I Don’t ‘Like’ Facebook Contests

Like this post if you want to win a new iPod Touch.”  Really.  Go ahead. You won’t win one, because I am not actually running a contest here, but you can still like the post.

I have wanted to write this post for a while and I just couldn’t wait any longer.  I don’t like Facebook contests. There.  I said it.  I don’t think Facebook contests are the golden ticket so many think they are.  Like many things, I think there is a time and a place for a contest on Facebook (and I have certainly entered my share).  For example, if a brand is launching a new product and trying to grow their mailing list or get new sign-ups, launching a Fan-gated/Like-gated contest (requires you to like the page to enter the contest) can make a lot of sense.

But for many brands and news organizations, which is what I have the most experience with, I think we need to take a step back and look at the long-held belief that getting more fans is the ultimate goal.

Early in the social media days, when everyone, and I mean everyone, was creating a Facebook fan page, we all tried a variety of things to get more fans.  Contests were one tool in our toolbox.  And contests do work.  You generally will increase your page’s fans if you run a contest. And in the early days, all everyone wanted was more fans.  And even as the social media ‘experts’ started to acknowledge that size isn’t everything, executives would still drop by the desk of their social media manager and say “get more fans.”

As this was going on, Facebook was also changing.  If you are not familiar with its EdgeRank and the algorithm that determines what posts are visible to your fans, you should get acquainted with it.  There is a good explainer here.  Many blog posts and articles have recently circulated claiming that only approximately 10-12% of your fans even see your posts.

There is a lot of secrecy about what is actually in the EdgeRank secret sauce, but there’s one thing I know: the more engaging your content is, the higher the rank.  The higher the rank, the more fans get to see it.  So, you spent all this time and energy trying to get more fans. Congratulations, you now have 3000, but only 289 of them actually see your posts.

If you were less focused on getting more fans and more focused on creating engaging posts, you’d reap the rewards of higher numbers all around.  That is why I believe a smaller number of very engaged fans are much more valuable than a large number of fans who are trying to win an iPad and have no interest in any kind of regular dialogue with you or your content.

So this brings me back to contests.  I think running a contest or promotion with the sole intent of gaining new fans actually hurts you.  What it does is give you a higher percentage of your fans that are not engaged with your content.  Again, I must present the caveat that I don’t know exactly how the EdgeRank algorithm works (not many people do, even within Facebook).

After running a contest and gaining all of these new fans, I believe Facebook would determine that even a smaller percentage of your fans are engaging with the content and therefore classify your content as less interesting to your fans and so they lower your EdgeRank (this is all automated — no one at Facebook is looking at your posts to decide whether they are interesting).  When your rank is dropped, even fewer of your overall fans will see your posts.  In this case, the contest actually hurt your page.

Facebook is about a social conversation.  Your goal in managing a page should be to make posts that will have the most discussion and dialogue.  You want to have a conversation with your fans.  That is why you are there.  I don’t think you need to bribe people to be your ‘friend.’  If you provide an amazing experience, they will want to be your friend, will want to tell their friends about you and will want to share your posts (which, believe it or not, lead to more real fans in the long run).

So as I said at the start of this post, Like this post if you, well, if you Like this post.  Thanks!


Like doormat cover image courtesy of perpetualkids.com

4 Comments on I Don’t ‘Like’ Facebook Contests

  1. Good thoughts and an interesting perspective. I’m a big fan of the “write good stuff” philosophy of SEO and Edgerank strategy.

    My only caveat to the conversation is that more fans may, as you assert, have a negative trickle-down effect on your engagement, but more fans and an effective content and engagement effort may greatly increase the numbers that see your content. So while having a small group of engaged fans is awesome, a large group of them is possible.

    Also, you have to consider the greater impact even beyond Facebook. Social signals are now having an impact on search results. The more fans you have, the more individual people’s search engine results may be favorably biased toward your content. Yes, you still need your fans to like, comment or share on that content, but when they do, their friends may see a , “Jason Falls liked this on Facebook,” next to a search engine result. So in that scenario, more is better.

    (Yes, social search has a long way to go, but it also wouldn’t shock me if search becomes more of a focus for Facebook soon, which could change the game.)

    More engaged fans is the goal, certainly. But more fans has some good and bad implications. You just have to weigh them.

  2. Thanks Jason- that is a really good point and one we were discussing here yesterday as well. I should probably update the post to add “if you get more fans from a contest, be prepared to rock them with awesome content”.

  3. Jodi,

    I agree with your perspective as well. However, I do have some exceptions where utilizing these promotional programs out way the negative effects on Edgerank.

    For example, if a brand needs a larger fan base to attract sponsors or promotional partners using Sweepstakes and other viral promotions is a quick way to attract a needed audience. I agree that this will effect Edgerank and traffic to the brand from Facebook but I also believe the brand can improve their content (and in turn response to that content) and in time grow the total number of fans that are exposed to their posts. (Also, they can pay Facebook for this privilege as well.)

    Second, a Sweepstakes can gain a brand more then just a Like. Using a promotion to gain a Social Authorization that gives the brand access to more data about their fans is important and powerful. I believe this will be an aspect of Facebook marketing that leading brands will be taking advantage of soon if they are not doing this already.

    Full disclosure – Our company Fan Appz works with brands to not only run Sweepstakes but also help to gain Social Authorizations through these efforts.

    Thanks for your thought leadership in this area and I look forward to your next blog post.


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