a peek inside the fishbowl

17 Nov, 2010

How to host a blog giveaway (and a bunch of things for bloggers to think about)

Posted by andrea tomkins in: The business of blogging

This is a bit of a continuation of this previous post.

I’ve been asked about the ins and outs of hosting giveaways a couple times so I thought I’d address it here.

The “giveaway” I’m talking about here is the kind of giveaway in which the blogger is approached by a company to host a contest on the blogger’s blog, the winner of the contest wins the prize that is being supplied by the company.

A good giveaway is a win-win-win situation all around.

  • For the Company:  In exchange for providing the prizing they receive a post written about the product they are trying to promote. (Hey! Isn’t that like an ad?)
  • For the Blogger:  more traffic. More traffic = more potential readers. Giveaways have broad appeal and tend to get lots of hits.
  • The Blog Reader: great odds of winning something good. ETA: And as someone who’s been blogging for awhile, I LOVE to be able to give you stuff. I really do. Let’s call it a prize for showing up and being so nice.

I’ve been keeping 80% of the pitches I receive in a special little folder (I’m planning on pulling some of them as examples eventually), so I can tell you with certainty that recent pitches for giveaways that have come my way have included ones for: butter/baking stuff, cereal, baby wash, cleaning products … that kind of thing.

There are a bunch of things that bloggers need to consider when co-ordinating a giveaway, even before tapping out that blog post.

The NUMBER ONE RULE IS THIS: Do not be afraid to say no.

I’m going to say that again, because it’s important.

Do not be afraid to say no.

Are you a green blogger who’s been pitched by Clorox?
A parenting blogger who’s being offered a bag of dog food?
An eco-blogger who’s being offered something made in a faraway sweatshop by a sketchy company?
A health blogger being approached by McDonald’s?
A happily single businesswoman who’s being offered a case of diapers?

Unless you have a LOT of readers who need diapers or dog food, say thanks but no thanks (politely!), otherwise your giveaways for oddball products are going to make you look greedy and hurt your readership. Besides, less is more.

If you take blogging seriously you must remember that (1) credibility is everything and (2) transparency is critical.

Your giveaway has to fit the general topic of your blog. Here’s a hint, if it’s interesting to you it’s probably going to be interesting to your readers. Do not drop your pants for anything and everything. Say no if you feel any mild discomfort or itch. If it doesn’t feel right, it’s not right. Be picky. Another offer will come along! I swear. You were chosen for a reason. And it might not be because you have the highest traffic or greatest number of comments on your pithy posts. PR professionals are looking for people who are PR-friendly and know how to engage their readers … ideally across multiple platforms.

(Speaking of which, don’t be afraid of asking how they found you and how they chose you. The answer might be interesting and you may use it to your advantage down the road.)

So let’s get down to the “how to” part of hosting a giveaway on a blog.   

Prizing
Doh. Obviously! What’s the prize? Get as much detail as possible, up front. You want to avoid confusion and potential disappointment.

Also, don’t forget to figure out WHO will be shipping the prize! You don’t want to be stuck with shipping costs. It’s best if the provider of the giveaway takes care of this part, so make that clear at the outset.

An important consideration re: prizing is the dollar value. Unless I am totally kookoo in love with a certain product, super low value goods are just not worth my time (or yours, for that matter). I’m talking about soup and cereal giveaways here. But more about that in a bit.

Many bloggers are starting to charge an admin fee for hosting giveaways. It makes sense if the item in question has a low dollar value. If you’re charging a fee you should state this clearly in your giveaway post, otherwise you are teetering into “sponsored post” territory and this makes a lot of people uncomfortable.

The fee makes sense. It takes time to administer a giveaway; the writing of the post, monitoring the entries, doing the draw… etc. You owe it to yourself to consider how much time you’re going to spend on this. Charge accordingly regardless of whether you’re receiving product as well. Is your hour worth $10, $25, or $50? If you’re worried, start low, and bump up your admin fee with every new giveaway.

If you are not sure how to approach the idea of charging an admin fee in an email response, try this for starters (feel free to copy and paste):

Hi [insert name here] –
Thanks for the offer of the XX! [insert personal and witty line here.]

I just wanted to let you know that I have been getting so many requests for giveaways of this nature that I’ve had to start charging an admin fee of $XX. [ed: I need to charge HST on top of this too, which I would mention, but you probably don’t.] A well-written and well-hosted giveaway takes time to write and to administer. I would also be broadcasting it to my other networks, which takes up time too, as I’m sure you can understand! Either way, let me know. Thank you for thinking of me!

Best regards, 

[your name]
[Blog URL]

You’ll probably get a polite message back from the PR department to let you know that there’s no room in the budget for admin fees. If that’s the case, say thank you and goodbye, and leave it at that. Be happy that you’ve made your point. The point is: YOU ARE WORTH SOMETHING.

Before I go much further, let me ask you this: do you have a large advertising billboard displayed on your garage? How about your front door? Or maybe you have a loudspeaker attached to your roof that’s blaring commercials for Clorox, DogFood, DiaperCompany to your friends and neighbours? No? Does this seem like an odd idea? So why is it ok for Clorox, DogFood/DiaperCo to ask you to promote their products on your (virtual) front door a.k.a. your blog merely in return for product?

PR companies are about placement. Their goal is to have their client’s products placed in newspaper and articles, TV reports, and now blogs. Your giveaway is most likely coming from a PR company that has been hired (in other words BEING PAID) to get people talking about their client’s product. At the end of a campaign a PR company needs to tally up all the media articles and blogs that referenced this product. If they got a lot of mentions it makes the PR firm look good. And then they get to keep their client because the job was deemed to be well done. That’s what they want, and they want you to help them keep their clients. For free.

I’m getting off track! WHAT ELSE IS NEW.

Timing
I like to give blog readers a full week to enter. I realize that not everyone reads every day, but I assume at the majority read at least once a week. Peak times for my blog are Mondays and Fridays, so that’s when I’m most likely to post a giveaway. I want to make sure the greatest possible number of people see it.

Who can enter?
This is something you need to ask whoever is providing the prize. Is this giveaway for Canadians only? US too? Lately I’ve been doing a lot of Ottawa-area giveaways, so do make this clear in the “rules” part of your post. Which brings me to…

Make it fair – lay down the law a.k.a. develop some contest rules
My rules have evolved over time. Think about how the giveaway is going to unfold and start from there. Be as clear as you can. Take a look at some of my recent giveaways here. Feel free to copy and paste rules that fit your own giveaway.

Why are rules important? As someone who is married to someone who used to write contest rules as part of his job, I know they are critical. In fact, Mark used to run the rules past a team of lawyers. I don’t have money for lawyers, and I also don’t want to get sued by someone. It’s unlikely to happen, but the possibility remains that some weirdo might get upset because their entry got lost in cyberspace and is feeling particularly litigious and decides that you should pay the piper. It is scary to think about.

To tweet or not to tweet?
I understand when giveaway hosts (a.k.a the blogger) asks giveaway entrants to tweet and retweet and post to their facebook and tell all of their friends for extra entries. I get it; it’s a great way of getting your link out to a broader number of people and (hopefully) gain new readers. But it’s also spammy, and in my personal opinion… to ask your readers to do this in order to qualify for entry may promote your blog but may also be a big turn off. I feel dirty asking my readers – people I value so much – to spam all of their friends for my benefit. (If they want to, great, if not, that’s ok too.) 

Also, as a reader, when I’m confronted with a giveaway that asks me to jump through a hundred different little hoops I don’t bother entering at all. Tread carefully.

How do you do a random draw?
The idea of a random draw is to make it absolutely fair for everyone involved. I’ve given this a lot of thought. Here’s how I do it:

  1. 1. Copy and paste the list of all entrants from the comments into a blank Word document.
  2. 2. Carefully delete the content of the comment – keeping only the name. At this stage you will want to make sure that the comments qualify as per your rules. Did you ask them to tell you the name of their pet? Share a childhood memory? If you commented, you must remove your name from the list otherwise it changes the odds. If the comment didn’t meet the criteria or entered past your deadline delete that name from the list.
  3. 3. Copy and paste your polished list into the LIST randomizer at Random.org.
  4. 4. Hit the “randomize” button ONCE.
  5. 5. The name at the top of the list is your winner. Notify the winner via email and post their name within the comments of the giveaway post.
  6. 6. Take – and keep – a screen shot of the randomized list in case someone gets huffy and wants to accuse you of cheating.

Last thoughts:

  • Unless your blog is specifically set up as a Blog Just for Giveaways, don’t make your blog all about the giveaways. I think readers like the idea of getting free stuff, but YOU and YOUR writing and YOUR STORIES are the main reason they keep coming back, and this is true whether you have 50 people coming to your blog every day or 5000.
  • Unless you have a special arrangement (for example, as part of their contract, Fishbowl patrons have the opportunity to host one giveaway per quarter) the dollar value of the giveaway must be, well, decent. Don’t cheap out. You, your time, your audience, and your space is worth more than a can of soup. So hold out for the good stuff. (See above for what I wrote about dropping your pants.)
  • If PR companies don’t know your terms they can’t be blamed for sending you boxes of stuff you don’t want – whether it’s for a giveaway or not. Consider developing a pitch policy (here’s my example) and posting it somewhere on your blog.

Wow. This was much longer than I had intended. But does it makes sense? Let me know if you have anything to add or if you have any questions! I am happy to answer.

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19 Responses to "How to host a blog giveaway (and a bunch of things for bloggers to think about)"

1 | Lara

November 17th, 2010 at 10:25 am

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Really interesting post!! Some really excellent information.

I agree that you should make a million rules to enter a giveaway, but I think the twitter, facebook, newsletter option for extra entries is fair. It’s totally optional, if you don’t like the idea of winning the product enough, you won’t do it. That’s sort of like an endorsement to me and therefore not particularly spammy.

I’m also curious if anyone has come back to you and asked you to prove your winner?

Thanks for this!

2 | Sara

November 17th, 2010 at 10:26 am

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Thank you so much for taking the time to write this. Your perspective and ideas make the idea of giveaways more appealing to me: that it can still be about the content if its a good fit AND worth your time / effort. Fantastic post.

3 | andrea

November 17th, 2010 at 10:30 am

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Thank you Sara!

Lara – I’ve never had someone come back and ask me to prove who won. I just like to be prepared if the day comes that someone I’m close to online or in real life wins the giveaway. If I’m giving away something on the blog I always want people to know it’s all above board.
Readers are everything to me. Without them I don’t have much.

4 | andrea

November 17th, 2010 at 10:34 am

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Lara – one more thing about the tweeting and retweeting of contests. It’s actually an interesting conundrum. If an entrant is tweeting about a giveaway – asking others to enter too – they are actually decreasing their odds of winning. So if the entrant is smart they’ll want to keep the contest to themselves! :)

5 | Lara

November 17th, 2010 at 10:57 am

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I’ve thought about that with tweeting, which is why it seems like it’s all the more about the reader’s choice to do it. The newsletter and facebook options are more in their favour for sure :)

6 | Marla

November 17th, 2010 at 11:04 am

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Oh, I barely have time to comment on blogs these days, let alone work so hard to enter giveaways. But just the other day (yesterday? I don’t even know what day it is.) Secret Agent Josephine posted her pet peeves about giveaways, and I love her solution regarding the legion of those who cut and paste comments all over the internets for the prize without reading the posts:

Here: http://secret-agent-josephine.com/blog/2010/11/16/pet-peeves-from-the-review-queen/

I also like that she’s set up a separate review blog – because I don’t have coffee with my friends so that they have an opportunity to sell to me, and I don’t read their blog because if I feel that’s happening too much lately either. I only want personal thoughts and nice pictures, otherwise I’d rather read a book. In fact, I like to read through Bloglines so that I don’t have to look at advertising, and yours is about the only one I click through to that has it.

Thank you so much, for your great integrity.

7 | andrea

November 17th, 2010 at 11:07 am

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I guess it’s just not something I am comfortable asking my readers to do. Do I need them to work for their chance of winning… to promote me to their networks over and over again? Isn’t that what I should be doing?

As much as I like getting new readers (who doesn’t?) I don’t like asking my own readers to do it.

I don’t love it when (a) I need to do this to qualify for entry (b) my feeds are clogged up with “I entered a giveaway at the Fishbowl and you should too!”

I should really go out and find an example. Some giveaways are just terrible for this.

8 | Betsy

November 17th, 2010 at 11:09 am

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This is very interesting. I have to say, though, that I’m getting so tired of giveaways. I read blogs to get a glimpse of others lives, to stay connected and to break up the long days of staying home and raising children. Not to have yet one more place where I’m bombarded with advertising for stuff I don’t want or need.

9 | andrea

November 17th, 2010 at 11:19 am

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Marla – thank you! I love SAJ, and her post is GREAT.

Betsy – I hear ya. I really do, which is why I don’t do very many giveaways in this space. Giveaways can dilute the content. And besides, that’s not the point of this blog.

10 | Lara

November 17th, 2010 at 11:43 am

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Aie. I’m blah blahing a lot this morning ;) Just wanted to say I agree that some people do it badly, and it’s all personal choice. I just don’t think the extra choices are so bad and I wanted to say that at brain drain but the topic changed :)

And I agree with not diluting content. We have a cap on the amount of giveaways we’ll do in a month on Kids in the Capital, and it’s very low.

11 | Annie @ PhD in Parenting

November 17th, 2010 at 12:15 pm

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This is a great post Andrea. I’ve decided not to do giveaways anymore. I do, however, sometimes ask companies that are pitching giveaways if they would be interested in advertising instead.

The only giveaways I would do are ones that I have proactively decided to do and have solicited prizes for, in which case I see it as a service to my readers and do not charge the companies for it. I have done that for my blogiversary, for example.

12 | Marilyn (A Lot of Loves)

November 17th, 2010 at 2:12 pm

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Since I maintain a review and giveaway blog in addition to my regular blog, I found this an interesting post. You and I agree on most of your points, although I have yet to implement an admin fee for hosting a giveaway. I’ve recently decided to focus a bit more on my reviews/giveaways and make some decisions about how to proceed with them. I’ll keep this in mind.

13 | Rebecca

November 17th, 2010 at 7:27 pm

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Awesome awesome post. thanks Andrea!

A few things I’d add for myself, although I am still learning.

a) 100% agree that saying no is ok. I probably turn down 80% of the pitches I get. BUT do so in a polite way as those doors may open up to a better opportunity later.

b) Also, if you say no, have a plan B. Maybe a review/giveaway doesn’t work for you, but what about ad space? Have an option to offer them back.

c) Many people have extra entry options, and I understand why that’s done. But personally, I think it can be too much if I have to tweet while standing on one hand and singing Mary had a little lamb for an extra entry ;)

I mostly do giveaways because it’s fun to think my readers may win something cool, it’s a product I think is great, and especially early on – it was a way to drive traffic.

Andrea, when’s your blogging course at Algonquin starting? ;)

14 | Karen

November 17th, 2010 at 8:31 pm

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Wait. What? A blogging course at Algonquin? By Miss Fish? Sign me up!

Great post. It’s good to have standards and boundaries that are well-thought out. I see too many review bloggers who are…ahem…annoying and it’s good to see thy some actually care more about content.

I still don’t see myself wanting to foray into reviews/giveaways but if I ever change my mind i wan to do it well.

15 | Laura

November 17th, 2010 at 9:42 pm

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Thank you – this is such an interesting post! I appreciate the excellent infomation…and your generosity sharing it. :)

16 | Denise G

November 17th, 2010 at 10:32 pm

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Wow!! Awesome!! I have just started blogging. I found your information so helpful. I have so much to learn…. I think I just found my mentor!!

I cannot wait to read some of your new feeds as well go back and read your old ones as well.

As I am very very new at doing this I don’t want to overwhelm myself with too much info. But you obviously know what you are doing!! Well done!

17 | DaniGirl

November 18th, 2010 at 9:44 am

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Great post, Andrea! I agree with everything, especially about being selective. Your analogy to billboards on the garage is a great one, and something I think about every time I get a pitch — does it fit and is it truly interesting or just more noise?

Never heard of an admin fee for posting giveaways, though. Makes sense, I suppose, but most giveaways tend to offer something for the blogger like equivalent product so this would have never occurred to me.

18 | DaniGirl

November 18th, 2010 at 9:50 am

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Me again! I just read SAJ’s post, and it made me relieved to be just a little blogger with a loyal and local audience. I think I know just about everyone who comments on my giveaway posts. That makes me happy!

19 | andrea

November 18th, 2010 at 10:03 am

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Annie – I have tried converting pitches to ads, but it hasn’t always worked.

I get a LOT of pitches. What ends up online is only a fraction.

I think the admin fee works best when it’s applied to giveaways with low-value products. And it’s up to the blogger should set their own threshold and decide what that value is.

If you’re asked to do a giveaway for some kind of bread, for example (something I have been pitched), and they send you some bread to try as well – the combined value of that giveaway is what, ten dollars, maybe $20 with shipping. Is it worth posting? Will it result in more/better readers? (Answer; probably not. SAJ’s post addressed that quite well.) How much time does it take to administer that giveaway? And more importantly, does the value of the advertising they’re getting from me equal the value of the product I am receiving in return?

You know what I mean?

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The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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