No competition: why contests just aren't working anymore

Competitions don't work

We've all been there. You've got a budget of £X to bring in #Y new Facebook 'likes'... then some bright spark asks aloud: "What's the point of all these new 'likes'? These people are only 'liking' us to win a prize. Most of them are obsessive compers, sharing with other compers - none of whom would ever dream of spending real money with us."

That bright spark is a total git who's ruined everything... but he does have a point.

Back in the day, magazines ran competitions to add value for their readers - a brand would stump up a prize, get some promo, the readers would read about a product, get excited, maybe win a little something - everyone's a winner. In time, TV and radio picked up the baton and ran comps as programme-fillers and break-bumpers, generic 'content' to fill up shows. Then someone realised that premium-rate phonelines could earn production companies money on every entry and... well, the s* hit the fan.

With the explosion of social media, then, it seemed natural to extend competitions to the likes of Facebook and Twitter. And, for a time, that was fine. It helped brands engage with audiences and gave punters reasons to navigate through the social maze to their Pages. But now? Well, besides cute cat pics, competitions account for most of what you see on a lot of commercial social media pages. And the total value of these relentless giveaways? Devalued brands, devalued products, 'fanbases' who couldn't care less about the companies they're following and absolutely no real-terms value in return.

As for engaging genuine customers - well, at best, a competition postpones a purchase decision ("I would buy this, but I might win it, so I'll hold off"). At worst, it obliterates it ("I can't believe I didn't win that competition after all the effort I put in to photographing my cat in a hat. I'll never buy anything from those b*ards again!")

So stop running competitions. Stop it now.

Over the coming weeks, we'll be highlighting some competitions we've spotted in social media and explaining why they just don't work and why social commerce is the idea substitute - a viral and engaging fan-magnet with built-in ROI, valuable data-capture and the ability to build communities who a) love your brand and b) are actually willing to get out their wallets to buy your products.

In the meantime, if you've spotted an especially absurd or counter-productive competition, do let us know. There's a prize for the best suggestion!*

Robin Bresnark

* There isn't. Haven't you read anything we've been saying?