4 easy steps for a rewarding video contest

User-generated contests may seem like a massive undertaking, but chances are you already have the necessary materials to get started and engage your audience.

There are many ways to drive “engagement” with online videos, but there are few that are as, well, engaging as online video contests. In terms of interaction and time-on-brand, contests are hard to beat.

Everyone from the RNC to Menudo is getting in on the act. Music juggernauts like Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails have asked their fans to produce their latest music videos. Political humorist Stephen Colbert posted footage of himself bouncing around a green screen so his fans could create their own videos of the Comedy Central pundit.

However, consumer online video contests can be a big task for brand managers. Consumer engagement may vary — consumers can spend anywhere from a few minutes to several hours on their entry. Obviously, you want them to spend a lot of time with your brand, sharing it and sending it to others — that’s free marketing!

At the highest level, online video contests work best when you can:

  1. Tap into true passion (people’s ideas, viewpoints and creativity, not their love of a product) with a key call to action.
  2. Provide compelling incentives.
  3. Make it as easy as possible for people to participate.

Directing, starring, editing and distributing video used to be the realm of a few powerful corporations. Now anyone with basic computer skills can make a movie. Tapping into the creativity of the masses is an incredible opportunity and, when done right, has very compelling returns. Online video contests (also referred to as “mashups”) may seem relatively new, but they’ve been around long enough for us to have learned a few things about how to make them work. Here are a few ways to help your online video contest take off.

Provide content
Whether it’s a Stephen Colbert green screen challenge or the re-purposing of a $200,000 music video, use the assets you have to give people materials to work with. This accomplishes a few things. First, people who don’t have the means or interest in contributing user-generated-content can still make a creative contribution by remixing existing content, which means more people are engaged.

Second, it allows you to stack the deck in favor of an end result that best represents whatever it is you are marketing. The images, audio and visuals needed to anchor the contest to your brand should be readily available.

Third, the juxtaposition of your content and your audience is the heart of what makes video contests compelling for marketers. Stephen Colbert is inserted into worlds that fans (and foes) created for him. Now that’s a personal connection.

Think cross-platform
Five for Fighting partnered with the History Channel for a contest based on their song, “What Kind of World Do You Want,” and the winning spot aired in a special TV ad. Finding the right partner or tie-in to existing marketing efforts helps minimize outlay and maximize promotional opportunities and participation. Bonus points go to the History Channel for tying the contest to people’s favorite charities — a move very much in line with the meaning of the song and the values of the band, while at the same time designed to provide an emotional incentive on top of the fame and glory of national TV.

Activate online communities
It stands to reason that the most captive audience for an online video contest is the one you’ve already built through your website, MySpace and other online venues. Promote contests in places where your community is already online and engaged. Give the community you’ve invested so much in something to do. For marketers who don’t have their own online communities, chances are good you’re advertising on online communities of some sort. Consider a new call to action.

Leverage unique rewards
Give people unique incentives to participate in your contest. The good news is that some of the best prizes aren’t the most expensive — they are recognition and experiences. A meet-and-greet with the band is a great reward for a fan. The RNC contest winner had the opportunity to attend this year’s GOP convention and watch their masterpiece on a very big screen.

There’s always concern that today’s hot online marketing initiative will lose its impact as it gains popularity. But contests have been a marketing staple for decades and we’ll see online video contests stick around, too.

Jim Kaskade

Jim Kaskade is a serial entrepreneur & enterprise software executive of over 36 years. He is the CEO of Conversica, a leader in Augmented Workforce solutions that help clients attract, acquire, and grow end-customers. He most recently successfully exited a PE-backed SaaS company, Janrain, in the digital identity security space. Prior to identity, he led a digital application business of over 7,000 people ($1B). Prior to that he led a big data & analytics business of over 1,000 ($250M). He was the CEO of a Big Data Cloud company ($50M); was an EIR at PARC (the Bell Labs of Silicon Valley) which resulted in a spinout of an AML AI company; led two separate private cloud software startups; founded of one of the most advanced digital video SaaS companies delivering online and wireless solutions to over 10,000 enterprises; and was involved with three semiconductor startups (two of which he founded, one of which he sold). He started his career engineering massively parallel processing datacenter applications. Jim has an Electrical and Computer Science Engineering degree from University of California, Santa Barbara, with an emphasis in semiconductor design and computer science; and an MBA from the University of San Diego with an emphasis in entrepreneurship and finance.