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Smart contests Part 1: How to design a successful Facebook contest

This post is by Jim Belosic, co-founder and president of Pancake Laboratories, the creators of ShortStack, an application built on the Facebook platform, which offers affordable, white-label tab design that includes contests, commenting, sharing and many other easy-to-use features. Check out part two of this post, featuring tips on publicizing your contest.

You can’t look at your news feed on Facebook nowadays without running into someone giving away a free iPad or a $100 gift card. Contests and promotions are everywhere. Third-party contesting applications are making it easy to run promotions on your Facebook pages. Be careful, though, because even though setting up a Facebook contest may be simple, not all promotions are going to be effective. You can increase your chances of success by following some simple Facebook contest creation guidelines.

It’s not a guarantee, but if you’re rushing your contest design (as with any piece of marketing), you’re going to run into problems. Ask yourself a few basic questions before you begin configuring your promotion:

What is your overall goal? What are you trying to achieve with a contest? Typical contests are trying to either increase brand awareness and the number of “Likes” on a page, or attempting to engage user through gathering feedback and developing brand advocates. Tailor your contest to your overall goals, and be careful not to run contests “just because.” Make sure you’re getting something valuable for your efforts.

Who is your audience? Generally, there are only four types of contests that people run on Facebook: sweepstakes, essay, photo and video. Each type of contest speaks to an entirely different audience, so make sure you identify who you want your entrants to be. While video, photo and essay contests are a great way to collect content for your page, they’re designed for highly engaged users, so expect to see a low entry rate if your typical wall post has many “Likes” but few comments.

How much can you spend? Breaking the bank isn’t something you need to (or should) do, but you still need to keep your budget in mind. Setting a budget dictates both the quality of prize you’re able to give away, and the type of contest you should run. It’s OK to make users “work” to enter the contest, but the quality of the prize has to be worth the effort. Don’t ask participants to submit a video if the prize is just a sticker.

Once you’ve answered these question, think about the design of your contests. It needs to be two things: simple and social.

Make it social. Social media is word-of-mouth marketing on steroids. If your contest isn’t inherently social, you’re missing the whole point of hosting it on a social media platform. The contest itself should engage users using the tools at hand. Let entrants share their entries or their voting choices, and make sure these votes get shared to their walls, too! Give users the chance to spread your promotion by inviting them to share the contest on their walls after they enter.

Keep it simple. While innovative contest concepts may get big brands some awesome PR, keep in mind that these are just the success stories — there are just as many promotions that have majorly flopped due, in part, to their complexity. Better your odds of running a successful promotion by keeping things simple. Do you really need to know job titles, marital statuses or numbers of children? Every field a user has to submit directly affects the number of entries you receive, and fewer entries mean less exposure.

Your contest tab should be easy to find, easy to answer and easy to share. Nobody wants spend time searching your contest (and they won’t). Link directly to your contest tab by regularly posting about it on the page’s wall. Buying Facebook ads can also be an effective strategy.

The contest tab itself shouldn’t let users miss the “Enter Now” button, and the same thing goes for the “Share” link. Don’t let potential uber-fans miss out on the chance to enter and brag about your contest by making things too complicated.

Now that you’ve designed your contest, how will you get the word out?

Image credit: iStockphoto