Pros and Cons: Running Contests to Gain Podcast Audience

The age old question: How do I get more subscribers. One of the subsequent questions: Should I run a contest? Contests are great promotional tools if you promote them right. Contests can bring in new faces but also people just trying to get a free thing. So lets go over contests in podcasting. Does it work?

My First Contests I Ran – Summer of Podcasts


Summer of Podcasts contest I ran

The first contest I ever ran on Geekazine was for the choice of an iPod mini or Zune back in 2008. I sprang for that purchase and got some great response to the contest. When it was over, 90% of the entrants disappeared. Those that stuck around (including the winner) have been fans of Geekazine ever since.

The second contest I ran was called the “Summer of Podcasts”. My idea was to get 10-20 podcasters to participate. They would promote a code during their shows which people would enter in the form. The coolest part was participants could enter multiple times if they used different codes from different shows – meaning they would have to listen to new podcasts just to win.

The first year was great – we gave away over 100 prizes. The second year we had a lot of shows that said they would participate but never did. Other shows didn’t play the code correctly (they put it in their blog posts and tweets) and never got the traffic to the show.

So from these contests, what did I learn?

Rule #1: Don’t Expect the World in Running a Contest

Enter to Win

Enter to Win

With these two contests I concluded that if you are expecting to go from 100 listeners to a million, you will be disappointed. What you might expect is a growing audience on social networks and possibly more people to come to your show when the content is relevant to them. One at a time.

How Much Should You Spend for a Contest?

The true marketer would say “Nothing”. You might think they’re crazy, but its true. If you work your selling skills, you can get companies to spring for items in which you can turn around and give away. Even better, they’ll take care of the legwork for you. You just have to be the liaison for this.

In the last 4 months I have run 4 different contests. All four have been great prizes over $200 and had awesome response. I made sure to review those products and created promo videos before I gave them away. I linked all videos to each other and any links to the website and social networks.

The cost to me? My time in reviewing those products, putting together and administering the contest. That in itself is pretty valuable – but now I have a working relationship for future giveaways, and they know where to send news and products they need me to review.

How to Work with Your Contest Sponsor

The key is to give them something that can become promotable. You will find that when you tweet out you are running a contest and using their Twitter name in the post, they will most likely either re-tweet or create their own tweet to match.

Here is a post example: My friends at @company are giving away a #coolitem . Check it out at @geekazine. (weblink and hashtags here)

Give them expectation you will be updating your audience of the promotion during the contest timeframe. That includes a blog post, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and other networks you belong to.

I have given all contests 2-3 weeks, ending on a Friday. I tell the sponsors to expect the winners within 7 days of ending. This gives me time to make sure the winner still want their prize. The info is sent to the sponsor and they ship it out.

Should I Give Away More Than One Item?

Yes. Just like going to your webpage, people want a very good reason to participate. Don’t give away too much – if you have 2-3 items at over $100, people may feel the chances of winning are better and entering is worth it.

If you do have easy things to give away – like e-books or other trinket item – do it as a triary prize. The value has to match the contestants expectation and willingness to enter. People might overlook those smaller contests, even though you have hundreds to give away.

If you have a tiered prize structure, that can help. First prize should be valued over $100. Second should be over $50 and third prize or more can be things like those e-books and bumper stickers.

I turned down a sponsor last month because they wanted to give their software away as the grand prize. The software was only a $10 value and was only for a specific demographic. I told them I appreciated it but the return on investment is just not there. If they wanted to give away as a third place prize in a future contest, I would do so.

Using a 3rd Party Contest Program



Over the summer I used a service called Rafflecopter. You can run contests for free but they also have a subscription service which gives you more ways to promote and brand with your logos. I used the free service and was able to run contests with great success.

What I like about Rafflecopter is the ability to perform tasks as entries. Follow me on Twitter, Facebook or another service (although Facebook has mentioned they will be discontinuing this practice in their November TOS update). I can have people comment on the review blog post which can increase traffic to the review.

You can also subscribe to a mailing list, Pinterest, re-tweet the contest or even create your own option. The monthly fee allows you to do more viral sharing options for better success.

Best part – this widget can be put on your website, add to your Facebook business page and more. Any place that accepts an iframe request could have your contest on it.

Rules and Regulations

If you don’t want to get sued, you should adopt a list of rules for the contest. Put together a contest rules page like I did with GeekazinePoint to the page when running a contest.

Things to think about:

  • Can anyone enter this?
  • Is it free to enter?
  • Can you ship this item overseas?
  • Contest ending and if you can cancel it.
  • No substitutions, no cash equivalent
  • Period of time where they can claim a prize
  • Friends and Family entries (can they enter?)
  • Use of their profile for your (or the sponsors’) use

Does Consistency Help?

Just like anything, if you run a regular contest you can keep bringing people back – if only for the contest. Their one tweet might get another on board who could become a regular fan.

In the meantime you are building a list of emails which you can use to promote future contests. The more entries you have, the bigger the prizes. Next thing you know, you could be giving away $500-$1,000 items if the sponsor knows the reach is there.

But will it come back to the podcast? The reality is you still follow the 1,000-100-1 sales rule. Promote to 1,000 people, 100 might come back for the show. From those 100, you will most likely get at least 1 active regular.

Within time those pennies add up. And of course one contest can bring 3-4 regulars, so don’t take that saying to heart.

If you work your numbers, the numbers will work for you. Most important, don’t expect to just post up you are doing a contest once and get tons of response. Work the contest and show the work to everyone. Just like any other promotion.

And make sure your website is ready to take entries. If you can create an alternate entry location (like the Facebook page), that could help your website when people go to enter. After all, you don’t want your site to go down when you are giving away a new car… 😉

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