Use Twitter Contests to Find Targeted Followers

Few things will replace SEO, providing great content, posting frequently, or building relationships with your readers and with other leaders in your niche as ways to help bring visitors to your blog.

However, I’d like to introduce you to another way you can find targeted followers who are interested in the content, products, and services you create: Twitter contests.

Anyone can put on a Twitter contest. The actual steps you go through are not difficult. And anyone can find a lot of followers with a Twitter contest. But what I want to share is how you can craft a Twitter contest to find the people who are interested in your niche, and build excitement around them following you on Twitter.

What is a Twitter contest?

Simply, a Twitter contests is a marketing activity designed to cause people to follow you and tweet a predefined message in order to be entered into a drawing for a prize. At the end of the contest period, you randomly draw the winner from those who:

  • followed you, and
  • tweeted the predefined message you created for the contest.

The results, if the contest is crafted right, are a lot of new followers who are truly interested in the messages that you tweet. These are the people who will most likely stay connected with you on Twitter and take action on your tweets. These are also the people who will be most likely to visit your blog or website long after the contest is over.

Each Twitter contest I run yields between 20% and 25% new targeted followers over ten days. My contests are big, so I run them about a year apart. That way, they don’t become so commonplace that they lose their novelty and appeal for either the people who enter, or the sponsors who provide the prizes.

Elements of a successful Twitter contest

While I concede that there are a lot of reasons why a person or company may want to conduct a Twitter contest, the reason that I’m discussing focuses on the blogger’s desire to find targeted followers. All other things being equal, we would rather have 2,000 followers who are interested in the information we tweet, than 10,000 followers who follow us but have no desire to read our tweets.

Depending on how you craft your contest, you may spend a lot of time, energy, and money attracting the wrong people. Alternatively, you can take specific steps to attract those in your niche.

There are several essential elements involved in attracting targeted followers in your niche:

Be clear on the purpose of your contest

Before you go through the work of crafting a Twitter contest, make sure you are clear on what you’re looking to get from the exercise. With me, it’s more targeted followers, targeted being the operative word. Once I have them, I have other activities in place to move them to my blog, my books, and my products. If you’re not clear on the contest’s purpose, then you are setting yourself up for disappointment when it’s over.

Choose prizes wisely

This is perhaps one of the biggest mistakes people make when they conduct a Twitter contest. If you are looking for targeted followers, bigger is not always better—bigger can cost you a lot of money without delivering the results you are looking for. For example, $5,000 in cash may not be as good a prize as a $500 camera or a $30 signed photography book if you’re looking to find photographers as targeted followers.

Sure, $5,000 is empirically worth more than the other two prizes, but consider this: $5,000 may attract a lot of people to your contest who want nothing to do with photography. All they want is the prize—then they’re out of your life. And the truth is that not everyone is motivated to enter contests for cash. Don’t believe me? When was the last time you entered the Publisher’s Clearinghouse $10,000,000 sweepstakes?

When you select a prize for your Twitter contest, it needs to do two things:

  1. Encourage people in your niche to enter the contest.
  2. Discourage people who aren’t in your niche from entering.

Generic prizes like cash, electronics, and vacations appeal to a wide range of people without doing anything special to reach out and grab the attention of a photographer. A camera, however, might raise the eyebrows of someone in your niche, as would a signed book from a renowned photographer.

Spending time choosing the right prizes that appeal to your targeted Twitter followers can make or break your chances of contest success. It can also save you a lot of money by helping you focus on the prizes that your targeted followers really value.

Don’t offer only your own prizes

Here is another mistake that people often make when they launch a Twitter contest designed to find targeted followers. Instead of reaching out to others for help in providing cool prizes, they only offer a book they wrote, a product they created, or a service they offer. While your prizes may be worthy of prize status, you will be missing out on a huge opportunity to find new targeted followers if you don’t invite others to contribute prizes.

When you reach out to experts and leaders in your niche to donate prizes to your contest, you are in essence setting up a sure way that the sponsors will send their followers to your blog or website—where they’ll find out how to enter your contest. You’ll also capture a lot of their followers on Twitter when they enter your contest. These are targeted prospects who may never have known about your contest had it not been for the sponsor your recruited.

As an example, I recently launched a Twitter contest for my blog with nearly 20 sponsors. Each of these sponsors will play a huge part in sending traffic my way; and since I chose sponsors and prizes related to my niche, the quality of visitors should be in line with the target audience I’m aiming to attract.

Give away the spotlight

In order to get the best experience from your contest, you need to take a step back from the limelight during the contest, and make your sponsors shine. This will give them all the encouragement they need to enthusiastically promote your contest to their followers and subscribers. Remember—these people are business men and women who are constantly looking for ways to promote their business. If you set them up as experts with a prize worthy to win, then they will help you communicate that message.

Another way you provide value to your sponsors during the contest is by highlighting their prize, linking to it, and linking to their website. By doing this, you’re increasing the chance that someone who’s looking at your prize list will see something they like, and decide to buy it instead of waiting for the contest to end.

Make the contest period the right length

This is where some finesse comes in. If you make the contest period too short, it will be over just about the time that its exposure is ramping up, causing you to miss out on a lot of potential traffic. Conversely, if you make it too long, people will not get the sense of urgency to enter it now.

We all know that if we don’t get a prospect to take action when we have them on our page, the chances that they will come back to do so later are dismally low.

With my contests, I’ve found that ten days seems to be a good running period. I run them over two weekends and the week between, starting on a Friday and going through the second Sunday. However, the length and the days you choose may be different for your niche. Don’t be afraid to test the contest length to find the optimal one for you.

Plan your tracking system

You need a plan for tracking all the people who enter your contest. The worst thing you can do is run a contest and then realize that you forgot to track it. Or worse—find that the tracking system you planned to rely on doesn’t give you accurate results.

For example, if you rely solely on Twitter search to find your entrants, you may find that the results don’t go back far enough to capture all the entries.

I like to use redundancy by choosing two tracking methods and cross-referencing the results. There are a number of great services that can send you alerts whenever someone enters the retweet phrase you create for your contest. When your contest starts, you need to immediately confirm that your alerts are capturing data accurately.

Communicate who the winner is and measure your results

When the contest is over, you need to contact the winner and announce on your official contest page that the contest has been won.

I wait until I receive confirmation from the winner before I publish his or her name. I also give the winner seven days to respond to my contact before I choose another winner. The last thing you want to do is choose a winner who doesn’t accept the prize, or one who comes back a month later and wants to collect the prize package then. Be clear in your rules and you can avoid issues like this.

If you’re like me, the real fun begins when the contest is over. This is when you get to crunch all the numbers to see how well you did. The data you get can help your next contest become more effective.

Creating a great retweet message

As I said earlier, for a follower to have a valid entry in your contest, they need to:

  1. follow you on Twitter
  2. retweet a specific message that you create.

A great retweet message will look like this one, which I created for my last contest. This retweet message is not for my current contest, so please don’t retweet it! I’m using it for illustrative purposes only:

RT @tonyeldridge Win a $1300 book marketing prize package from top book marketing experts in the business: http://tinyurl.com/ljn7y6

A great retweet message has these elements:

  • It’s 140 characters long, or less. Don’t forget to make room for the URL when crafting your message. Some blog platforms won’t provide you with the post’s URL until after the post goes live. In those cases, you’ll have to grab the URL, shorten it, and edit your post with the complete RT message once you publish the post.
  • It begins with “RT @YourTwitterID.” If you don’t place something before your Twitter ID, then Twitter will treat the tweet as a reply, rather than a mention. This can limit your contest retweet message’s exposure.
  • It makes mention that this is a contest, and summarizes the prize. It’s harder than you think to craft a small message that packs a big call-to-action, but it can be done. Your goal is to craft a message that makes people want to visit your page to read more about this great contest you’re having.

Twitter contest launch tips

Based on my experience, here are some parting tips to help make sure your Twitter contest takes off smoothly:

  • Don’t roll out a contest on the fly. Until you get experience with running these contests, there are too many places for things to go wrong. A little planning goes a long way for a smooth contest launch.
  • Give sponsors plenty of time to respond. If you don’t have enough planning time, you will not give potential sponsors enough time to digest the benefits of donating a prize to your contest. Chances are, you will be the first person who has approached them about being a sponsor. If you give enough time for this process, you can truly win them over to this marketing activity.
  • Test all links to your sponsors’ pages. You will be reaching for the antacid tablets if you get a bunch of calls from sponsors saying that their links are broken. Broken links are a rough way to start a contest.
  • Make sure you understand exactly what your sponsors are offering as prizes. Here’s where you grab the rest of the antacids in the bottle. You post that your sponsor will donate a 60-minute, free consultation; they come back after the contest is live and say, “No, I said I’d donate a signed copy of my book.” You really don’t want to have to change your prizes after the contest starts, nor create hard feelings between you and your sponsor.
  • Don’t change the rules mid-contest. People expect rules, but they don’t like to see them change. It tends to make them feel like they’re not being treated fairly, or that they’re being taken advantage of. You don’t want to create ill-will by changing rules after the contest launches unless it’s absolutely necessary.
  • Tweet around the clock. Twitter is global, so make sure you are tweeting about your contest around the clock. Even in your own country, you may have target audience members working all hours of the day. Someone is always around to read about your contest.
  • Don’t charge for an entry into your contest, or require someone to purchase something to enter. In many places, it’s illegal to require someone to purchase something to enter a contest. The laws of gambling take effect then. To be safe, make a “No purchase necessary” contest.
  • Don’t trust your sponsors to promote the contest. Prompt them. I often create special tweets that highlight an individual sponsor’s prize and tweet it three or four times during the contest run. This almost always catches their attention and causes them to retweet the message, thus increasing their followers’ exposure to the contest.
  • Follow Twitter’s contest rules. Twitter contests are popular, so Twitter has weighed in on rules they impose for contests. Their rules are simple and very practical, so make sure you follow them. Here’s a summary:
    • Discourage the creation of multiple accounts. If your contest encourages people to create multiple accounts to better their chances of winning, you are in violation of Twitter’s Terms Of Service.
    • Discourage posting the same tweet repeatedly. While it’s okay to have one tweet that everyone needs to use, you cannot encourage users to tweet it multiple times to increase their chances of winning.
    • Ask users to include an @reply to you in their update so you can see all the entries. You can see this in my Retweet example earlier.
    • Encourage the use of topics relevant to the contest. If I have a Twitter contest about photography and I say, “Cool new Apple phone out now” just to get people to click on the contest link in the tweet, I’m breaking the rules. You can use specific hashtags in the tweets, but even the hashtags need to be relevant to your contest.
  • Have fun. You may find a contest stressful when you launch it, but take a breath and relax. I’m betting this will be one of the most memorable marketing experiences you’ll engage in!

Twitter contests, conducted correctly, can be a fun, viral way to uncover targeted Twitter followers and ultimately send them to your blog or website. If you conduct quality contests on a regular basis, you will find sponsors lining up to be part of your next contest, and you’ll build an eager niche anticipating your upcoming contests. Once you have these followers, it’s up to you to keep them, with valuable tweets that relate to their interests.

Have you had experience with Twitter competitions? How have they worked for your blog? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Tony Eldridge is the creator of the Marketing Tips For Authors blog and the author of the Twitter marketing book, Conducting Effective Twitter Contests, and the action/adventure novel, The Samson Effect, that New York Times bestselling author Clive Cussler calls a “first rate thriller brimming with intrigue and adventure.”

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