Online photo contests can be a great way to activate your audience. They’re fun, interactive and often generate sharing that can expose your radio station to new potential listeners.

If you have time and resources to manage and promote, online photo contests can be an efficient and affordable way to promote and build an active database.

Many of these promotions succeed, like Scared of Santa or Cutest Kids, yet most fall short of expectations.

Before launching your own contest, study these tips to that apply to all user-generated content promotions:

How To Make Online Photo Contests Rock

Following these tips won’t guarantee a great promotion, but it’s a good place to start.

Here’s how to increase your chances of getting the most from your campaign:

Have a Goal

Photo contests are incredibly viral and engaging. Fans will actively promote their entries to their friends, consequently promoting your campaign and your brand for you! If exposure to new potential customers is your goal, this is a winner!

Photo contests are a great choice if your goal is to offer an in-depth brand experience and capitalize on networked marketing (viral spread). You’ll recruit new brand ambassadors who will introduce you to new potential fans and first time customers (those who come just to vote).

However, photo contests require more effort than a simple enter-to-win giveaway. Entrants must choose a picture, then upload it. It may sound easy to you, but it will reduce the number of contacts (and qualified information) you would collect from a simple sweepstakes or instant win promotion.

So if your objective is to reach a large audience and gather as many contacts and as much data as possible with the least amount of work, you’ll be better off with a sweepstakes or instant win game.

It Takes Time

Photo contests demand more time and attention to administer than a sweepstakes. Someone must monitor the promotion and review new entries on a regular basis to make sure they fit your policy and brand image.

Because there are more steps involved, entrants will have more questions compared to a simpler campaign. You’ll also want to promote entries frequently to keep interest and voting active.

And, choosing a winner is a little more complicated. So, if you are short on time, you may want to try a less demanding campaign.

Protect Your Brand

Photo contests are the most popular type of UGC (user generated content) promotion, and most campaigns allow participants to seek votes from friends to increase their chances to win.

Since content in this type of promotion represent your brand, be sure to monitor entries closely. This takes just a few minutes each day, but it’s important to stay on top of it and approve or delete inappropriate entries.

Make It Easy

This advice applies to all promotions, not just photo contests. If the audience thinks it’s going to be too much work to participate, they’ll skip it.

Sometimes, a simple statement that shows how easy it is to enter is all it takes. Use clear, concise instructions such as,

It’s easy to enter! Simply upload a photo that shows how you feel in the morning.

Be sure to show an example of the type of photo you expect to demonstrate what you want them to do. It also helps to launch with a few entries built in. Nobody wants to participate in a contest that has no entries. Those entries should look good but not so good that it seems hopeless to enter.

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Think Twice About Written Entries

Essay contests are a cousin of online photo contests, but usually there’s an option to allow users to submit a photo with or without text.

Unless your goal is to limit response, don’t ask for a long essay about your brand. Entries should always be based on the consumer’s interest, not yours. A good example is simply Show Your New Year’s Resolution. This could be a good photo contest, essay contest or both.

This is much more manageable for a user than being asked to write an essay about their health philosophy. The less time and effort required, the more entries you’ll get.

A photo contest with a short caption is fine, but don’t require it. And, set a character limit so your contest looks good on the landing page and isn’t full of captions.

Choose The Topic Carefully

Ask questions to inspire consumers to imagine or dream to stimulate response. Instead of “Show us how much you want to go to the concert” make it something like:

Hardcore (artist) Concert Face

Your Pet’s cutest trick

This type of invitation will inspire ideas immediately.

There are contest themes that tend to be more successful others. Pets and kids are always popular. You can also get good response for things like sports team spirit and Halloween costumes. Brainstorm things that people typically feel strongly about, and you’ll find some good options.

Also think about “worst” or “best” entries, such as Ugliest Sweater (works for Christmas), Worst Grill (Good Father’s Day promotion) and Cutest Couple (a winner for Valentine’s Day).

Also, the more specific the topic, the better the response. For example, a “Show Us Your Most Outrageous Man Cave” is better than “What Room In Your House Is Your Favorite.”

Photos Or Video?

When creating a contest, you may be tempted to make it a video contest. After all, videos get shared far more than photos, right?

True, but requiring video introduces another layer of complexity. Most people can follow the instructions to upload a picture, but a video is more difficult to record and upload.

Sometimes video is clearly a better option. A Justin Timberlake karaoke contest is far more engaging as a video contest.

Cheater Alert

Most photo contests have at least some degree of cheating, with voter fraud the most common. We take precautions against this, but it’s almost impossible to eliminate every issue.

Most of the time, the problems are manageable, but a few best practices will protect you.

Avoid awarding prizes based only on the number of votes. Your best option may be some combination of votes, a panel of experts selection and a random draw.

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This also keeps participants who are late to enter your campaign motivated because they can still qualify, even if they have just a few votes!

Limit the number of daily votes per voter. We can do this by ip address or email address. This will discourage scammers and encourage your real fans to return on a regular basis.

And, be sure your rules allow you to disqualify cheaters.

Once fraud has been discovered, you can contact them with a warning. The second time, disqualify!

Don’t Make It About You

A lot of brands like to bribe the audience to say great things about their brand, but it’s a mistake.

An example would be a contest that asks the consumer to tell you where they want to go on vacation and how the brand’s product (specifically) would fit into their trip.

The first part of the question is fine, but adding the requirement that users also discuss the brand’s product will result in very few entries.

It’s not about you, it’s about them.

No Embarrassing Content

If you ask for private and potentially embarrassing information, prepare for disappointing results! The pictures you get may be terrific content, but there won’t be many entries.

Don’t Make Users Scroll To See The Offer

Choose the proper software to host your contest. That usually means no scrolling. If you require users to use their scroll bar to find the prize, you’ll see a dramatic reduction in your entry rate.

They are lazy – if they visit your landing page and it is not immediately obvious why your campaign is worthwhile, they’re gone. This is another reason to keep it simple…with more graphics and less text.

Choose Proper Prizes

People usually enter promotions for access to deals, discounts, content, news, and prizes. It’s not because they like you. In other words, they’re greedy! They play to get, not to give. So show off the prize.

Capture the main highlights of the prize in a short, catchy phrase. Provide details about the prize ‘below the fold’ or in a link, but the prize should be seen without scrolling.

But avoid offering attractive prizes that have nothing to do with your brand. A free vacation is great for a travel agent, but will not attract customers for your furniture store.

Everyone wants to win the latest electronics, but are they the right prospects for your business? If your contest prize attracts contestants who have no reason to become your customer, change it! If you are an airline, consider offering more miles to members of your loyalty program, or an upgrade on their next flight. If you fly to resort destinations, send your winner to one of your locations.

Obvious Call to Action

Put a big entry button on the landing page. When it’s hard to find your call to action, response is weak. And don’t stop with just one entry button. Make it easy to participate.

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Use Great Graphics

Bright, attention-grabbing images in your promotion should show what your promotion is about.

Images help the user understand what is expected. For example, if you’re running an online photo contest that asks users to submit a photo of their happiest moment, provide sample images of happy moments.

Use Empty Space

While an enticing design speaks volumes, sometimes white space around elements in your landing page can serve to draw attention to what you want the entrant to see. Don’t cram too much information onto the landing page. It’s hard to sort out and looks complicated.

Next time you notice white space around an element in a landing page, check out what it is surrounding. Most of the time it will be surrounding the Call to Action. This draws eyes toward it.

Managing Entries

Most software solutions give you the option to have entries auto-publish or go into a queue for an administrator’s approval. You’ll need to make this decision before launching.

Allowing entries to post immediately is easier, but it’s playing with fire. An entrant could post anything, including embarrassing content that doesn’t reflect well on your brand.

But if entries wait for approval, someone has to manage it several times every day. This can be time consuming.

Will You Allow Comments?

Comments on entries can add to your contest, but it opens the door to trash-talking and negativity. This may be okay for you, but if you’re afraid it may reflect poorly on your brand, it’s probably best to avoid it.

Also consider whether you have the resources ot manage the contest every day. If you allow contests, you must stay on top of the comments and manage the content.

Choosing a Winner

Be very clear how the winner will be chosen. this will avoid problems later. Will it be user votes? That’s fine, but there are a lot of ways to cheat, and you will probably have complaints. Or a really poor entry could sin just because someone aggressively recruits votes.

An option is to reduce the entries to a few finalists, then allow votes to choose the ultimate winner. Or, you could set up a panel of experts to choose the winner. All are fine, as long as you set the expectations in advance.

Bonus Tip

Don’t forget to promote. You may have the greatest photo contests ever, but if you don’t tell anyone about it, they won’t find it.

For best results, integrate the campaign into all of your marketing efforts.

Leverage the communication channels you already have, like your email list, your website traffic or your point of sale. Then extend it to any mass marketing campaigns, like radio, television or print ads. Finally, consider support it with targeted online and/or Facebook ads.

Conclusion

Online photo contests can be a great way to have fun with your listeners, but do it right. There’s more to managing it than just launching the campaign and waiting for entries and votes.