Can you really buy good quality social signals?

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Can you really buy good quality social signals?

We have all seen the advertisements, listings and websites offering to sell you thousands of likes, tweets, +1s and Diggs. Whilst I reserve judgement on the effectiveness of directly buying manipulated social signals, I just couldn’t resist a title like that.

There is another way you can buy some social signals and to me it’s completely ethical, much more cost effective and has the potential to offer a much higher quality fan, follower or like than the manipulation type methods above.

I am talking about using competitions and prize draws as a means to generating social signals.

What is the point?

This is a question that comes up quite a bit if we talk about competitions or prize draws and it is a very valid point – surely all these people entering the competitions are just doing it for the prize and won’t stick around?

Undoubtedly some individuals are carpet baggers (free loaders), they want the prize, they’ll do what is required and then they’ll sail off into the sunset gleefully pawing the shiny, new iPad you’ve just sent them.

However, if you have the right retention mechanisms in place then competitions are a superb attention strategy for you or your client.

By retention mechanisms I am talking about email signups, compelling reasons to stay a Facebook fan (e.g. great content being shared regularly) and reasons to convert into subscribers or customers right now (exclusive downloads, useful guides, voucher codes etc).

Otherwise all you’re potentially doing is dropping a few hundred doubloons on a prize that’s going to pull in nothing more than Facebook Filler Fans.

In addition to good quality social signals, competitions can:

  • Provide massive brand attention
  • Add social proof – helping you to exponentially attract new fans. Joining a page with a thousand fans is psychologically more appealing .
  • Deliver huge community growth
  • Help to significantly boost email signups

A Few Competition Basics

  • Have some concrete Ts&Cs in place – you don’t want to fall foul of laws in your jurisdiction.
  • Make everything crystal clear – nobody wants a PR nightmare on their hands as some entrant shoots their mouth off online telling others they’ve been scammed by your competition because they didn’t understand the rules.
  • Always tie it back to your main website – you own that, you’ll never ‘own’ your Facebook page.

Creativity is Essential

It very much depends on your budget and current level of brand recognition because as much as it’s nice to have a client that can afford to buy a home cinema system each time you want to run a giveaway, it isn’t always about the pure financial value of the prize.

In my experience, it’s more about the frame. How you ‘pitch’ the competition or prize draw.

I have anecdotal evidence which shows that, in purely financial ROI terms, a competition we ran with a significantly cheaper prize but that had a more interesting back-story delivered more likes/£ spent than when £xxx was thrown at the prize being offered but no creativity went into actually engaging with the individual.

Entering the competition with the expensive prize but no story was transactional whereas entering the competition with the cheaper prize that had a back story was emotional. Individuals who entered based on emotion are, in my experience, far more loyal in the long term. Loyalty is important because ‘likes’ that are here today but gone next week aren’t really any good to anyone.

I would also add that (particularly if you are a small or less well-known brand), there may be a certain degree of scepticism about the prize you are offering if it is of a high value.

Coming Up With Competition Ideas

  • Look for current and upcoming events and try to create a competition or prize draw around these.
  • Look for quirky prizes you can wrap a story around
  • Conjure up competitions based on your industry or niche – photography, writing or design competitions as well as challenger type hunts can prove extremely popular as individuals seek to be the first to complete your challenge or do it better than anyone else and will want to go head to head against their peers. Furthermore, the effort that some entrants go to is sometimes astounding and you may find you have the added bonus of some good PR material for use at a later stage.

Promoting It

As with most things these days, people still expect the ‘build it and they will come’ philosophy to ring true, of course it doesn’t work like that and just because you have a killer competition ready to unleash on the world, there are hundreds of others out there all vying for the attention of your consumer.

It’s time to promote it – if you’ve been creative enough, this stage should be significantly less challenging.

Build Links

It sounds an obvious one but look at ways you can build links that will drive traffic. This means asking friends and allies to link back to your competition.

Seed it in Forums and on Competition Sites

Here in the UK we have a huge number of websites dedicated to listing live competitions and prize draws. Many of these websites have massive followings and a listing is usually free. These are superb ways to kickstart your competition and I suspect you have many similar competition websites over in the US. (Feel free to add the best ones in the comments section).

If you are reading this and thinking of running a competition in the UK, you should try these sites:

Push Out Through Your Existing Social Media Channels

It might be against Facebook’s terms and conditions to run a competition directly on their platform but you can of course promote your competition via it.

Make sure your current followers know all about the competition but above all use it as an opportunity to really frame the competition and sell the back story in the hope that it will get people engaging with it and talking about it, Facebook’s EdgeRank might just come into play and you’ll find your competition promotion at the top of everyone’s Facebook stream.

A good way to increase visibility of your competition on Twitter is to use Twitter hashtags such as #competition, #prizedraw, #win etc. Many monitor these tags and will either directly enter your competition or it will get picked up and retweeted.

Email Promotion

If you have an existing email list to send the competition out to then you should certainly do so, ensure there is a clear call to action for the individual to share this with their friends followed by a call to action to enter it themselves.

My preference is that order (share first, enter second) purely from the standpoint that you already have them as a subscriber so they are perhaps more useful to you (in this scenario) as an influencer rather than just another entrant.

That being said, regular competitions are a great loyalty mechanism for email subscribers so ensure you are offering significant value not just using them as your unpaid competition promoters.

Manage the Competition

Punchtab is a fantastic free service which offers both a loyalty program and more importantly for us, a giveaway widget which you can use to power your competition.

In my mind, Punchtab is by far the best tool for managing competitions. It allows you to tie your competition to your website and your social profiles and encourage social signals by rewarding certain actions (such as liking a Facebook page) with getting an entry.

This means that you can generate social signals across the board by encouraging multiple actions from competition entrants

For example you could stipulate:

  • Like us on Facebook (+1 entry)
  • Follow us on Twitter (+1 entry)
  • Submit your best joke via comment [collect email addresses] (+1 entry)
  • Tell your friends (+1 entry)

You can then use Punchtab to determine the winner at random or you can select the winner based (in the above scenario) on the funniest joke.

Punchtab also allows you to setup clear rules and competition controls so this goes some way to helping eradicate some of the usual cheating problems.

To finish, competitions are a brilliant way to generate social signals on a large scale with just a shoestring budget and a great idea. It many cases, the quality of social signal is going to be far better than any fan or follower you can directly buy and oftentimes it actually works out less expensive.

I also want to reiterate the need to tie any competition you run back to your own website. You may be doing it to ‘buy’ some social signals but your website is the only real estate you actually own; on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ – you’re in someone else’s kingdom.

PS. if you are looking for a quick and easy way to build up your Twitter following, I recommend Competwition. It’s free, simple to use and you can quickly generate hundreds (sometimes thousands of new followers) using the viral principles of a prize giveaway. My usual competition ‘rules’ don’t really apply to Competwitions because it is a platform and a tactic all by itself – just fire it up and let it do its thing.

Side Note: I have an experiment on buying quality social signals running at present which I will share with the public early in 2012,

CategorySocial Media

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James Agate

James Agate is the founder of Skyrocket SEO, a UK based content-led SEO agency.

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