea a few times in this post because I think they are an excellent example of a community building brand. Even though none of the examples I used were part of contests, it’s the feeling of community that is important. Make your contest feel like community, that’s where the success is — not in the number of followers you gain, but in the quality.

Do all this stuff and who wouldn’t want to join in on your vibrant community?

It’s a lot of work, but I think it’s worth it. What do you think?