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One of the most interesting facets of the increasing popularity of social media marketing is the growing role of contests.

Contests to attract and engage consumers have been used for a long time, so their enthusiastic reception by companies leveraging social media should not be a surprise.

One of the dirty little secrets about social media is that, while a steady flow of quality content is essential, contests are the "digital honey" that attracts consumers and keeps them coming back for more.

While contests can be an appealing social media marketing tool, another reality is that they take work to make happen. For companies that want to do them, it is not as simple as deciding one day to do one. There is a lot of grunt work to create the structure, the mechanics, and the processes so they can be efficiently launched and operated.

For many companies, these can be major hurdles. One of the ways they can overcome them is to work with a company like Vancouver-based Strutta, which offers an online service that makes it easier for companies to launch their own contests on places such as Facebook.

While Strutta does provide consulting services to companies that want to do contests, the part of its business seeing the fastest growth is a do-it-yourself service that offers companies the tools and templates to build their own contests. These contests can be launched on Facebook Pages, for example, to deliver a fully branded contest experience.

"What we offer is the platform for people to create promotions that tap into the power of social media," said Ben Pickering, Strutta's chief executive officer, who joined the company in 2009 after spending nearly five years at Yahoo working with clients on the display advertising and promotions.

"The service we offer doesn't look like a cookie-cutter template. It is a much more powerful tool than some of the other lightweight apps out there but it doesn't require the IT resources to deploy."

Strutta's emergence as a fast-growing player in the social media marketing business is a result of a strategic pivot embraced in 2009 after its founders, Danny and Maura Robinson, decided the company's original service to build a sports platform in which people could compete against other would be too expensive to build.

After the change in direction, Strutta initially focused on helping companies do branded contests that featured user-generated content (photo and video) contests. Over time, Strutta's platform expanded as the interest and use of contests gained more momentum within the social media marketing landscape.

"The growth in social media and Facebook is really taking contests to a new level," Mr. Pickering said. "Contests have been around forever as a marketing tool but now, with social channels, it is a more powerful way to engage consumers and drive leads."

As Strutta continues to grow, Mr. Pickering said one of the biggest changes is balancing the focus on its DIY platform with the consulting work it offers clients who are willing to pay large fees but consume a good chunk of Strutta's resources.

Mr. Pickering said Strutta is trying to transfer some of the consulting work to the DIY platform.

And while Strutta is starting to carve out a niche within the social media contest marketplace, Mr. Pickering concedes that, like any small company, there is constant effort required to build its brand and exposure.

"A lot of our clients are U.S.-based, and we are trying to compete with some companies based down there who have raised significant venture capital money," he said.

"We are bootstrapping it and doing a pretty good job. We have a better product but the challenge is making people aware of what it is and the full power of what we have to offer."

Special to The Globe and Mail

Mark Evans is the principal with ME Consulting, a communications and marketing strategic consultancy that works with startups and fast-growing companies to create compelling and effective messaging to drive their sales and marketing activities. Mark has worked with four startups – Blanketware, b5Media, PlanetEye and Sysomos. He was a technology reporter for more than a decade with The Globe and Mail, Bloomberg News and the Financial Post. Mark is also one of the co-organizers of the mesh, meshmarketing and meshwest conferences.

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