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11 a.m. on a Tuesday.
I’m at work, when a coworker says:
“Uh, your website is down.”
Srsly? Not good. Really, REALLY not good.
Over the past 24 hours, my site had taken a pounding—hundreds of pageviews a second.
And after nearly 100,000 visits, it finally keeled over.
Then the angry emails started pouring in.
Believe it or not, all of this was a good thing.
Because those visits and angry emails—they were all from people who were beating down my door to give me their email address.
This server-melting traffic flood was triggered by a simple contest I launched to grow my email list … that then went viral.
Fortunately, I was able to get my server on its feet again so my giveaway could continue.
Here’s the email I sent after importing only the first batch of new subscribers:
And by the time my contest ended, I had collected 187,991 email addresses.
That meant I’d grown my email list by 3,418%—in just over a week.
Now, my results were HIGHLY unusual.
But I’ve since helped other bloggers use giveaways to grow their lists by 50%, 100% or even 200%.
Today, using the 4 simple steps below, I want to help you grow your list too–after all that’s why you signed up to Email1K.
1. Choose a Killer & Targeted Prize
Every time I talk to someone about giveaways, I hear the same thing:
“Oh, I know! I’ll give away an iPad!”
Wrong! Bad idea.
Why? Because EVERYONE wants a free iPad.
The perfect prize is something that would make your target audience do a naked belly-crawl over broken glass-—but wouldn’t earn so much as a second glance from anyone else.
The audience for my giveaway was programmers who use Sublime Text. Many of them use the free “trial” version of Sublime, which frequently pops up an annoying nag screen.
What better prize for this audience than a free Sublime license?
Another important factor: Your prize should be something you can easily describe in 60 to 80 characters.
Most people will probably first learn of your giveaway as they flick through their Twitter or Facebook feed. If you can’t convey the idea in a tweet, you’ll have a tough time promoting your contest.
Prize selection is THE most important step in the whole process.
And if you’re not sure what your audience would love…just ask them!
2. Set Up Your Giveaway
To actually run your contest, you have a couple of options.
The Old Fashioned Way
For my first two giveaways, I just wrote up a blog post with the rules and embedded an opt-in form directly in the post. Then I just tweeted the URL and posted it on social bookmarking sites.
This approach worked pretty well. Between the two contests, I netted around 1,800 new subscribers.
But there was always something that bugged me about this, and here it is:
People had NO incentive to tell their friends about my giveaway.
If they did, it actually HURT their chances of winning, because more subscribers meant they had to compete with more people to be the one winner.
The Viral Approach
But for my most recent giveaway—the one that melted my server—I tried something different.
I used a WordPress plugin that’s specifically designed to make giveaways “go viral.”
It’s called KingSumo Giveaways, and it was actually created by Noah and the team behind Email1K and AppSumo.
What did KingSumo Giveaways do that my hacked-together contests didn’t?
It gives every person that joins your giveaway a powerful INCENTIVE to share it with their friends.
Each person who enters gets their own “lucky URL.” Then they can earn extra “entries” (chances to win) by getting their friends to enter the giveaway using that URL.
And when every person that enters tells two or three friends, well … Your contest starts to take on a life of its own.
The plugin also makes it really easy to set up a giveaway–it took me less than an hour.
Here’s what my giveaway looked like:
I walk through the entire process in detail in this post, but here are the basic steps:
- Install the plugin on your WordPress site.
- Choose a background image and shareable product image.
- Add your Facebook and Twitter accounts.
- Write a headline and some simple body copy that explains what they’ll get and how the giveaway works.
- Hook it up to your Aweber or MailChimp account.
Kingsumo Giveaways isn’t free, but it’s one of the best investments you can make to grow your list. (You can also get a 50% discount for the plugin here.)
3. Plan Your Promotion
Even with a good prize, your giveaway won’t work if you just launch and hope for the best.
You need to give it a good shove to get it started, and then you’ll need to keep promoting it until the clock runs out.
Here are a few ways you can get the word out:
Announce your contest on your blog: This one’s a no-brainer.
Use social media: But don’t just tweet once or throw up a single Facebook post. You should post 1-3 times per day as long as your contest is active. I usually do two tweets—one in the morning and one in the afternoon each day.
Email your list: Contact your existing list when you launch. This will give you an initial burst of exposure to get the ball rolling. (Especially important if your contest has a viral component.)
You should also plan to email them again on the last day for a final flurry of signups. (Bonus tip: This is a MUST any time you’re promoting something to your list, whether it’s a giveaway, a webinar or a great deal on your latest ebook.)
Yes, you’ll get people from your existing list entering the giveaway if you do this. But the extra mileage you get when they share your contest is worth it.
Use paid advertising: This is a good option if you’re just starting out and have just a handful of existing subscribers. When you buy ads on Facebook or Twitter for a giveaway, you’ll get lots of engagement (cheaper clicks!) and people will even share your ads (free advertising!).
“Borrow” an audience: Even if you don’t have much of an audience yet, you can try to team up with someone who does.
Insider List: If you have a group of close friends or colleagues in your space or in your target audience space, give them a heads up a few days before to see if they have any feedback or if they can promote.
Find a few people who have big email lists—and whose audiences overlap with yours.
Then figure out something you can offer in exchange for them promoting your contest to their list.
This could be as simple as trading your services as a web designer. Or maybe they sell a product that you could include in your giveaway, which means more exposure for them.
4. Run Your Giveaway!
Schedule everything in advance as much as possible. This is especially helpful for the initial wave of promotions, where you want to hit multiple channels at once for maximum impact.
- Automate as much of the launch process as you can.
- Bulk schedule tweets in advance with Plugg.io, usually a minimum of two per day, plus some extras on the last day.
- Schedule out the launch email and the “last chance” emails.
I like to run my contests for a MINIMUM of 10 days to two weeks so that I have plenty of time to promote them.
With the main promotions automated ahead of time, there’s not a lot you have to do to manage the giveaway. Use the time to experiment with other promotional strategies to keep the entries coming in. Two weeks is enough time to contact other sites in your niche, or test out some Twitter or Facebook ads.
And definitely make one last push as the clock winds down–urgency is a great motivator!
Fast, Easy and Inexpensive
Before I started doing giveaways, I was mainly building my list through blogging and Twitter. In a good month, I’d get 200 or 300 new subscribers. It took me more than 8 months of painstaking work to hit the 1K subscribers mark.
Giveaways are quick and easy to put together. In my case, I spent just an hour or so getting KingSumo set up and installed and another hour planning out my promotion strategy and scheduling the emails and tweets. Once I did that, the entire contest was set to run on autopilot. Well, at least until my server melted down …
Giveaways also far less costly than traditional advertising. In my niche, I find that I’m able to get email subscribers from Twitter ads for ~$1.50 each and ~$3 to ~$4 on Facebook.
By contrast, my per-subscriber cost on my first two giveaways was about $0.15, and for the crazy successful contest I ran with KingSumo, I paid a whopping $0.001 per subscriber.
I would have burned through $281,986.50 to collect the same number of addresses with Twitter ads.
That’s why Step 1 (picking the right prize) is so important.
For each of my contests, the prize only cost me $70! If I’d given away an iPad in my first two contests, I’d have paid closer to $1 each for the subscribers—and they would have been less targeted.
But the best part about adding giveaways to your list building arsenal is…
You can run one every few months and every time there is a greater chance that it will go viral.
Lesson 7 Task
1) Choose a prize. Remember that the best prize is something that’s desirable to your target audience but uninteresting to everyone else.
2) Set up your giveaway, either by creating a page on your site with an optin form or installing the KingSumo Giveaways plugin on your WordPress blog.
3) Pick three channels for promoting your giveaway, including at least one that involves reaching out to an audience beyond your own.
Leave a comment on Email1K with your plans to get in front of an outside audience.
4) Launch your giveaway, and promote it heavily for 10 days.
P.S. If want the full, gory details of my Sublime text giveaway I shared them in a guest post on the Smart Passive Income blog.