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How To Run A Blog Contest

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How To Run A Blog Contest

I’ve received several inquiries from genealogy bloggers about running a blog contest including what to do and what not to do as well as how to recruit sponsors for prizes. As you may know, GeneaBloggers just concluded a very successful contest in partnership with GenealogyBank which donated a year’s subscription to their product which is a valuable resource for genealogists.

If you are thinking about holding any sort of contest at your blog, below are some issues you will need to consider.

Set Contest Goals

Setting a goal is the is the first issue you will need to deal with since some of your readers will invariably ask, “Why are you holding a contest?”

Contest goals vary from increasing site visits, readership, and RSS subscriptions to gathering data as to who visits your blog and why. Do some brainstorming and figure out the why behind offering a way for your loyal readers and newcomers (who may become loyal readers) to participate.

So far there have been two different contests here at GeneaBloggers: the recent Genealogy Blogging Survey contest and a Data Backup Day contest in February, 2009. Each contest had different goals:

  • The Data Backup Day contest was created to increase interest among readers in the concept of backing up their data. In addition, the contest sought to bring new readers interested in technology blog posts as they pertain to genealogy.
  • The Genealogy Blogging Survey contest was created to gather demographic information on who reads genealogy blogs, who manages these blogs, whether these readers/owners have education/certification goals related to genealogy, whether they are willing to travel to genealogy conferences, etc.

Blog contest goals should be realistic and relatively easy to achieve especially for your first contest. As you become more skilled at running contests, you can increase the complexity of your goals but the best advice is to start small and simple.

Select Blog Contest Prizes

Once your contest goals are established, the fun begins! You need to decide on a prize to be awarded. Here are some considerations:

  • For your first contest try to have only one prize. This makes running the contest much easier since you’ll only have to notify one person, you’ll only have to purchase one prize or seek one contest sponsor, etc.
  • If you are going to purchase and provide a prize yourself, make sure it is brand new and also one you can order online and ship to the winner. As an example, in the Data Backup Day contest, I could have used one of the many USB flash drives that I receive as gifts from vendors. But I don’t like giving away conference swag with a vendor’s logo on it unless they donated it specifically for the contest. Instead, I pre-selected a 4GB USB flash drive on Amazon and I was able to use the link to the prize and the image in the contest posts.  Also, since I belong to the Amazon Prime shipping program (2 day shipping for free), it was a no brainer for me to use Amazon.
  • Having a sponsor donate a prize will invariably come with a certain commitment level from you and your blog such as posting an ad, marketing the contest on Facebook or Twitter, etc. (see below). You have to consider how your readers will feel about such marketing especially if you don’t already carry advertising on your blog. One idea: create a simple poll asking your readers if they’d participate in a blog contest on your site and then leave a comments fields asking which type of prize to give away.

Seek a Sponsor

In the most recent contest here at GeneaBloggers, I wanted to try my hand at partnering with a genealogy vendor and have them sponsor the contest by donating a prize. Here is a timeline of how the process worked with GenealogyBank (and by the way, Tom Kemp and his group at GenealogyBank were great to work with!):

  • I wanted to make the first contact with GenealogyBank and I knew I needed to have a rough outline or plan when communicating by email. I had to make it clear as to why there was a contest (goal = survey completion), what I was looking for in terms of sponsorship (goal = one-year subscription prize), and what the sponsor would get out of participating (goal = increased traffic, increased product visibility, new subscribers).
  • I found it easier to ask outright what I was looking for as a prize and I kept it realistic. A lifetime subscription to GenealogyBank wouldn’t work. And a one-month subscription might not be enough to entice someone to complete a length survey. Offer several suggestions to a possible sponsor and let them propose a prize.
  • In the initial email, I stated the goals and I also listed ways in which the contest and the sponsor’s product could be marketed during the contest duration. I did not get into specifics but stated that current social media applications such as blog posts, Facebook, Twitter, etc. would be used. Once the sponsor signed on, then we could get down to brass tacks and hammer out a social media contract.
  • Once GenealogyBank agreed to participate and agreed on a prize, I set out a timeline (start of contest, end of contest), sent the contest rules (see below) for the sponsor’s review and approval, and also sent a copy of the marketing tools to be used (see below).

Contest Rules

[Note: the following is not to be construed as legal advice. If you have concerns about contests and the legal issues involved, please consult an attorney or check other legal resources available to you]

Rules are an absolute must for any blog contest: they communicate to visitors how they can enter the contest, how the contest will be conducted, how the winner will be selected etc. Total transparency depends upon well thought-out contest rules and if a sponsor is donating a prize, they will want to see the rules as well.

As in a previous post about Terms of Service agreements, you may want to look to a blog that you trust and admire and see if they’ve run any contests. Check their contest rules, contact the blog owner asking permission to copy their rules and then adapt them to your own contest.

For the Genealogy Blogging Survey contest, I used sample contest rules which were the foundation for the contest rules and then adapted them to the specific contest.

Marketing and Social Media Contract

The key to a successful blog contest relies upon your skills in marketing the contest and your ability to use social media. Being a blogger, you already know how to produce blog posts to get the word out on the contest – but blog posts can only do so much. Indeed, any social media tool such as Twitter or Facebook can quickly cross the line into spamming unless you set out a plan in the form of a social media contract.

A social media contract is key if you want a sponsor to donate a prize for the contest. The sponsor wants to see some return on their investment and usually it is in the form of greater publicity for their product or service. A social media contract outlines what you as the blog owner will do to not only publicize the contest but also the sponsor’s product.

Here is a sample social media contract to be used for a blog contest:

  • [Your blog] will provide at least ____ blog posts at [your blog] between [start date] and [end date] announcing the [name of contest] Contest. Each post will include the [sponsor] logo and at least one link back to the [sponsor’s] website.
  • [You or your blog] will use Twitter to transmit messages to its followers about the [name of contest] Contest at least ____ a day between [start date] and [end date]. Each “tweet” will include mention of the [sponsor’s] website, a link to a blog post about the [name of contest] and/or a link to [sponsor’s] website.
  • [You or your blog] will also update its Facebook status each time Twitter is used (see above) with the same information included in the tweet.
  • [You or your blog] will encourage its readers and visitors via blog posts, Facebook status updates, Twitter messages and other social media networking applications to participate in the [name of contest] contest.
  • [You or your blog] will display an advertisement for [sponsor] in the sidebar for the duration of the [name of contest] contest from [start date] and [end date]. The advertisement will link back to the [sponsor’s] website or such other web page to be determined by [sponsor].

Add or remove other provisions as you see fit.  And remember that the term “contract” is used loosely here. While there are instances where a sponsor may want to electronically sign a written contract, think of a social media contract as a commitment that you – as blog owner and the person running the contest – are willing to make in terms of marketing the contest and the sponsor’s product or service. It is always better to indicate the level of marketing to be performed so that everyone’s expectations as to publicity and the contest are effectively managed.

Tip: consider listing your contest at one of the many contest blogs such as A Contest Blog – this can greatly increase traffic to your blog and garner some new readers.  Also, if you network with any of the thousands of “mommy bloggers” you may want to see if they can publicize your contest as well.

Select A Winner

Choosing the winner is not as easy as it seems. Make sure you follow the contest rules to the letter so that there is total transparency as to how the contest is run and the winner is selected. If your contest rules stated participants would be selected at random, use one of many random number generator sites such as

Here’s how I selected the winner for the Genealogy Blogging Survey contest:

  • I took the list of names/email addresses and verified that each person had satisfied the contest rules.
  • I pasted the list in a spreadsheet or a document table where I could work with the data easily.
  • I kept the list in the order in which they were received. I did not sort them in alpha or reverse alpha order.
  • I numbered the entries beginning with 1.
  • I then entered the min and max range at and clicked Generate. The winning number as 53 which corresponded to the email for Janice Tracy of Mississippi Memories.
  • I took a screen capture of the selection process (including the website used to select the winner and a date/time stamp) in case there were any inquiries as to how the winner was selected.



If you have set a specific time and date for announcing the winner, you should have the following items already prepared in draft form and they should be sent in this order:

  • An email to the contest sponsor informing them that the contest has ended, the name of the winner, and that they will be cc’d on the email to the contest winner. Also thank the sponsor for their participation and let them know you will follow up with them to tie up any loose ends, let them know how many hits your posts about the contest received, etc.
  • An email to the winner (cc’ing the sponsor) informing them they have won and how to claim the prize. Tip: avoid words in the subject line that might cause the email to end up in the winner’s junk email folder. I specifically avoid “You’re a winner” or “sweepstakes” etc. And in the email, I also included a statement asking the winner to reply back and confirm receipt of the email.
  • A blog post announcing the winner of the contest.
  • Any other social media communication such as a tweet at Twitter or a status update at Facebook if that is how you market your blog posts.

Contest Frequency

How often should you host a contest at your blog? Again, as the blog owner over time you will know your readers and how they react to certain things on your blog. If your readership tends to shy away from heavy marketing attempts, you risk losing loyal readers in an attempt to attract new ones by holding too many contests. Again, this is a situation where a follow-up poll – perhaps a week after a contest – could help you gauge how your readers feel about your contests.

© 2009, copyright Thomas MacEntee

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