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Beware the pitfalls of social media contests

Contests and giveaways are everywhere on social media.

Not a day goes by without seeing, "Like us for a chance to win," or "Retweet to be entered in the draw. "

Facebook news feeds, Twitter timelines, blogs and websites are constantly trying to win consumers' attention with free iPads, tickets or cash prizes.

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In much the same way that some public relations firms default to surveys and celebrity spokespeople to gain attention from media and the public, brands and online marketing agencies seem to be throwing out contests every chance they get.

Their reasons for running contests vary. Some are looking to increase traffic, others to reward their communities and others to drive traffic to an event or retail location. If done correctly, contests and giveaways can accomplish all of these goals.

But they can carry pitfalls, too.

Just last week, Timothy's Coffees of the World Inc. found itself in the headlines for the wrong reasons as the result of a giveaway.

Before the holidays, it had announced that, for liking its page on Facebook, it would send fans four free 24-packs of Keurig single serve coffee. This generous prize, worth about $70, seemed too good to be true – and it turned out that it was.

The company underestimated the influence of the contest-obsessed people out there and how quickly word would spread. It ultimately discovered that it would be unable to fulfill its promise.

While they did eventually come up with a compromise solution and a video response to fans, this poorly thought-out giveaway, combined with a slow response time, was not a win for Timothy's or its fans.

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Contests and giveaways shouldn't be relied on too heavily when looking to drive engagement around your brand. When you are thinking about setting up a contest on social media, take these points into consideration to ensure you get the most out of it, without disappointing your fans:

1. Beware of the contest-obsessed

There are countless blogs, Twitter accounts and Facebook pages out there set up exclusively to trawl the Internet for contests, coupons and giveaways, and share them with others looking to get free stuff wherever they can.

While they do drive traffic to your contest, they are low-quality hits from people unlikely to interact with your brand over the long-term.

2. Mind your Ts and Cs

They don't have to be complicated or involve hours of input from high-priced lawyers, but make sure your terms and conditions are clear to protect your brand or site.

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Clearly lay out how many times people can enter, how many prizes are going to be available and a reasonable time frame for fulfilment.

3. Make sure the juice is worth the squeeze

Consider what you are likely to get out of the contest, and make sure the prize fits that value.

If it's just a two-day spike in traffic, pretty much anything will work. But if you're looking for more meaningful interaction, consider a contest that rolls out in phases and keeps people engaged throughout, or include user-generated content in the submission that you can share with your audience.

For brands interacting with fans on social media, it's all about the value add. If you can provide your fans with a reason to keep coming back, they will. It's up to you to make sure they're not just coming back for the free stuff.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Mia Pearson is the co-founder of North Strategic . She has more than two decades of experience in creating and growing communications agencies, and her experience spans many sectors, including financial, technology, consumer and lifestyle.

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