When a month ago I’ve announced that I will be participating in the Reader Appreciation Week I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Since I have never ran a blog contest before I had absolutely no clue as to what kind of contests I should run, what rules to set, what prizes to give away and most of all, how to motivate people to not only read my blog but also participate in these contests.

I ended up creating 5 contests on my blog, outfitting each of them with five different rule sets and prizes. As it turned out I didn’t have to go through all those troubles and it would’ve been enough to set just one rule, for example – comment on my blog and each day of the week I’ll randomly pick a winner and award him/her with a different prize. This would’ve been the easiest way to go about running the contests and quite an efficient one, but being a rookie blogger I went down the thorny path and learned my lessons the hard way.

But this means that I can share with you some thoughts on how to run blog contests and perhaps you can ascertain a thing or two from my blogging experience.

  1. Encourage visits to your blog

    It’s really gratifying to have a big number or RSS subscribers and know that people are reading your posts. But it’s even more reassuring to have readers visiting the actual blog – perhaps checking other posts or commenting. Personally, I prefer visiting some blogs live and reading the posts there rather than in my Google reader. So my First Contest‘s goal was to see how many people actually visit my blog and explore it. But rather than asking my readers about the past changes on my blog, I should’ve set a specific timeline to pay a close attention to the blog’s interface and structure, and afterwards quiz them on that. This way I’d be encouraging the readers to visit my live blog at least within that timeframe, rather than having only a few people participating in the contest.

  2. Stimulate visitors to brainstorm

    My Second Contest has received the biggest number of responses by asking readers to suggest some non-monetary prize ideas they’d like to receive from me. The only downside of this concept is that you might receive so many good prize suggestions, that you’d feel bad for rewarding only one or two of them and disdaining others.

  3. Reward the comments

    One of the easiest way to encourage people to comment on your site is run a contest and reward the Top Commentators. However, make sure that you carefully consider various scenarios of people commenting on your blog and don’t make the same mistakes I did in my Third Contest. Some people are very eager to get the coveted prize, especially a monetary one, and will do everything to achieve the Top Commentator’s status. So rather than automatically rewarding the 1st place, make sure to

    • clearly state the rules for the quality of the comments
    • create some additional rules like
      • the winner will be randomly picked from the Top 5 (8, or 10)
      • the commentator should have had commented on the blog prior to the contest (this will work well for rewarding your loyal readers/commentators, but won’t encourage the new commentators on the blog)
      • the commentator with the highest average number of words in the comments wins
  4. Set simple rules

    It’s always beneficial to get a blog review/critique from readers, however don’t assume that everyone has time or desire to spend extra hours researching and studying your blog’s content and the interface. Nevertheless my Fourth Contest rules have resulted in 710 visits to my blog on the first day, and in two really great blog critiques. Next time around, I will however make my feedback rules simpler motivating more people to give back a quick criticism.

  5. Inspirit RSS subscribers

    Thanks to Ronald for planting the idea in my head for the Fifth Contest. The rules were very straightforward and simple to follow which resulted in many participants. It didn’t make my RSS feed count to go to the roof, but the response was great.

  6. Set a reasonable timeframe and expectations.

    It is very important to give enough time for blog readers to participate in the contest. However the golden rule applies here as well: don’t make it too long so that people lose their interest, and not too short to get as much response as possible. Clearly state the deadline and follow it yourself as well. If you’re running several contests in a row, it’s easy to lose track of time, so make sure that you spread the events and deadlines evenly.

    Don’t build your hopes too high – running contests is not the best way to increase your blog’s readership and RSS feed count. Nonetheless, blog contests bring more fun and personality to your site and help build friendly relationships with your readers.

  7. Collaborate with other bloggers.

    I cannot overemphasize the significance of the interaction with your fellow bloggers. There’s always something new to learn from each other. And don’t forget that some of your readers are bloggers too. Who’ll better understand and relate to what you’re going through than someone who’s in the same boat as you are.

  8. It’s never too late to correct the mistakes.

    Despite of reading several articles on how to run blog contests, I still made a few mistakes. As it turned out, it’s never too late to adjust the contest rules if you realize that something went wrong in unanticipated way. Just make sure that you do get the approval from your audience.

Please, let me know if you have any questions about running the blog contests. I’ll be very grateful if you provide me with some feedback as well, and point out other mistakes in hosting the contests.

Thanks to Bes and Ronald for organizing Reader Appreciation Week. How about renaming it to RAD next year? :-)

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14 Insightful Bits in response to “8 Constructive Bits On Running Blog Contests”

  1. That’s a good list and I agree with those points as a reader. I would add one more though which is to use different rules and different prizes to appeal to different people, something I think you did well.

    I think the best example was your top commenter contest. For some people, like me, it wouldn’t encourage me to change at all. But I already comment. For others who might have something to say but might not have bothered it does encourage them to join in.

    Some of the other contests that related more to ideas than actions were much more up my street and I did join in those.

  2. This is a good list of lessons learned. I think next year I’m going to keep it simple and ask for a feed subscription and comment.

    RAD? Reader Appreciation Decade? That would be way too long. :P

    I’ll do my best next year to emphasis that you do not have to participate in all days of Reader Appreciation Week to be considered a participant.

  3. Hmm… you’ve learnt a lot from your contests.
    May be I’ll take these points into consideration, if I run any contests in the future :)
    //Spread the deadline evenly//
    IMO, You managed to do that pretty well!

  4. Great tips Vivien. I might have to give this contest thing a go.

    Another idea might be to prominently display a link to any currently running contests on the sidebar or menu bar. That way readers will be reminded that there’s a contest going.

  5. ibit

    Excellent advice, Brian. Of course it helps when there’s a contest reminder of what contests are currently running on the blog. I’ll definitely keep that in mind next time.

    Thanks, Shankar, I tried :-)

    Ronald, I’m sure you know very well what D in RAD stands for :-) Thanks for considering to adjust the rules for the next year’s contests.

    Andrew, I’m glad that you too thought it’s a good idea to have different rules for the contest. However it does require lots of time and thinking from the blogger to come up with those rules. So it’s really nice to see that these efforts have been appreciated :-)
    And yes, I completely agree with you regarding the Top Commenter’s contest.

  6. ibit

    Btw, my apologies for the prolonged silence on my blog. I’m so glad that you are all still here with me. Thank you!
    I’ve already got several blog post ideas brewing in my head, plus there will be a couple of guest appearances of me on other blogs and others on my blog. So stay tuned.

  7. I enjoyed your contests. It got me thinking about running my own contests. I like your new ideas for the top commentator contest. I could have just sat on your blog and commented just for the sake of the contest but I don’t think that is beneficial for anyone in the long run. If you truly have something to say then comment. If its just something like “I agree” or “Great Post” submitted just to climb up the standings then you shouldn’t comment. Anyway, in a round about way what I am trying to say is I would probably take your idea about a drawing for the top 5 or so commenters.

    Nice to have you back. I have missed my Ibit fix.

    Oops, I forgot the anti spam comment.

  8. Bes

    Yes, I was starting to wonder you were observing a week of “silence” or something. ;)

    j/k.

    Nice summary of the contest lessons, Vivien. I was simply picking winners randomly, not making them do anything extra. It helped a bit, and it hurt a bit also.

    Now, regarding your points:

    1 : That is a good example of how to use a contest to both reward people and measure the success of your own site. I should try something similar next time.

    2 : This is a very good example that involves readers and allowing them to basically, and indirectly, run a contest themselves by allowing them to choose a prize.

    One thing that can be done is to accept several prizes and then if one of the people who suggested some prize wins, allowing them to get the prize they wanted. Otherwise, you can award other people, people who did not suggest a prize, the prize you yourself had in mine. :)

    3 : Rewarding the top commentors is a good thing. One of the reasons I didn’t do it is because I thought some people were too busy to comment everyday. Also, sometimes, such contest result in someone simply commenting a lot, not adding anything useful to a blog and after they win the contest, they simply disappear. I should have set some prize for the top commentors also, like you did, since there was more than 1 contest during the week. :) The rules you mentioned are really good, and I might use them in some form in the future if you don’t mind. :)

    4 : I agree with your logic. However, sometimes bloggers themselves can be lazy or something, telling themselves “Nice, I will work on this a bit later, a bit later, a bit later” until it is too late. That’s what happened to me, I think. :)

    5 : That is great. Ronald probably knows how to threaten people to subscribe to RSS feeds “or else.

    6 : This is a very important rule. A contest that is a month long may have its participants lose interest after a week unless the prize is something that is extremely huge, like a car.

    I set the time frame for people to get back to me, if they won a contest/giveaway, to 24 hours. Later, I changed it to accommodate people who were not checking their e-mail regularly. That confused me a bit, though things worked out in the end.

    7 : This should be one of the most important parts of a contest. I think contests should be used to know people more, and thus interact with people more also.

    8 : This is another good point that I was thinking of while in the middle of the contest. I was changing a few rules, like setting different time limits to allow people to get back to me, and it turned out fine. Maybe next time I have to setup some rules that can be more accommodating to change.

    Nice list! My first question is this: in your view, what is a good way to promote reader appreciation by telling readers one is not using them “simply” to gain more traffic, while gaining traffic at the same time? :)

    Off-topic: isn’t the Earth a bit more spherical than round? :D It would be fun if the Earth was a square. :D

    Also, Reader Appreciation Disco [RAD] sounds awesome! I have to find more disco songs to play for my audience next time. ;)

  9. ibit

    Bes, thank you for expressing your thoughts on each of my points. I think you should be placed in the Guinness World Records Book as a blogger who’s leaving the longest, valuable and thought out comments on other blogs :-)

    To answer your question – I didn’t say that blog contests don’t bring traffic to the site, I just pointed out that it’s not the best and easiest way to increase the blog’s readership and RSS feed count. I was getting about 300-350 visits per day in average before running the contests and I’m still getting approximately the same number of visits after the contests. On certain days during the contest the number of visits were reaching 400, and only once did it cross the 700 mark.

    As for my anti-spam question – I guess I better come up with another “trick” question for you all :-)

  10. ok, the anti-spam question is different now :-)

  11. Congrats Vivien!
    Your blog has a PR 3 Now.
    Congrats.
    My Blog got a PR of 4.
    But I’ve now moved to http://www.blog.shankarganesh.com
    Please come and have a look at my new blog.

  12. ibit

    Thanks for the check up on my blog, Shankar. I didn’t even know my blog’s PR. :-)
    Congratulations with switching to WordPress and with a new shiny blog! Good luck with it!!!

  13. Thanks, Vivien.

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Hi, I'm Vivien. Thanks for visiting my Inspiration Bit. I often find myself scouring the internet looking for either answers to many questions I have or websites that inspire me, sites that I can learn from. On what topics you might ask — any topics that interest me, anything from web design to typography and art, from blogging to entrepreneurship, from programming to open source.
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When I'm not blogging, I design web sites, teach, play with my daughter and try to balance family, work, friends and a somewhat active social life on