Monday, April 29, 2013

How to choose a contest winner

We just had a fun contest on our site where we encouraged folks to vote on their choice of glazes for an Elaine Ray bead (the lighter one won, but not by much!) The winner received the beads shown, shipped by us. To enter, participants were required to SHARE the image on facebook, COMMENT on the original blog post, RETWEET the contest tweets or PIN the image on Pinterest. Participants could enter as many times as they liked.

There are approximately a zillion apps and services that 'manage' contests like this for sites and blogs, but they all charge some kind of fee or they collect participants info. I don't want to pay fees for fun contests, and I don't want my customers to have to 'pay' the fee of selling their info, so I run the contests myself. I get a lot of questions about how we pick winners, so here is my kinda-taped-together method. It is fair, in that the final number is randomly chosen and easy, in that I don't do a bunch of list-making and checking and double-checking.

1. Post the contest and the rules on the desired sites. Number the sites posted (in this case, FB was #1, the blog was #2, Twitter was #3 and Pinterest was #4.)

2.Check back throughout the contest to say 'hi' to the entries, or approve blog comments, or whatever. Get excited.

3.When the contest closes go to each site in order and count up the entries. In the case of Facebook, we count 'share's only, and FB gives me a total. With the other sites I actually have to count them. Whew. This is exhausting. Make a list. Mine looked like this:

Facebook 125
Blog 32
Twitter 1 (what!!!)
Pinterest 17

Not such great numbers, but that's okay. Read #3 below to see why that didn't matter this time.

4.Total your numbers up and then visit or another similar site to choose a random number. Go to the entry with that number and alert the winner. For us, the entries were numbered:

Facebook 1-125
Blog 126-157
Twitter 158
Pinterest 159-175

5. Verify your winner. I checked to see that the winner had actually SHARED the image (and not removed it already!) and that they weren't an Ornamentea staff member OR Elaine Ray, as she wasn't allowed to win. Then I notified the winner. Fun!

More tips on running contests on your blog or site:
1.Make the contest entry easy and public. By requiring people to SHARE, TWEET, PIN or COMMENT to enter it is easy to see that they did. Also, this does serve to pass the word on about the contest to others (especially the first 3!)

2.Make the contest quick. I think contests loose momentum after more than 3 days, so I generally just run them for 3 days or so. This also means you have a smaller pool of potential winners, but that might be okay.

3.Decide what you want from the contest. In the case of the Elaine Ray Which Orange Do You Choose contest we really did want to know which glaze folks preferred. That's why we let participants enter in all the different social media sites. We could have chosen to only allow SHARES and increased our Facebook traffic, or only PINS and increased our Pinterest traffic, but this was really about knowing which glaze Elaine should make.

4.Embrace lazy.My super-lazy-girl's tip: verify stuff after you choose the winner. In some cases, I have to throw out that number and get to pick me another, but I really don't want to spend all day verifying 175 entries. I just don't have time. If you know much about math (which I don't) or you live with a statistician (which I DO!) you know that a random number is just that, RANDOM. Every number has the same chance of being picked. Throwing out the first winner for disqualification doesn't make the second any less random and it saves me time. If this is interesting to you, read up on randomness at