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Giving away prizes online is a great way to achieve many marketing goals. However, like with any marketing endeavor, there are quite a few things that can go wrong. Most of these mishaps are likely to result in aggravated participants, a mailbox overflowing with complaints and your Facebook timeline full of negative comments. Below is a list of things that irritate people most of all when it comes to online promotions:

12 Online Promotion Pitfalls

1. Entry form is not loading or not working properly

Technical issues happen: pages don’t load, servers go down, the form won’t accept legitimate entries, etc. With that being said, you can do certain things to prevent them:

  • Test, test and then test again! Know your sweepstakes or contest software in and out, so that you don’t mess up the settings and know how to troubleshoot.
  • Make sure you test the entry form with someone outside your network, because things can work for you due to your admin status, but others won’t have the same administrative privileges, and therefore, the same exeprience.
  • Evaluate your server’s capacity and stability. Depending on how widely-advertised your promotion is, you can except thousands of people to try to access the entry page at the same time, especially if you are running a timed giveaway where the winner is the one who enters first. Are your servers ready?

And if something goes wrong, at least have a custom error message ready with explanation of the issues.


2. You don’t follow your own rules

This is probably one of the worst things you can do. You may think no one will notice, but it only takes one person to blow the whistle and then a crowd of angry fans eats you alive. You can violate your official rules by ending the sweepstakes earlier or later than stated, by allowing more or less entries than stated, etc.

One of the worst things you can do is slacking on verifying a winner’s eligibility and choosing a winner who, in fact, didn’t meet the requirements. How does everyone else find out? Easily, if the entry is public (like a Pinterest board or a tweet) or the winner brags about it. So be a diligent marketer and weed out ineligible entries.


3. Others don’t follow the rules and you don’t enforce them

When someone bends the rules, they get an unfair advantage, and you don’t want the word “unfair” associated with your business. That’s why you need a person or a team dedicated to monitoring the promotion and everything that is being said about it online. Catching and punishing misconduct on early stages is essential. You can’t just let sweepstakes run its course without any supervision.

Example: this happens a lot during Twitter giveaways when sponsors are so rushed to announce a winner, they don’t check if the win was fair.

4. There’s no one to answer the questions, handle issues, or provide updates

Questions, comments and complaints can’t be left unanswered or worse – deleted. This is your opportunity to engage with your audience, show that you care and build goodwill. People left alone with their inquiries or frustrations won’t leave with a good impression about your business. Answer the questions, provide guidance, post reminders and learn from your experience.

5. The effort to enter is not worth the prize

Make sure the entry process is appropriate for the prize you are giving away. If you are asking participants to write a two-page essay for a chance to win a $5 gift card, you are not likely to get a lot of entries. And those who do enter might hate you for wasting their time.

6. Abundance of meaningless prizes

It’s great if you want everyone to be a winner, but sometimes this strategy can backfire, especially in the case of instant win games. Let’s say, besides nice prizes like gift cards and gaming consoles, you decide to give away an unlimited number of music downloads, low-value coupons or some other digital knick-knacks like posters or artwork. Why? Because you want to make everyone happy! Well, it doesn’t work that way. After winning 23 music downloads and deleting 23 “congratulations” emails, your sweepstakes participants will get annoyed and might even quit entering. Keep it simple and don’t attempt to please everyone.instant-game-win

7. “Sorry, you didn’t win” emails

People like to get “congratulations, you won!” type of messages. If I didn’t get one, it means I didn’t win, so there’s no need to send me an email to remind me of what a loser I am. Such emails are particularly offensive if the odds of winning were good. It’s like saying “Hey, guess what? You didn’t win one of 10,000 water bottles!” That would certainly make someone’s day….not.

Quite often “sorry” emails can be deceiving. Who wouldn’t get excited about an email from “winner notification” with “prize notification’ in the subject line? It means you won, right? Not always.

8. The prize is never delivered and there is no one to contact about it

While not necessary, it’s a good idea to notify the winners when the prize is being shipped. It is a nice gesture and also helps you keep track of the prize distribution. Sometimes, when you are outsourcing prize fulfillment or have miscommunication between your departments, papers get mixed up and prizes get lost. People are forgiving if it takes you a long time to sort things out and ship, but if they receive nothing in six months and their emails get ignored, that will make them think your promotion was fake, and so is your business.

9. The Official Rules are vague and confusing

Nothing creates more commotion than vague rules. Participants will keep asking you and each other to clarify and you’ll spend a lot of time explaining the process to every person. To avoid unnecessary frustration and wasted time, make sure the official rules leave no room for imagination. Have several people read them and see if they understood them correctly. Also make sure that the Official Rules are interpreted correctly by your social media team: Facebook announcements should never contradict the Official Rules.

10. Entry form is long or the entry process is complicated

Setting up a promotion with daily entries is not a bad idea: you get people to come back to your website or social media outlets, and they get more chances to win. However, if every day they have to go through multiple clicks, redirects and lengthy forms and quizzes, it takes away from the positive experience. Keep it short and simple. If necessary, create a custom login, so that all they need to enter is an email and a password.

11. Overestimating prize value to claim more on tax deductions

As you might know, the cost of advertising and promotions can qualify as a tax deduction category. One of the expenses involved in running a promotion is sponsoring prizes, which are listed in the Official Rules along with their “approximate retail value” (ARV) that you assign.

You might be tempted to inflate the ARV to further reduce your taxable income. At some degree, it’s done by many companies. The thing is, contest winners will have to pay taxes on the prize and they won’t be happy with the inflated ARV. Moreover, some may not enter your promotion at all because you claim that a branded t-shirt is worth $50. This makes you look greedy and unprofessional, and that’s not what you are trying to promote.

12. Mistake winning notifications

This is awesome: you won a $500 gift card! Oh wait, there is a second email saying the prize notification was sent out by mistake. What a bummer! Whether you blame a system glitch or a human error, such mistakes happen. Avoid them if possible or make them into something positive.


Do you have anything else to add to this list from observations or personal experience? Feel free to comment.