Chungyen Chang is the poet behind An Unsuspecting Notebook. He doesn’t know much about tech but he knows a lot about writing.
A couple of days ago, Andy at Station Atomica held his first ever Anti contest…contest. He invited readers to create an MSpaint drawing of either A Magical Unicorn, or Arnold Schwarzenegger from memory. In exchange for five minutes of your time, you were given a shot at winning 1,000 Entrecard Credits.The prize of this contest wasn’t an iPod Nano or a laptop. Yet Andy still gained modest results, with a dozen or so entrants, and four voluntary linkbacks. What made this contest so different from all the others?
A Small Prize.
One of the strengths of this contest is that it didn’t offer you tons of awesome prizes. I know, you’re probably thinking, What?! Everyone loves prizes! and this is true. But which is better: having everyone win a little, or only having one person win everything? Technically this contest had a single winner, but the people who participated also had fun. Offering up a single, giant prize for one person means you’ll end up with a lot of entrants, but you also get a lot of disappointed people afterwards. A contest needs to give back to the community as much as it takes.
Most contests are a simple “subscribe to this blog”, or “stumble this”, or “comment here” deal. People go through the monotony of those few clicks, and then they’re gone. But the Station Atomica anti-contest featured content coupled with the competition:
Subscribe to my Feed? NO!
Make a billion comments on my posts to make me look like Mr. Popular? NO!
Shit up your own blog by writing about my retarded contest on it? HELL NO!
Here at Station Atomica we do things differently. If there’s one thing I’ve learned since starting this site, it’s that I hate contests. Some people may love ‘em to death and put a new one up every other day, but for me it would be compromising my content, shitty as it already is. In the words of Jean-Luc Picard in First Contact, “The line must be drawn HERE! This far, NO FARTHER!”
Andy’s style of writing was loud and exaggerated enough that it drew interest. It provided an example of what to expect from his other posts. At the same time, the contest also generated tons of its own content through the drawings he received. He turned these into two separate entries, which his readers were able to enjoy even if they didn’t enter the contest.
People aren’t interested in finding a hidden word in their RSS feed. No one is going to actually remember to hunt that down in their email or reader unless the prize is something really spectacular. A contest should encourage readers’ participation, but not require thirty minutes of their time.
A short timeframe.
Your readers don’t want to see “The contest is almost over!! Enter before it’s too late!” for two months straight. This contest went for four days. If you keep things short and sweet, you reduce the risk of alienating your regulars, and you also cut down on the anticipation and stress of having to know the winner.
A good contest should be unforced.
Asking people to blog about you is pointless. Why would someone want to clutter up their own blog for a 1/1000 chance at a prize? It looks bad and it brings down the value of every blog that does it. So many blogs have started this, in fact, that now there’s a niche of contest blogs which are only there to provide the obligatory linkback.
Chock it up to reverse psychology, but four people blogged about the contest anyway.  Those last two links are from blogs with Technorati ratings of over 200. Andy got these linkbacks because his contest offered something different. If your contest isn’t original, people will shrug it off as another asinine, boring as hell two-click contest.
How does this contest relate to you? Are you in it for the fun of blogging, or just for the sake of boosting your numbers? People will always react better when they can relate to your contest (for example, this anti-Valentine’s Day contest). Don’t be afraid to throw around curse words, make fun of someone else, or to tell a story of your own. Why should your readers care if you don’t
What this all means for you.
Content is king, and will always be king. Even if your contest draws in tons of new subscribers, who’s to say they won’t just unsubscribe the moment it’s over? Even worse, they could mark your emails as and spam resign your posts to the pit. A high feedcount looks good, but it doesn’t mean a thing if you’re not getting any comments, linkbacks, or interaction from the rest of the community.
Don’t believe me? Consider the fact that I’ve chosen to write about Andy’s contest, and not another topic. That’s how good this contest was, and that’s how good all contests should be.