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How to boost engagement with an online contest

Darren Easton
How to boost engagement with an online contest Darren Easton

The National Chicken Council (NCC) represents companies that produce, process, and market chicken and chicken products in the United States. Member companies account for nearly 95 percent of the chicken sold in the United States.

In early 2010, the NCC had a small budget and a 12-year-old website that couldn't even be utilized within campaign efforts because of its outdated content and functionality. The NCC had no real connection to its consumer audience and no cost-effective options to communicate with chicken consumers on a national level. A website redesign was just the tip of the iceberg, though. The NCC wanted to improve consumer engagement with its brand and everything it stands for.

To increase awareness levels and ultimately chicken sales, The Cyphers Agency (TCA), NCC's advertising agency of record, created "chicken for the win," a consumer-generated media contest designed to spark conversation about chicken.

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The National Chicken Council's biggest challenge was budget. It needed to reach a national audience, but did not have budget for a full-blown national media campaign. The NCC therefore opted for a more cost-effective social media campaign for increasing top-of-mind awareness for chicken, with the broader goal of increasing chicken consumption. The council wanted consumers to be talking and thinking about chicken, and ultimately buying more chicken. With its old website languishing in obscurity, the NCC needed to get consumers engaged and active.

To keep chicken top-of-mind among the competition (beef and pork), the campaign leveraged the NCC's extensive recipe database to show the versatility of chicken. With the recipe database housed on an out-dated site (and a site redesign underway), TCA decided to use social media marketing vehicles as the platform for sharing recipes and ultimately creating buzz. It was able to reach chicken consumers where they were already spending time and felt comfortable interacting: social networking sites. To create some online buzz and impactful impressions to increase top of mind awareness, the campaign started with social network development. It used low-budget Facebook ads and online outreach to build an audience on Facebook and Twitter. 

The social sites became a source for recipes, cooking tips, news, fun videos, pictures, and polls along with chicken gear and gift certificate giveaways. A newly redesigned website with a searchable chicken recipe database, cooking and nutritional information, videos, and other valuable content was yet another resource for the growing audience.

While the audience was extremely engaged, the NCC wanted to raise the bar to ensure the fans would stay engaged by providing relevant and interesting content on a consistent basis. With the top-of-mind awareness objective set before them, TCA began to consider new mechanisms for creating buzz. Being connected to the audience, and really listening as fans expressed fun and quirky responses to questions about how and why they loved chicken, inspired the "chicken for the win" video contest.

The NCC decided to challenge the fans to prove how much they loved chicken. TCA created a microsite to house the contest information and video entries as they were submitted. Each entrant was required to push out his or her own video and garner votes on the contest site to make it to the finalists' round (the top 10 videos made it to the finals). A panel of judges chose the top three winners -- with a top prize of $5,000. The contest was promoted through social networking, low-budget Facebook ads, blogger outreach, Facebook fan page outreach, YouTube outreach, and brand partnerships with El Pollo Loco and Athens' Phyllo Dough.

The results
The NCC realized that there was a core group of people who are fanatical about chicken. The contest received 34 video entries, which garnered more than 16,000 votes and more than 3 million impressions on social media networks. On Facebook, the campaign resulted in doubling Facebook fans, garnering more than 4,000 interactions through 2010. On Twitter, the campaign grew followers by more than 200, with more than 60 retweets, mentions, and other forms of engagement.

Numbers aside, the level of engagement was intense. At the height of voting, fan comments on the Facebook page and Twitter reached an almost fevered pitch. Perhaps most telling is that fans continue to interact with the Facebook fan page and Twitter account to this day, months after the contest ended and the winner was announced.

Lessons learned
The NCC was extremely pleased with the level of participation in the contest, and the ongoing reverberations the campaign has had with consumers. It's clear that this campaign required a few key components to be successful:

  • A great concept: Creating a concept that will mobilize the target audience doesn't have to get complicated. The concept shouldn't be so narrow that only a small niche of people want to participate, but it should still hone in on what the audience cares about. The true balance is making the contest easy to enter, but also specific enough that you get great user-generated content to use long after the contest ends.

  • A huge prize: People need a reason to enter. Money is always a great prize, or something worth a lot of money (think tropical vacation getaway). Personal promotion is also a good incentive.

  • Sharing options: Give participants the option to share their entry with everyone they know on their social networks. It will be easier for them to pass the contest to their friends and relatives, and ultimately drive participation in the contest. Additionally, enabling sharing greatly widens the audience that will connect with and participate in the contest and the brand. When contestants can easily spread the word and get votes for their entry, they become invested in the outcome of the contest and are empowered to do something about it, making them even more excited to be ambassadors for your business.

  • Crisis communications plan: Too often companies shy away from social media because they have to give up control of the message. Regardless of how well the contest is planned and executed, there will be some sort of problem or question. If the contest is a great concept that is married to a huge prize, people will do pretty much anything to win -- meaning that they will also find anything to call into question or complain about. Having a crisis communications plan will help to prepare for these often headache-inducing inquires. Draft messaging with the proper responses, tone, references to the rules, etc. While it won't eliminate issues, it will make it much easier to respond to contestants in a consistent and professional manner.

Darren Easton  is VP and creative director of The Cyphers Agency.

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to leave comments.

Commenter: mesanihta beauty

2011, April 23

Agree too..!!

Commenter: Charlie Ray

2011, March 30

We agree. We created a "Plug 'n Play" contest product to help smaller clients get the benefits of online contests and it has been very popular. Nothing says warm lead like a contest entrant!