January 12, 2012
Case Study

Social Media Marketing: Viral sweepstakes targeting moms grows Facebook audience 4,488%

SUMMARY: When your audience plateaus in a social network, sometimes you need more than good content and a chatty demeanor to grow it further. Sometimes, you need a good campaign.

This trade association got thousands of people to join its Facebook, Twitter and email audiences during a 90-day sweepstakes targeting U.S. moms. You'll see the campaign's viral tactics and learn why you should never forget the "sweepers."
by Adam T. Sutton, Senior Reporter


The Sugar Association strives to get its message out to consumers. By sharing research, dietary advice, recipes and other information, the organization's goal is to educate consumers about all-natural sugar.

Social media networks appeared to be a perfect way for the team to raise awareness and foster sugary discussion. But, by early 2011, the association's profiles on Facebook and Twitter had not received much traction. The marketing team regularly shared content and tried to engage the audience, but its follower counts had not broken 200 on either network.

"We needed to do something to not only increase our number of followers, but to make sure we were reaching the right kind of followers, meaning people who were actually interested in our content and would engage in the dialogue," says Andrew Briscoe, President and CEO, Sugar Association.

The right followers were U.S. moms ages 25 to 47. These consumers often set the nutritional standard for entire households and were often interested in health, nutrition and food issues (key categories for the association's content). The marketers needed to find more of these moms on Facebook.


Promoting "free groceries" could grab anyone's attention, particularly U.S. moms. The marketers crafted a 12-week sweepstakes to give away shopping cards and other prizes in hopes of building audiences in Facebook, Twitter and the team's email program. Viral marketing would be a key part of the strategy.

The team took six steps:

Step #1. Plan ahead for new followers

Inviting everyone to a party and forgetting to plan the event is a waste of time. If you want to increase a marketing database, then you need to have a plan for engaging new prospects when they arrive.

The Sugar Association had such a plan. The team allotted a portion of its staff time to posting content and responding to comments. The featured items were typically shorter and lighter content than those in the team's email newsletter.

The team also cross promoted its email content in social networks, included imagery and videos, and had a steady stream of content and research to pull from. The team had a plan and the content, now it needed the audience.

Step #2. Set sweepstakes rules

The team's primary goal was to increase the association's audience in social networks, and it designed the campaign accordingly. Anyone who "liked" Sugar Association on Facebook or followed its feed on Twitter was entered into a weekly drawing to win a $200 Visa gift card and a drawing for one of three grand prizes:
  • $500 Visa gift card

  • Laptop computer

  • Tablet computer

The campaign ran during the 12 weeks between May 11 and August 10. People could earn additional entries into the sweepstakes by using a tool to refer friends. Any entries generated by a referral earned the sender another chance to win (more on the viral tool in a moment).

Make the prize relevant

A free $200 gift card has broad appeal. Who doesn't want one? The marketers needed to ensure the campaign attracted attention from the target audience, U.S. moms, and not just anyone who wanted $200.

In response, the team positioned the main weekly prize as $200 in free groceries, even though it would be delivered as a free $200 gift card.

"This allowed us to have a prize each week, which kept the level of engagement higher and offer something that any mom would be able to make use of. It also tied in well with the overall food/nutrition messages," Briscoe says.

Step #3. Center the campaign on Facebook

As the main network on which the team wanted to grow its audience, the team directed all campaign-related traffic to its Facebook page. Visitors driven by Sugar Association's promotional efforts were automatically routed to a custom page or "tab" on the association's profile. This tab acted as a landing page and had three sections:
  1. Details - This default section quickly described the prizes and rules of the campaign and included:

    • Image emphasizing entrants would receive a chance to win $200 in free groceries and a laptop or iPad

    • Two buttons titled "enter the sweepstakes" and "invite friends" linking to the sections described below

    • Link to official rules

  2. Enter the sweepstakes - This section asked for the name, email address, country, state and birthday of the entrant. It also asked entrants to "like" the sugar association on Facebook and provided a checkbox to opt-in to the team's email program.

  3. Invite friends - This section gave entrants a tool to invite friends via Facebook or email to enter the campaign (more on this tool below).

Step #4. Incorporate viral marketing tactics

The team hoped the people entering the sweepstakes would provide the primary promotional force for the campaign. To achieve this, the team gave entrants an incentive to refer friends to the sweepstakes. Anyone who convinced friends to enter would receive additional entries themselves.

The team encapsulated this incentive in a tool offered on the campaign's Facebook tab. This tool automatically displayed on the page after someone entered the sweepstakes. Visitors could use it to send invitations to friends via Facebook or email.

For Facebook, visitors began typing their friends' names into the tool. The tool automatically suggested names from their contacts on the network, making the form easier to fill out. After clicking the button labeled "send sweepstakes invitation," a message from the visitor was sent to their friends encouraging them to enter and providing a link to do so.

Automatic updates

After someone entered the contest on the team's Facebook form, a pop-over message asked entrants to post a message on their Facebook walls (sending it to all their contacts). The message mentioned that the person entered and provided a link for others to do so. This simple tactic was one of the most effective ways the team found to promote the sweepstakes.

Step #5. Promote the sweepstakes

People did not necessarily have to fill out the team's form on Facebook to enter the sweepstakes. Anyone who followed Sugar Association on Facebook or Twitter during the campaign would also be entered. But since the team wanted to encourage people to also sign up for its email program, much of the team's marketing drove traffic to the Facebook landing page that included the email opt-in request.

Aside from the viral tactics mentioned above, here's how the team promoted the campaign:
  1. Facebook ads at launch - The team bought targeted display ads on Facebook to kick start the campaign and help spread the word. These ads ran only for the first two weeks since the team wanted its viral tactics to do the heavy lifting. Total amount spent on advertising was about $200.

  2. Homepage - The team posted a simple graphic on the rotating display on its homepage. Clicking the image brought visitors to the entry page on Facebook.

  3. Social profile updates - The team continually posted about the sweepstakes to on its Facebook and Twitter profiles. These mentions at times highlighted a recent winner and typically linked back to the entry page on Facebook.

Step #6. Remember the "sweepers" effect

There is a hardcore group of sweepstakes fanatics who hunt for these promotions through blogs and social networks. The team refers to this group as "sweepers." They typically enter sweepstakes only to win and abandon the company once the campaign ends.

This group can cause considerable grief in marketing departments that watch their metrics surge during a campaign and plummet soon afterward. Sugar Association, however, had a trend working in its favor: the demographics of a typical sweeper almost mirrored those of the team's targeted audience. Both groups were typically online moms age 25 to 47, the team said.

Keeping the "sweeper" phenomenon in mind, the team anticipated a dip in the results after the campaign but hoped the similarities of the two audiences would keep the drop to a minimum.


"Our audience numbers increased dramatically, and we also started getting feedback on posts," Briscoe says. "There was a substantial difference in the engagement level almost immediately."

After the 12-week campaign, the team saw the following results:
  • 7,899 more Facebook likes, a 4,488% increase over the initial 176

  • 1,035 more Twitter followers, a 620% increase over the initial 167

  • 3,395 more email subscribers, a 368% increase over the initial 923

  • 67% of visitors to the campaign landing page on Facebook either filled out the entry form or clicked to "like" Sugar Association

More than 3,100 invitations were sent during the campaign. Among those sent, 8.38% resulted in another entry into the sweepstakes.

Small post-campaign reduction

The team successfully reached its target audience, with 73% of the entries coming from females. This helped the team minimize the post-campaign drawdown wrought by the exodus of "sweepers." Facebook "likes" fell by fewer than 200 in the month following the campaign.

"The 90-day campaign gave us a solid foundation to build upon. Once the sweepstakes were over, we continued to work to maintain the followers that we gained," Briscoe says.

Useful links related to this article

  1. Facebook tab - default 'details' landing page

  2. Facebook tab - enter the sweepstakes

  3. Facebook tab - invitation tool

  4. Facebook ads

Inbox Group - Helped the team craft the campaign and manage social media communications

List Growth: Viral sweepstakes boosts large email list more than 8%

Inbound Marketing 2011: The 9 social media, content marketing, and SEO articles your peers shared most

Social Spam: Why you should clean out your LinkedIn and Facebook communities

Most-Tweeted MarketingSherpa Blog Posts of 2011: Top social media tactics, email marketing testing, and more

To learn more, check out some of our 114 case studies on social networking and viral marketing.

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