Giving Away Free Stuff is Harder Than You Think

“114,585 leads in less than 30 days!”

“We collected over 100,000 new subscribers in our first month!”

“We gathered 20,000 leads in 14 days!”

These are the kinds of claims used to advertise viral giveaway or contest apps. When you read such statements, it’s easy to think that launching a viral contest might be all you need to boost your mailing list to the next level.

Well, in true ActiveGrowth fashion, we hosted our own viral giveaway to find out how effective this list building method can be.

Read on to see how it turned out for us and what we learned along the way...

More...

Getting To Know the Viral Giveaway Apps

Our original goal for this post was to investigate several contest and giveaway tools as a roundup review (like we’re fond of doing on ActiveGrowth), but that turned out to be a bit impractical. We like to field test tools as much as possible and running 5+ giveaways in succession just wasn’t going to happen.

So instead, we opted to test one tool thoroughly and use the experience as a case study to learn more about the promotional medium of contest giveaways.

After doing some preliminary research the short list of contest app candidates turned into a coin flip between UpViral and Gleam.io. I used the following criteria to make my selection:

  • A/B Split testing of opt-in forms
  • API integration with email marketing platforms
  • Social media sharing rewards
  • Real Time Analytics
  • Fraud Detection

In the end, I decided to run our contest case study on UpViral because it had opt-in form A/B testing where Gleam.io did not.

In Shane’s previous attempt to run a giveaway, one of his conclusions was that A/B testing might have improved the results of his first contest experience so I gave a lot of weight to this feature to test it in our giveaway.

So with a $49 per month Pro subscription to UpViral, I went to work using the ActiveGrowth rapid implementation strategy to launch the contest in under a week.

Rapid Implementation for Viral Giveaways

There are a ton of moving parts to orchestrate when it comes to assembling an online giveaway.

Not only do you have to put together a valuable prize pack for your target audience, but you'll need to address each component of your giveaway software application and set up promotional streams to pump your contest as well.

Here’s how it went down for us using the UpViral platform...

Assembling the Prize Pack

Don’t waste your efforts running a contest that gives away prizes like iPhones, iPads or iPods.

Prizes that aren't tailor made for your target audience will only serve to leads that will never become customers.

Therefore, one of the basic rules to running a successful giveaway is creating a prize pack that’s only desirable to your target audience.

It’s also best to use prizes that are cheap and easy for you to give away, but valuable for your audience to win.

Two of the prizes I knew I could easily include in our ActiveGrowth giveaway that met this criteria were:

  1. A membership to Thrive Themes (ActiveGrowth’s sister company)
  2. A 60 minute coaching call with Shane (the founder of ActiveGrowth and Thrive Themes)

But feeling like we needed something extra to round the prize pack out and make it super valuable, I did some lightning fast outreach to get a giveaway sponsor onboard.

Knowing Shane has long recommended WPX Hosting for high performance WordPress Hosting and having recently recommended WPX Hosting myself after some rigorous testing, I reached out to WPX Hosting to see if they’d be interested in sponsoring our contest.

The quick-hit combo of online business coaching with Shane, a Thrive Themes Membership and blazing fast WordPress hosting made a potent “Online Business Prize Pack”. Therefore, partnering with WPX Hosting for the contest just felt like a no-brainer and a prize combo I thought the ActiveGrowth target reader would be keen to win.

Here’s a copy of the outreach email text I sent to Terry at WPX Hosting:

Outreach Email to WPX Hosting

Hi Terry,

I’m pinging you today because we’re putting together a sweepstakes contest on Shane’s internet marketing blog (ActiveGrowth.com) and was wondering if WPX Hosting would like to participate as a sponsor.

As you’ve probably seen, one of ActiveGrowth’s focuses is doing in-depth reviews of online products related to internet marketing (like the recent WordPress Hosting review article WPX Hosting was featured in).

Currently, the ActiveGrowth team is testing out viral contest/giveaway apps so we decided to do our own sweepstakes case study to dive deep into testing and understanding these tools in order to share lessons learned with our audience.

Our sweepstakes idea is to give away (what we’re tentatively calling) an “Online Business Starter Pack”:

  • 1-year Thrive Themes Membership,
  • 1-year hosting subscription (with WPX Hosting being our recommended hosting solution)
  • A 30-60 min online business coaching consult with Shane

In the experimental spirit, we want to give away x2 of these prizes – one to the randomly selected winner and one to the friend that referred them.

This experimental giveaway strategy is designed to see if we can incentivize viral sharing through the psychology of not only getting more chances to win every time you refer someone, but also turning a contestant into a winner if the person they referred wins.

If WPX Hosting can help sponsor the giveaway with x2, 1-year Business Level hosting plans, we’ll promote WPX Hosting in (at least) the following locations:

  • The ActiveGrowth sweepstakes Contest Page
  • The “Thank You for entering the sweepstakes” email
  • A post giveaway email announcing the 2 winners and thanking WPX Hosting for sponsoring the contest (encouraging readers to check WPX Hosting out)

We’re also planning to create some additional pre-contest teaser content as well as post-contest blog content where we’ll share what we learned. This will give us additional opportunities to promote WPX Hosting.

As for the date, we’re trying to launch this contest next week (9 October, 2017) as Rapid Implementation is a core operating principle of ActiveGrowth and Thrive Themes. We’re planning for the contest to run for 2-4 weeks, although that point hasn’t been established yet.

We’d love to have you on board so let me know what you think!

After a few back and forth communications with WPX Hosting, they were excited about the giveaway and onboard to help us as a sponsor.

Getting outside partnerships isn’t always smooth sailing though. We did do additional outreach to sweeten our prize pack with some other internet marketing tools, but received either no response or negative replies from those companies.

Be prepared to hustle when building these partnerships and always focus on what sponsors will get from helping your contest with their products!

But with our awesome prize pack now set, I lost no time in getting everything else set up for launch day. My 1-week countdown was ticking fast...

UpViral Contest Setup

There are a few different ways you can host your contest on UpViral. You can either host everything on UpViral’s platform and servers sending all your traffic to the links they provide or you can embed UpViral’s sign up and share widgets on your own website to have more control over the contest and traffic.

I wanted contest traffic to see a custom built giveaway landing page designed using the Thrive Architect content builder so I went with using UpViral’s embedded opt-in form widget option.

Navigating through UpViral’s contest setup dashboard was fairly straightforward, but surprisingly limited in its customization and design features.

Building Your UpViral Opt-In Forms

Like I stated above, you can either select one of UpViral’s hosted-for-you opt-in form designs or choose one of their widget templates to embed on your own site. Unfortunately, there aren’t many templates to choose from in either category.

UpViral contest signup form variation 1. Value proposition tested: Get 1-on-1 coaching with Shane.

UpViral contest signup form variation 2. Value proposition tested: Win $1500 worth of online business prizes.

Even though you can customize the UpViral form templates, the editing options are basic and didn’t really expand outside of modifying form colors and text. Editing the forms proved to be glitchy too, especially when it came to adding videos or images so I just stuck with the basic design and used Thrive Architect to place Shane’s contest explainer video where I wanted it.

Building Your Share Widgets

The UpViral setup process continues by creating referral and social share widgets shown directly after contest sign up. The share widget template selection and editing process was just as limiting in design customization as the opt-in forms.

UpViral share form variation 1. Value proposition tested: Earn bonus entries.

UpViral share form variation 1 progress tab.

UpViral share form variation 2. Value proposition tested: Help a friend by sharing.

UpViral share form variation 2 progress tab.

You can choose to include social media share buttons for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest and Whatsapp. The share widget also provides unique referral links for your contest entrants by default.

UpViral A/B Testing

UpViral does allow you to A/B test opt-in form designs and social share widgets by creating multiple forms for each. However, the design options are so basic, copy felt like the only thing worth split testing.

With that in mind, I created the 2 opt-in form variations and 2 social share widget variations shown in the sections above that all used the same visual design. UpViral then A/B tested each set of embedded widgets against each other on our giveaway landing page and post signup share page.

As you can see from the data in the screenshot below, 2 weeks in to testing, UpViral’s A/B Testing did identify a higher converting value proposition for us ("Win 1-on-1 coaching with Shane" lost to "Help yourself by helping a friend").

UpViral Lead Capture and Share Widget split test data on Day 14 of the contest. The form winners were selected based on the data shown here and used until the end of the contest (Day 20).

But overall the small split testing bump didn't really seem worth it when weighed against all the other negative factors we found with UpViral platform that we’ll discuss shortly.

Social Appearance

The next step in the UpViral contest setup was configuring our “Social Appearance”. This is the pre-set copy and images you can create for your contest entrants to share automatically through their Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Email accounts in exchange for bonus entries.

You can keep this section as basic or make it as fancy as you want, but a little effort here can help make sharing that much easier and attractive for people who just signed up for your contest.

Reward Points

To help incentivize social sharing of your contest even more, UpViral allows you to program how many bonus entries people can earn when they: 

  1. Sign up,
  2. Share your contest on various social media platforms or
  3. Get their friends to sign up for your contest through a unique referral link they are given.

This point determination is completely up to you, but we decided to award contest entries in the following way:

1 point for contest entry, 1 point for sharing on social media, and 5 points for each referral sign up through a contest entrant’s unique referral link.

Each point counted as an extra chance to be drawn at random as the first winner. Additionally, if someone referred the randomly selected winner, they would win the second prize pack too. The idea here was to incentivize sharing in every way possible to help get the contest to go viral.

WARNING

The downside to UpViral’s social sharing feature is that entrants aren’t actually rewarded for fully executing their shares. They only get rewarded for pressing the social share buttons, not for posting on social media platforms. 

I don't fault UpViral for this issue as they'd have to force entrants to jump through additional hoops to enforce the actual share.

After checking the major social media platforms for shares of our contest, it seemed that many entrants discovered and exploited this vulnerability.

Experimenting with Referral Link Sharing

We tried to innovate with this contest, to make it more enticing for people to enter and share. In addition to the usual incentives for sharing our contest, we wanted to give entrants a second avenue to winning.

How?

By awarding two grand prizes: one for a randomly selected winner and one for the person who referred the randomly selected winner.

I thought this idea would even add some psychological leverage as entrants would feel as if they could help themselves by helping their friends win when signing up through their unique referral link.

Unfortunately, as you’ll see soon, this strategy didn’t seem to boost referrals as much as I hoped.

Sweepstakes Winner Setup

UpViral makes running either most-points-win contests and random winner sweepstakes super easy.

In a most-points-win UpViral campaign, your winners will be selected based on who earned the most social sharing and referral points over the course of the campaign. Pretty simple.

Alternatively, you can run a contest asking entrants to submit a photo of something and you’ll choose the best one to win. This would be a merit-based.

However, if you’re running a random drawing sweepstakes like we were, UpViral can randomly select winners on a “weighted draw” basis. Essentially, every point earned is an extra chance to be drawn at random from the total number of entries.

To set either type of contest up in UpViral, you just select the “Sweepstakes” option, enter the number of winners you want to award, select either “Most Points Wins” or “Weighted Draw”.

Additionally, if you want to carry out the referral winner experiment I did in this case study explained above, you must first select a random “Weighted Draw” winner and then manually cross check every entrant with referral signups to see if they referred that winner to award the second prize to them.

It took a lot of time for me to do this at the end of the contest and it didn’t have the viral boost I was hoping for so all the extra effort and complexity of the experiment may not have been worth it in the end.

Email Notifications

Once your contest is set up, UpViral allows you to program auto-notification emails for:

  1. New registrants
  2. Referral link sign-ups
  3. Winners
  4. Possible Fraud Detection
  5. Double opt-in confirmations

For our contest, I only set up the time to set up new registrant and referral link sign-up emails and called it a day. Looking back, it might have been a good idea to also set up the fraud detection notification email as well...more on that below.​​​​

Hooking Up Your Email AutoResponder

One of UpViral’s strong points is how many API connections it has with email autoresponders...over 50!

We were easily able to hook up our own email marketing service and apply a tag specific to our contest to help segment brand new registrants from current ActiveGrowth readers.

However, there is a significant danger in connecting your email marketing service to UpViral as we discovered towards the end of our contest that we'll discuss momentarily. 

Advanced Settings

Finally, the UpViral advanced settings allows you to add your contest rules and integrate them as links into the contest opt-in forms.

If you want to collect even more data, you can also set up several tracking and retargeting codes for your contest. In order to launch the contest before my 1 week deadline, I didn’t take the time to set them up.

Widget Integration

With your contest configured, UpViral spits some HTML code out for you to integrate within your landing page.

I did this via Thrive Architect’s “Custom HTML” element to get the UpViral signup and share widgets to load on the custom designed Halloween Giveaway landing pages.

The final landing page design with integrated widgets looked like the following:

Screenshot of the original, long copy landing page used to capture leads for the giveaway.

Contest Launch, Promotion and Results

Because we prepared and launched our contest in under a week, promotion proved to be the weakest link of our giveaway.​​​​

Announcement Email #1

On October 11th, our contest went live and I started promotion by emailing the ActiveGrowth mailing list.

And although we were aiming to build our ActiveCampign audience with new subscribers, existing subscribers can help get the word out by sharing the contest to other target leads which was why I shared the contest with our existing subscribers.

Here’s a screenshot of that email Shane sent:

ActiveGrowth Giveaway Announcement Email #1

Win over $1,500 worth of business coaching, hosting and marketing tools

Hey,

Here at ActiveGrowth, we don’t like excuses that get in the way of taking action.

That’s why we decided to launch a big sweepstakes this Halloween to help 2 lucky winners crush it in their online businesses.

That’s right, ActiveGrowth is giving away TWO Online Business Prize Packs that each include over $1500 in coaching, hosting and WordPress plugins to help give your business a boost!

Each Online Business Prize Pack currently includes a:

  1. 60 minute coaching call with me (an $800 value)
  2. 1-year WPX Hosting Professional Plan subscription (a $500 value)
  3. 1-year membership to Thrive Themes (a $238 value)

And we’re still working hard to make this Halloween contest even sweeter. Keep an eye out for some added marketing treats in the Prize Pack by the Halloween drawing.

But here’s where this giveaway gets interesting…

You have two ways to win:

  1. Be the randomly selected winner at the end of the contest…

    or
  2. Be the contestant that referred the randomly selected winner!

See how that works?

Getting your friends to sign up for the giveaway significantly boosts your chances to win.

Not only will you get bonus entries for referring friends and sharing the giveaway on social media, but if one of your referred friends wins, you’ll win your own prize pack too!

Pretty awesome right?

This incentive is actually a key part of an experiment the ActiveGrowth team is testing around generating traffic through giveaway apps.

And of course, we’ll be sharing all our lessons learned about this contest and the app we’re using in future ActiveGrowth content.

If you want to help us out and participate in our traffic generation research, just click the link below and take a few seconds to enter the sweepstakes...it’s completely free to sign up:

YES, I want to enter for a chance to win over $1,500 worth of tools & coaching to boost my online business!

The drawing is on October 31st so make sure to enter and share before then to give yourself multiple chances to win.

Good luck,

Shane

P.S. Signing up twice with different emails will disqualify you, so play nice ;-)

P.P.S. This giveaway is super sweet because the winner will be one of the first new WPX Hosting customers to experience their new staging site feature.

Not only does WPX Hosting crush it with their innovative FFY (Fix it For You) technical support, but they deliver blazing fast performance and customer support response times that are hard to beat.

Enter the giveaway for your chance to win and see for yourself!

Although this initial email proved to bring in the most leads and referral traffic to the contest, it became clear after a day that we were experiencing lower-than-normal open rates. This was probably due to the email subject line being too “promotional” in nature and was either ignored by readers or filtered into the Gmail’s “Promotions” folder.

Screenshot of the Open Rate and CTR percentages from Announcement Email #1. This email was sent to the entire ActiveGrowth subscriber list.

Thrive Leads Sticky Ribbon

After a steady decline in signups, I launched a Thrive Leads Sticky Ribbon across the ActiveGrowth website on Day 6 of the contest. It contained a simple message and button directing visitors to the contest signup page.

Screenshot of the Thrive Leads Sticky Ribbon used on the ActiveGrowth blog to send our traffic to the giveaway landing page.

From Day 6 to the end of the contest (Day 20), the sticky ribbon measured 1933 views (as measured through Thrive Leads) and experienced 1544 unique clicks (as measured through the Pretty Links plugin).

Looking back, not launching the sticky ribbon from the start of the contest was a mistake as it had an 80% click-through rate for ActiveGrowth traffic!

Facebook Ad Campaign #1

Due to the fact that I launched the giveaway so quickly, I didn’t launch our first Facebook ads launched until Day 7 of the contest. These ads seemed to give the contest new life as visitors and signups started to pick up once again.

With multiple sets of ad copy and images prepared, I used AdEspresso to split test different ad sets for the contest.

As you can see from the screenshots below, I tested long copy ads against short copy ads to see if that made any difference in Click-Through Rates (CTR) and Cost-Per-Click (CPC):

Short Copy Facebook Ad

Long Copy Facebook Ad

CTR: 0.403 %

CTR: 0.394 %

CPC: $3.04

CPC: $2.75

Screenshot of one short copy ad variation used in our Facebook ad campaign #1.

Screenshot of one long copy ad variation used in our Facebook ad campaign #1.

However, even though the ads increased visitors and contest signups again, the Facebook ad spend averaged around $120 per day. The cost per click during this time worked out to $3.15.

It’s hard to be exact with the data I had at my disposal, but the conservative estimate for how much new contest entrants cost via our first set of giveaway Facebook ads worked out to be around $10 per lead.

Needless to say, that’s pretty expensive just to get someone to sign up for a free giveaway so the Facebook ads weren’t very successful.

Announcement Email #2

On Day 8 of the contest, I asked Shane to send out another, less promotional sounding email to those ActiveGrowth list subscribers who hadn’t opened the original announcement email yet:

ActiveGrowth Giveaway Announcement Email #2

Want personal business advice from me?

Hi,

I'm not sure if you saw it yet, but ActiveGrowth launched a cool giveaway last week to win you some sweet online business treats this Halloween!

Now if entering sweepstakes aren't your thing, why should you care about this one?

Well, for two reasons.

First, we're giving away some awesome prizes that could really help boost your online business:

- A 60 minute coaching call with me.
- A 1 year subscription to WPX Hosting with their Professional WordPress hosting plan.
- A 1 year Membership to Thrive Themes

That's over $1,500 worth of business coaching, WordPress hosting and online marketing tools you'll get a crack at winning!

And the second reason why you should care?

We want to see if giveaway apps are effective for list building so we can take our lessons learned and make some killer ActiveGrowth content focused on teaching you how (or perhaps how not) to run a viral sweepstakes campaign.

How awesome would it be to have a rapid implementation strategy to launch cheap viral sweepstakes to grow your list with highly targeted leads?

Our Halloween Giveaway is completely free to enter and we're actually giving away 2 prize packs to experiment with a new way to incentivize viral sharing:

1 prize pack will be given to a randomly selected winner…

...and the other prize pack will be given to the person who referred that randomly selected winner.

That means sharing not only gives you more contest entries to win the drawing, but referring friends actually gives you a second pathway to win.

I hope you'll take a few moments to check this giveaway out, enter and share.

Good luck,

Shane

P.S. Signing up twice with multiple emails disqualifies you from winning. The contest app we're currently testing has a built-in fraud detection system that's already flagged a few cheeky entrants so make sure to refer your friends if you're keen to win ;-p

This second email brought some additional giveaway subscribers into the mix, but also had low open and click-through rates:

Screenshot of the Open Rate and CTR percentages from Announcement Email #2. This email was only sent to those ActiveGrowth subscribers who did not open the first giveaway announcement email.

With the combination of our Thrive Sticky Ribbon, the start of our first Facebook ad campaign and our 2nd announcement email, Day 8 surged to become the second highest day of visitors and signups.

Facebook Group and Reddit Sub Social Promotion

On Day 9, visitors and signups to the giveaway started to fall again so we decided to test out posting on related Facebook Groups and SubReddits.

This ended up being extremely difficult to pull off because, no matter how personal and non-spammy you make your posts, Group Admins tend to delete them or ban you from groups for promoting something.

Depending on your niche, free Facebook Group style promotion may be over. In order to succeed with it, you’ll need to have a connection or control over such groups to keep your posts from being deleted.

Before my posts were deleted from the Facebook groups I posted in, I did have some brief success direct messaging around 50 people who responded positively to it. This leads me to believe that free social media promotion (when presented in a very personal way) is still a great way to get visitors to your contest, you’ll just need to do the work ahead of time to become a strong member of those communities before you start posting.

Contest Landing Page Simplification + Facebook Ad Campaign #2

With 1 week left to go in the contest and signup engagement falling fast, we decided to try one more experiment to see if we could give the contest a final boost.

Looking at UpViral’s visitor versus leads data, it appeared that we were getting poor conversion rates. Because of that, on Day 14 we simplified the contest landing page down to the bare minimum and launched a new set of Facebook ads.

Instead of using a custom designed, long form contest landing page like we had been running, I switched to a super simple, above the fold design that looked like this:

Screenshot of the simplified, short copy landing page used in the last week of the contest.

I then tweaked the Facebook ads to fit the new landing page copy to see if that would lead to better engagement with the contest.

Screenshot of an ad variation used in our Facebook ad campaign #2.

In the end, it didn’t really make much difference. The best ad variation (shown above) maintained a very similar CTR (0.403%) and CPC ($2.68) compared to the previous Facebook ads and landing page conversions didn't change much.

We saw a small bump in visitors and leads on the 24th when the new Facebook ads launched, but it quickly fell back to the old daily baseline.

Also, rather unfortunately, the cost per Facebook lead in this last week of the contest jumped up to around $19 per lead. It turns out giving away free prizes can be much more difficult and expensive than you think!

Beware of Costly Contest Cheaters!

One of UpViral’s very important features is its “Fraud Detection” system. I have to say that it really saved our bacon in final days of the contest.

As you might expect, certain cheeky individuals may try to game your contests to boost their chances of winning. Until the last 2 days contest, this wasn’t a problem as only 5 fraudulent entries had been flagged.

And to be honest, it seemed like those fraudulent entries were actually just people signing up with a second email not knowing it was against the contest rules.

However, on Day 19, something crazy happened. The number of leads spiked from around 400 to over 8,500!

As you can imagine, my mind started racing to illusions of grandeur where the viral sharing had finally saved the day in the final hours of the giveaway and turned my case study into a massive success.

However, when I went to double check UpViral’s Fraud Detection feature, it turned out that a single IP address had generated 8,172 fake signups!

Screenshot of UpViral's Fraud Detection results at the end of our contest (with names, photos and emails whited-out). UpViral allows you to inspect the suspicious referrals, blacklist them, and delete their entries from the contest.

Now while this sounds super annoying because it completely messed up my UpViral campaign statistics and burst my big bubble of false hope, it also came with some other negative consequences. Because I had connected UpViral via API connection to our email marketing service, all of those fake names and email addresses had been automatically added to our ActiveGrowth mailing list.

What I didn’t realize before the contest was that a single cheater could max out our current subscription plan and shut down important email marketing automations crucial to our business.

In the end, we were able to blacklist the cheaters from the contest and quickly delete the fake emails from our list by filtering for the bad IP address, but be aware of this pitfall when setting up your next giveaway as it can lead to costly impacts in your day-to-day business!

ActiveGrowth Giveaway Final Results

So here’s the final numbers for the ActiveGrowth Halloween Prize Pack Giveaway:

Screenshot of UpViral's contest statistics. Only data from Day 1 to Day 18 of the contest are shown here due to the 8100+ fraudulent entries added on Day 19 of the contest.

Unfortunately, the UpViral data graphed above does not include the last 2 days of the contest due to the fake visitor statistics generated by the big contest cheater so they were left out. The three peaks in leads and traffic on the graph correspond to the initial contest launch, and two Facebook ad campaign starts.

With the data corrected to not include the fake referral leads and traffic, the overall campaign metrics ended with the results shown below:

Contest Duration

Total Signups

New Leads

Facebook Ad Spend

Facebook $ per Lead

UpViral Mo. Cost

20 days

452

109

$1435.74

~$12.50

$49

And here’s the UpViral final statistics from contest:

Total Visitors

Total Leads

Total Conversion Rate

1593

452

28.37%

Direct Visitors

Direct Leads

Direct Conversion Rate

1,094

387

35.4%

Referral Visitors

Referral Leads

Referral Conv. Rate

499

65

13.03%

I’m Not Sold on UpViral

Although UpViral has several cool features discussed above to help run your contest, I was disappointed in it overall.

For example, the embedded UpViral signup and share widgets were incredibly slow to load. Load times for the widgets were usually in the 5+ second range so it’s a good bet that bounce rates from our landing page were higher than normal because of this.

As stated at the beginning of the article, UpViral does offer their own hosted opt-in form and share pages that load faster than the widgets do so use this option if you decide to pull the trigger on UpViral for your next contest.

Also, UpViral’s opt-in form templates and customization options were both buggy and limited. Although UpViral can A/B test these forms for you, I was really only able to test value propositions via the copy. Basically, UpViral’s A/B testing feature disappointed me.

In UpViral’s marketing, they lead you to believe that after your contest is set up, the viral sharing nature of the software will automatically work to bring you many new leads for free.

All I can say is don’t count on it. For me, the biggest lesson learned from this contest case study was that promotion streams matter more than the software platform. Take time before you launch your contest to do quality outreach and you’ll have a much better shot at creating a viral giveaway.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to running online giveaways for your business, I think they have lots of potential to boost your list and grow your target audience, but the most important success factors aren’t tied to the contest software you use.

It’s likely the promotion and partnerships you create before your launch are the most important. In this regard, rapid implementation of your contest may not be the best move if you really want your contest to go viral.

Spend the time and effort doing outreach ahead of time with related influencers, Facebook Group admins and businesses that would benefit from the exposure your contest provides.

As you can see from this case study, relying heavily on Facebook ads for promotion is expensive and not always a reliable strategy to get your contest to go viral. However, internet marketing is a tough market so Facebook ads may work much better in less competitive niches.  

Also, your online business niche probably plays a big role in the shareability of your contest. As much as I love geeking out on optimized hosting and WordPress plugins, it’s just not a very sexy niche most people want to share on social media with their friends and family.

If you are in a more buzz worthy industry, giveaways may prove much easier to go viral as your target audience may identify with the prizes better and be more eager to share it among their friends.

Now It’s Your Turn

Have you ever run a giveaway or contest for your online business? If so, how did it turn out for you?

Please share your insights and lessons learned in the comments below!


P.S. Congratulations to our two ActiveGrowth Halloween Prize Pack winners, Ash & Curtis!

They won a 60 minute coaching call with Shane, 1 year of WPX Hosting and a 1 year Membership to Thrive Themes for entering our case study contest!

About the Author Matt Totten

Matt's a geologist turned online marketer and digital nomad. He's a Modern Manimal on a mission to cultivate a high-tech, hunter-gatherer lifestyle within our exceedingly domesticated world. When away from his tech, you can find him studying complex human movement through random play or practices like Aikido, AcroYoga and Barefoot Running.

  • Martin Avis says:

    Thanks for a very interesting and thorough report. It certainly provides much food for thought and highlights some unconsidered pitfalls.

    • Matt Totten says:

      Thanks Martin…I’m glad you found it useful. I definitely discovered some additional aspects to launching and running online giveaways that extend beyond assembling the prize pack and contest software.

  • Hubert says:

    This is a great, practical post. My takeaway is to not blindly trust the statistics and marketing materials that companies making apps and software provide.
    When you read their staff it sounds like all you need is their amazing app.
    As this experiment shows its not the case….

    Thank you Thrive team for great, practical tips. It’s a great complement to your great software :)

    • Matt Totten says:

      Thanks Hubert!

      I definitely set out to make this giveaway campaign a big success, but the reality was very different from my original high hopes (fueled largely by all the viral giveaway app marketing material I’m sure).

      When it comes to contest case studies, the published data is biased almost entirely by super successful examples so I guess the silver lining is that this case study helps show the other side of the coin.

  • SID says:

    Cool case study. Unlike other give away case studies, where they boost of thousands of signups, this one seems to offer a better view of the truth and that marketing is more important than the software

    • Matt Totten says:

      Thanks SID…I totally agree with your take away from the case study! ;-)

  • Alfonso says:

    It was a great case study, very detailed and honest. It opened my eyes to new ways of getting leads. It came out expensive spending $1.5K for just 109 leads. I’m new to this blog and I don’t know how you monetize it. I have never received an offer to buy something, is it through ThriveLeads? If ActiveGrowth is not selling anything, how can you afford your paid campaigns? You’re skipping the customer first approach strategy.

    Is this something that you would try again? Would you choose it over other strategies to get leads?

    Thanks,

    • Matt Totten says:

      Thanks for your comment and questions Alfonso.

      Right now, ActiveGrowth is more of a sandbox for Shane to run experiments, test internet marketing tools and help people with their entrepreneurial journeys so monetization isn’t the primary focus.

      We do use affiliate marketing links for the tools we test, but the goal of our reviews is never to get commissions. It’s to rip the tools apart and share our no bullshit results and thoughts about them.

      For example in this review, we included affiliate links for UpViral, but my conclusions stated that I was disappointed in the tool…not a money making success strategy I’m sure you’ll agree. Instead, the goal here was to run a cool experiment in order to share some great info with you.

      As for the Facebook ad spend, it definitely was not part of my original strategy to spend so much on paid ads to promote the contest (another lesson learned for me personally).

      However, it’s important to consider what the cost of a subscriber is worth to your particular business when evaluating any paid advertising.

      For example, let’s say you’re a consultant and 100 visitors sign up to your email list through the giveaway. If 5 of those people take you up on a free consultancy call offer and 1 of them ends up signing a $1000 contract with you, now every giveaway subscriber is worth $10 ($1000/100 leads). Then you could measure your ad spend and giveaway costs (software + prizes) against that benchmark.

      In the future, I definitely want to take what we learned with this experiment and try again.

      Next time, I want to work more on developing a prize pack that’s super sexy to share on social media and full of useful goodies the target audience doesn’t already own.

      I also want to focus more attention on setting up promotional streams and partnerships ahead of time which was hard to do in just a week.

      Compared to other list building strategies, I think the online giveaway is just one tool available to you. You can’t run contests 24/7/365 anyway so it will never replace other methods of growing your audience.

      However, you should think about using them periodically if you can find a way to offer prizes that are low cost for you to give and high value for your audience to win.

  • Prashant says:

    I signed up for Vyper and they are a beast when it comes to sweepstakes and giveaways. Integrating them into my current businesses to scale the subscriber base whilst making the best if the free downloads and content uprades that I’m offering.

    • Matt Totten says:

      Glad to hear the list building giveaway strategy is working really well for you Prashant. Are you using Vyper more for running giveaways then or just for their Content Upgrade feature?

  • Gary says:

    Thanks for the comprehensive case study. Really, really good job.

    If my experience is anything to go by, it could account for why the contest didn’t do better. I entered the contest on 14 Oct and received the entry confirmation email . . . then never heard another thing about it until I received the email promoting this post.

    A search of my spam folder returns nothing.

    • Matt Totten says:

      Thanks for your comment Gary.

      You make a very good point. I should have sent some nurturing emails to my giveaway subscribers to encourage them to keep sharing. I’m making a note of that to use for my next online contest!

  • Ron says:

    I bet “Thrive Contests” is not too far into our future and will be a killer product ;-)

    • Matt Totten says:

      Thanks Ron. I think a contest app with the A/B Testing power of Thrive Leads and the design freedom of Thrive Architect would also be a killer tool to have in the Thrive Themes arsenal!

  • Wilco says:

    Thanks for mentioning us! Been following Shane’s work for years, so it’s an honer to be featured here :)

    Thanks for the feedback as well. We’re working on a release that’ll be MUCH faster as we speak.

    And you’re right – a campaign never “just” goes viral. Depends on many factors. Happy to dive deeper into that if you want :)

    Thanks for pushing is to be the best version of ourselves!

    – Wilco (founder of UpViral)

    • Hi Wilco,

      Thank you for dropping by! I’ve been following your work for a long time as well and I’ve been impressed with what you’ve built.

      If you’re interested, we could try collaborating on a case study. :)

  • Sonia says:

    Very good post Matt. While reading it, I thought ‘Wow! this is a lot of work!’ I hope for you guys it is worth it. FIY I participated in the contest as soon as I saw it but still received the second email even though I had already shared the contest on social networks. And even if I have hosting and use Thrive Architect, the package was very appealing to me. You chose well. As as as I am concerned, I would love a Christmas gift like that. When I saw the ribbon during the campaign I thought it was an excellent idea so I was sure you would get a huge number of participants. I am surprised the contest did not deliver better results. Will you try a similar one at Christmas? My advice to you is the following: keep trying until you got it right. Never give up!

    • Matt Totten says:

      Thanks for your feedback and participating in the contest Sonia!

      I was also super excited by the prize pack offer and thought it would attract more signups, but one of my lessons learned was that prizes and contest software alone doesn’t necessarily lead to successful outcomes…strong promotional strategies do.

      I’d love to do another contest applying my lessons learned while also reviewing another contest app, but it will likely be after Christmas in 2018.

  • Wouter says:

    I did a contest once. It turned out that everybody was trying their friends and family to sign up for the contest using their referral link. So most new leads were not my target audience. I didn’t try another contest…

    • Matt Totten says:

      Thanks for sharing Wouter. This is definitely a good point about the potential downside of contests.

      I’m curious to know how targeted your prizes were and if that played a role in how widely it was shared outside your target audience.

      For example, did you offer something like an iPhone (general audience – everybody wants one) or WordPress Hosting (target audience – only a certain group of people want it)?

  • Chris says:

    I’ve run a few contests and found the results to be less than thrilling.

    My first contest was for a new brand and the contest was run to boost brand awareness. After a brief Facebook ad campaign it netted around 130 entries. This number alone sounds great but there were no sales conversions, click through on follow up emails was pitiful and the winner didn’t even bother to reply to messages about their win. I had far better luck just promoting the brand products in a straightforward manner without any freebies.

    I ran two more for a client using a WordPress plugin and the first one was similar to the results of the other one I’d already tried as far as figures but better in terms of quality entrants. There were no paid ads this time and the client is a blogger who doesn’t sell anything. It seemed far more organic – readers shared with friends who might also like the site’s subject matter and his email list open rate and click throughs didn’t take a nosedive. All in all it seemed ok.

    We followed up with a similar contest about a year later and the results were far different. We ended up with 2300+ signups. His list is strong with good fans but the number of new subscribers just didn’t add up. While nothing was funny with the IP addresses of entrants something was clearly amiss. I randomly clicked on the profile of someone that shared the facebook post and then my heart sank – on his profile he had numerous shared posts for giveaways. I hopped onto Google and searched for the giveaway and my worst fears were realized. It had been posted on sites set up for the sole purpose of announcing free stuff giveaways. Almost all of the signups were garbage…real people, but they had zero interest in the site. It could have been for anything as long as it was free.

    The time spent organizing, promoting and subsequent list cleanup afterwards really put me off on contests. I can see how they could have a place for a very specific offer (think service over physical product) but for the most part I think most of the contest hype is generated by people making contest software and the affiliate marketers that make a buck by promoting it.

    • Matt Totten says:

      Thanks for sharing your contest experiences in detail with us Chris! You make some very good points about where contests can go wrong.

      After dealing with 8,000+ fraudulent emails for our contest case study that impacted out our ActiveCampaign plan features as a result, I definitely think it’s important to be aware of how contests can sometimes negatively affect your business.

      Also, thanks for mentioning the sweepstakes and contest directory issue. As your experience shows, I wouldn’t recommend signing up voluntarily for any of those and it’s too bad your contest was added without your knowing.

      I still think there’s an opportunity to do contests well and plan to keep experimenting with them, but it’s definitely important to guard against the downside when running them.

  • ash webb says:

    Hello, I am Ash Webb, one of the winners of this contest.
    This is just a “touch base” note.
    I will update it more fully shortly (shortly for me is a LONG time compared to how Shane operates).
    3 prizes – web hosting with WPX Hosting, live call with Shane and a yearly subscription to Thrive Themes.

    I have been a full client of Thrive Themes for a while now so I knew what that part of the prize meant. Excellent value.

    The website hosting is happening shortly. I will say that Tommy Baykov of WPX Hosting’s initial contact surprised me. I am a firm believer in doing business with people who take time to get the little things right. Tommy, I think “gets it”. I will be chronicling my journey.

    And on to Shane. While getting together had its issues (Australia and Switzerland and time zones etc). We eventually did connect. Let’s just say that the conversation was “interesting”. Here is this old guy who tries to do 10 things at once (me) not very well, and Mr. “Let’s just ship the damn thing” Shane Melaugh. That conversation has triggered “things”. I’ll be covering them in detail soon.

    I have to admit that when Matt sent me the email saying I had won, I was happy AND a little concerned that I was being… um scammed. Obviously having touched base with everyone now I am pretty pumped.
    Matt’s posts this week addressed 3 things I have been wrestling with since my call with Shane (plus a TON of others).
    Thanks, Matt. I appreciate those posts.
    Thanks for reading and will be back with RESULTS shortly.
    Ash Webb

    • Matt Totten says:

      Thanks so much for your update Ash and congrats again on winning the sweepstakes!

      We look forward to hearing how the new hosting and consult with Shane turned out for both you and your online business!

  • planetMitch says:

    So, there’s a lot of truth to this article… and there’s some things that are better today than they were when it was written.

    But let me give you an analogy… There are people who say that running facebook ads is a great strategy and relatively inexpensive… but… when you’re a noob who has very little skill, your first ad campaign is likely to be a total bomb. Hire an expert and you’ll see very different results.

    That’s exactly what is true about your first viral giveaway marketing campaign. You may have some success, you may have a bomb on your hands, but when in the hands of an expert, you’ve got gold!

    I’ve run over 50 viral giveaway campaigns with upViral and other tools and they’re working very very well.

    • Matt Totten says:

      Thanks for your comment Mitch. I think you make a really good point here. Setting up and running viral giveaways is very much a skill that needs to be cultivated like becoming a Facebook Ad expert is. After running over 50 viral giveaways, I have no doubt that you’ve refined it into a profitable marketing skillset.

  • Patrik says:

    Hey Matt,

    Amazing case study. I was also curious how these giveaway promotion apps are advertised.

    I knew it’s needed much more than just starting a giveaway. Leads won’t come your way for nothing. Detailed upfront research planning is the key for viral and successful giveaway.

    Hope to see more like these.

    • Matt Totten says:

      Thanks Patrik! Yes, my conclusion to this case study experiment was that promotion streams and partnerships established before the contest launch are more important than your contest tool.

  • planetMitch says:

    “WARNING

    The downside to UpViral’s social sharing feature is that entrants aren’t actually rewarded for fully executing their shares. They only get rewarded for pressing the social share buttons, not for posting on social media platforms. ”

    Hopefully you realize this is NOT just an upViral thing. NONE of the tools actually can verify that someone posts a tweet or FB post. These social media tools do not have an API that would let the giveaway tools verify that a post was indeed made.

    • Matt Totten says:

      Thanks for adding that level of clarity about the state of viral giveaway tools Mitch.

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