Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Blogging: What I Learned From My 1st Giveaway


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My first giveaway ended a little over a month ago and it's time for me to assess the results of the endeavor. I thought the lessons I learned from organizing it could benefit other bloggers, so I decided to share all facts and figures with you, as well as my reflections upon the outcome.

I'm calling the New Year, Parisian You Giveaway my first, but I've actually done sweepstakes before on my French-language blog. They were, however, pretty basic, happened years ago, and being limited to a French audience their impact was more limited. This giveaway is indeed the first I entirely organized and hosted myself on beaumiroir.com, although I linked to a few sweepstakes organized by brands before (like this one).



My goals

I didn't set precise goals based on target numbers, but instead focused on a general purpose: increase the audience of the blog. I was hoping to do so by making Beaumiroir more visible, expanding my following on social media and creating some "buzz", so that people potentially interested in a blog focusing on French beauty brands would have a greater chance of stumbling upon it. 

This intention was at the core of the event on my side and all the details were decided based on it. It dictated the choice of the prize: it had to be something from a French brand, attractive, desirable by most beauty enthusiasts. I put up a little survey during the planning phase to see what product readers would prefer, and unsurprisingly, an eyeshadow palette ended up being picked, the Auda[city] In Paris palette by Lancôme. I love Lancôme so I was quite happy about that!

The general purpose of the giveaway was also behind my choice of the actions people would have to complete in order to gain entries: options to follow me on several social media platforms, including Bloglovin, daily tweet about the giveaway (for the buzz), sharing with friends, etc... 


Choice of widget provider

I knew that I wanted to use a widget to make things more simple and organized for me, but I hesitated between Rafflecopter and Gleam for a long time. Both are free for a basic competition. Rafflecopter has been around for a long time and I like their neutral theme, but I eventually picked Gleam for the convenience: they have an automated process that validates entries, checking that the action has really been completed before granting the corresponding "tickets". So the widget will, for example, check that someone really follows you on Twitter before giving them entries for doing it. They also have a system that detects cheating attempts (for example several people entering from the same IP) and invalidates the fake entries automatically. 

Now that may sound great, but it doesn't mean that you're totally free of manual verification once you pick a winner. If someone unfollows you a week after participating, they won't loose their entries, Gleam only checks their validity at the time the action is done. Manual verification made me realize that the first winner I had picked randomly had actually unfollowed me on all platforms by the time the giveaway ended, so I had to disqualify this person and pick a new winner. Luckily it's easy to do.

Another important factor in choosing Gleam is that for obscure reasons the "Follow on Pinterest" action is not available to free users in Rafflecopter. You need to be on a paid plan to be able to add it.


Setting up the giveaway

I had a very good experience with Gleam: the interface is easy to use and intuitive, you can save your progress and come back to your draft later, make changes even after it's live, and, a very important feature, it complies with all social media platforms' terms of use. You won't be able to add a "Follow Me On Facebook" action, for example, and that's because it would be against Facebook's terms of use. The company could shut down your profile or page for doing that. I don't have the time or patience to read all the fine prints for each social platform, so I appreciate Gleam being on top of that.

Gleam also has a lot of advanced options I didn't need and didn't really look into, such as creating a landing page for you, and I think they'd be perfect for a business regularly organizing sweepstakes. However they're also very functional and not overly complicated, making them a good choice for a small, occasional user like me.

The only thing I feel is missing is a standard Terms And Conditions model that you could personalize, but I suppose they can't do that for legal reasons. I found a model on the internet, added and changed a few things, and it was easy to integrate it in the widget with a simple copy/paste.


During the giveaway

I have to admit that although I was hopeful it would be a success, the volume of entrants took me by surprise. I know the numbers are peanuts compared to what bigger websites can get, but they were way above my expectations! There were a total of almost a thousand people who entered the giveaway, performing close to 7,400 actions.

Most of the entries were concentrated in the first few days after the giveaway opened, and there was a peak again in the last couple days, but much smaller. The conversion rate (number of people who entered / number of visitors to the giveaway page) was consistently high, over 80% (for some reason I can't see it anymore in Gleam), meaning that most people who found the giveaway decided to try their chance.



At first I promoted the giveaway through my social media channels, but the daily tweet action was so popular that I scaled back and let the entrants do it for me. My notifications feed was flooded by this constant tweeting madness as I had included my twitter handle @beaumiroir in the default tweet. The idea had been that it would help me keep an eye on the number of tweets, but after a few days I wished I hadn't done that. It was good to see the "Tweet About This Giveaway" action was working, but I missed a few interactions with people I know because they were lost in the notification wasteland!

Then came the case of the sweepstakes websites. The very first day, anxious to make my giveaway a success, I listed it on one contest website. Let me tell you, it wasn't necessary. This particular website sent me quite a bit of traffic, but bigger, busier online sweepstakes directories picked up the giveaway and for the 3 weeks that it lasted, became the main source of traffic on the blog. I wasn't sure if it was a good or a bad thing: I did want new visitors to discover Beaumiroir, and why not if they got to me that way? On the other hand I was worried that all these people would only come once to enter and unfollow me on social media as soon as the contest would end. We'll get to that in a moment.

In terms of general traffic, it's pretty simple: the blog's page views and visitors stats basically doubled during the giveaway. Since I use Blogger as a blogging/hosting platform I don't have to worry about servers being able to deal with a sudden traffic spike, but if you're self-hosted or pay for a hosting service, this is something you may need to plan if you decide to host a sweepstakes.

I noticed more comments while the giveaway was active, mostly from people I didn't know, and a very significant increase in interactions on social media too: more likes on my Facebook posts, tweets and Instagram pictures. When I organize contests in the future, I'll try to plan the publication of big, crowd-pleasing posts during the event duration to capitalize on this temporary excitement.


The final numbers


The list above is from my Gleam dashboard and shows how many times each action was performed. Of course the actions that could be repeated multiple times have higher numbers than the rest. 

I was actually surprised to see that so few people decided to leave a comment. I thought it was a very simple action that didn't involve any commitment (unlike tweeting to your friends) yet it was the least popular way to gain entries from the giveaway. 

On the other hand, my mind was blown by the popularity of the daily "Tweet On Twitter" action. Since I was notified of every single of these nearly 2,000 tweets, I can tell you that a good number of entrants came back to complete this action Every.Single.Day, for the 3 weeks that the event lasted. As a consequence I saw a big increase in the amount of traffic coming to the blog from Twitter.

I would say that my goal of gaining more followers on social media was achieved beyond my expectations. Since Facebook and Google+ don't allow you to ask for follows for a contest, I included the "Visit My Profile" actions, but a good number of people eventually followed me there too (121 people on Facebook and at least 250 on Google+ - I failed to write down the number of followers I had before the giveaway started, so I don't have an exact result. Sigh...). If I add up all follows/likes acquired through the giveaway, I reach about 2,000!

One interesting thing to note: the elevated traffic had absolutely zero impact on the ad revenue. It's ridiculously low anyway since I just use Google Adsense, but it stayed that way. So no, the entrants didn't click on the ads to be nice!


One month later

One of my main concerns was that the hordes of sweepstakes enthusiasts who descended on the blog during the giveaway would retreat as soon as it ended and take their social media follows away with them. Well, now it seems clear that they haven't! I saw a few unfollows here and there, but my numbers of followers across social media platforms have not gone down an inch.

On the other hand I can't say that I'm seeing a significant long term growth in traffic following the giveaway. Page views and number of visitors have slowly gone down to just a bit above what they were before the event. But is this small increase a consequence of it, or is it just the fruit of my (almost) constant efforts to improve this blog? 


Overall

For me this giveaway was a great success and the outcome exceeded my expectations on all levels. From this experience, I think I can say that organizing sweepstakes can be an effective way to grow my visibility and audience. 
However I feel like I would need to have this type of event on a regular basis to sustain a long-term major traffic increase, but I'm not sure I'm ready to do that. From a purely financial angle, this wasn't a profitable endeavor: I had to buy the prize and pay to ship it to the winner, and I didn't get any monetary return through ads or affiliate links. But I believe that it helped me reach new people as well as build my "brand" and reputation, so I would say that it was absolutely worth it.


Have you ever organized a giveaway from A to Z? Was your experience at all similar to mine?


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