April 02, 2015
Case Study

Content Marketing: ZipCar increases contest submissions by 717% by moving off of Facebook

SUMMARY: When the ZipCar team decided to stop hosting contests on Facebook and move them onto a dedicated landing page on the website, it was to move from a social media campaign to a socially connected campaign.

The change, implemented for the "Test Drive" Paris contest, drew in more extensive and creative submissions and increased entries by 717%.
by Courtney Eckerle, Manager of Editorial Content


ZipCar is the world's largest car-sharing club with members across the world — North America, Canada, across the U.K., Spain, Austria, France and, more recently, Turkey.

"We envision a future where there's more people using car-sharing clubs than actually owning cars. That's what we want to do. We want to enable accessibility to cars and reduce ownership in order to kind of cut financial burdens, burdens to cities and centers of congestion but then also environmental burdens that [come with] car-ownership," said Tom Hillman, Mobile and Social Marketing Manager, ZipCar International.

ZipCar works with cities across the world to enable simple and responsible urban living for its customers. Hillman's position uses social media and mobile channels to market that high-level idea to members and non-members alike.

"I'm actually trying to get people to join the club and take advantage of all of those things. And also, [for] all of the members that we do have, [to] continually reinforce that message and help them on their way. Help them have the best access they can to those vehicles," he said.


Knowing how easy it is for platforms to change or undermine a campaign with rule changes, ZipCar decided to stop hosting all of its campaigns on Facebook and to move them onto the website instead.

ZipCar was searching for opportunities to build out its website and blog — properties they "own" — with landing pages and microsites where they host the kinds of campaigns that they previously hosted on Facebook. Then the objective was to focus on promoting those campaigns across every digital marketing presence.


During the process of moving campaigns to being hosted on the website and moving off of Facebook, ZipCar was also launching service in Paris around September 2014. For the launch, the team wanted to both make a splash in the market for brand awareness reaching new customers and also existing members.

"Because this is a global car-sharing network, it means I could pick-up and head on over to New York today, and my Zipcar membership is going to work over there. I could book a car in New York on my way to the airport on my phone, and I could get there, and I could tap into that car with my access card," Hillman said.

To accomplish that awareness the team launched a campaign called "Test Drive," which acted as an opportunity for existing members to enter a competition by describing what they would do if they had three days in Paris with a ZipCar.

"We keep it nice and simple like that. They have to provide, normally, an image and text around what they would do if they went to, in this case, Paris for three days and had use of a Zipcar. So, we want to get them thinking about the city itself and the surrounding areas you could really access if you had that flexible car use, and we encourage people to be creative with that," Hillman said.

The strategic thinking behind the campaign is to reinforce with members, and show non-members, that ZipCar is global. The team sets up goals in the beginning of the competition as to how many members and non-members they would like to enter.

Off the back of that, they establish a workflow to follow-up with non-members via email, prompting them to join the club, often with a discounted membership or special offer because they have entered this competition.

Step #1. Understand the limitations of your platform

"One of the things we had a big problem with was people just not being able to be involved in campaigns run on Facebook," said Hillman, explaining that some people don't have Facebook, and some find the Facebook experience frustrating because of the log in, especially via mobile Web.

"We kind of blocked a lot of people out in the past, especially in our member-base, not all of which were on Facebook," he said.

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In thinking about moving campaigns off of Facebook and onto a dedicated landing page, Hillman said he knew the team needed a couple of things in order to make the effort worthwhile for them and for consumers. This included:
  • Flexibility and ease of building out a tool to host competitions on a landing page.
    "If we didn't, it requires finding external developers or trying to find internal engineering resources, which just puts these things out of budget or time-frame," he said.

  • Tracking parameters.
    "We had a lot better opportunity to track in terms of website traffic. So making sure we had all the tracking parameters and UTM tags (Urchin Traffic Monitor), stuff like that, set-up," he said, adding that allowed the team to "have the argument for driving better traffic toward the site, help improve our SEO and overall user experience."

"That really allowed us to cast our net a bit wider, to have a bit more budget behind the paid media when it came to setting this stuff up, and, in terms of the setup, there's a few stages," he said.

Step #2. Set up contest to encourage creative content submissions

To enter the Test Drive competition, people only had to enter their name and email. From there, entrants would be sent an email that thanked them for entering and prompted them to clickthrough to the website to finish the process by a certain date.

This included providing a photo, if applicable, and text explaining what they would do with three days in Paris: "A few lines about why you want to go and visit that city and what you'd do with the Zipcar, where you were going to visit and why you were the right person to be our Test Driver in that new market," Hillman said.

View the Creative Sample

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He added, "We made it a whole lot easier. So we didn't just see the initial entry surge, we saw those completed entries surge because people now had the time to complete that information."

Because of this change, the team also saw the quality of entries increase substantially, giving them more user-generated content to work with and making the contest more robust.

"Whereas before it might have been like a line for the sake of it, like, 'I want to go to Paris because I love croissants.' Now it was people writing like poetry and long, detailed responses about trips they had done previously and some novellas thrown in there. It was really interesting. It makes it a whole lot nicer to help pick a winning entry as well when you have creative stuff to read through," he said.

The images people submitted were of a similarly good quality, he added, explaining that people had the time to create images of the people they were going to take on their trips.

"So just by shifting the entry mechanism like that, giving people more time and space to fully submit their entries when they're able to, I think that really helped," he said.

Step #3. Integrate social elements within the campaign

An important part of the technical set up was making sure that, even though the team was taking campaigns onto desktop, "we're still got all of the relevant social sharing functions. It's not on Facebook, but you can log in and submit your entry via Facebook account," Hillman said.

Allowing people to still "Like" the ZipCar Facebook page and share their entries was important to keep the social aspects important for the success of the contests.

"That's a really important function to us because we still want this campaign to be socially centered, even if it's not hosted on a social platform," he said.

One part of that was making sure people could still comment on submissions, which were pulled in from Facebook.

View the Creative Sample

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ZipCar also still kept a custom tab on its Facebook page, so fans could easily access it there. There would be continuity from similar previous contests, which had been hosted on the social media platform.

View the Creative Sample

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Test Drive campaign entry was open to ZipCar members in all markets, as well as new non-members in Paris, and keeping all social media elements present helped to cover that wide swath of people.

Alongside social elements, for members, the team leveraged ZipCar's email list, which consists of members who also subscribe. The contest was featured in the weekly newsletter send over the course of the competition. Also, the team placed post cards advertising "Test Drive Paris" in some ZipCar vehicles with details and a link printed.

The team makes sure that all links are trackable with a UTM link, so the team can measure if people come through from mailers, email, Facebook or Twitter.

Step #4. Utilize a socially connected campaign

"We don't want to think about these campaigns as just social media campaigns. We want to think about them as socially connected campaigns," Hillman said.

Hosting the contests on social media platforms such as Facebook is "boxing them into social media campaigns, [which] limits their reach and limits the perspective you have of them," he said.

Moving from thinking of the contest as a social media campaign to a socially connected campaign, "that means we have a lot more access for our members and non-members, to actually come to our site to see the branded Zipcar website rather than just another random brand on Facebook," he said.

Not only can more people enter, but the experience is better and the brand is able to see SEO value from that as well. The social concept is bigger than just Facebook and allows the brand to control every aspect for a cohesive perception.

"It's about retaining the good parts of why we brought it on social in the first place in terms of the sharing functions and bringing more people into your social community. Being there and then being able to share the content they provide, but then combining that with all of this other good stuff we have by having it onsite," he said.

Test vigorously before launch

"This is working great on mobile. We've found by hosting these on our website, it looked a lot better than when it was just like an app within Facebook on mobile," Hillman said.

Mobile is a big for ZipCar customers, he added, and before launching this competition, the team tested vigorously on several devices to ensure customers would have as little difficulty as possible submitting.

"We give ourselves at least a week before any of these campaigns go live so we can work through them as though they were live and we'd launched them. We just found in a number of phones within a couple of days to go before it was launched that you couldn't even enter the competition," he said.

In finding those issues ahead of time, the team was able to fix any parameter and link issues people accessing mobile would encounter.

"What we would like to do is incorporate a lot of the social functions into our website itself … [that] helps make the experience more seamless just in terms of look and feel and responsiveness on mobile devices. And it just reduces any friction points for anyone who does want to enter these campaigns," he said.


When ZipCar decided to stop hosting all of its campaigns on Facebook and to host them on its website instead, the results were:
  • A 717% increase in entries into its competition

  • A 203% increase in page visits just for one campaign

  • A jump in overall website traffic

Through this campaign, the team was able to use this competition to successfully convey the brand's value propositions for both members and non-members.

"[For a] member it is, 'Hey you can actually use your current membership in all these other markets' and for non-member it's, 'Hey there's this great thing on your doorstep that you might not even know about, and you can use it all around the world,'" Hillman said.

Creative Samples

  1. Test Drive landing page

  2. Contest submissions

  3. Contest comments

  4. Facebook tab


ZipCar U.K.

ShortStack — ZipCar's vendor

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