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What I Learned Giving Away $60,000 of Prizes in a Week

A number of people have asked me to write some reflections on running the ProBlogger Birthday Bash $54,000 Giveaway last week.

What were the results like? What did I learn? Will I do it again? How would I do it differently?

All good questions – let me share a few reflections (as much for my own benefit – so next year I’ve got some ideas on how to do it):

problogger-birthday-bash.jpg‘Results’ – Over the week we ran 18 giveaways. There were over 4000 on site entries (a few of the competitions called for people to enter in some other way so we’re not sure how many entered those). RSS subscriber numbers increased over the week by around 1500 (in a normal week it goes up by a few hundred) and site traffic was up by about 10-20% (depending upon the day).

The week wasn’t a massive success in terms of driving traffic – however that wasn’t my overall goal. The main thing that I wanted to do over the week was to add to the sense of community on the site – to have some fun – to get a few lurkers participating and to thank readers for being a part of ProBlogger. In this regard the week was a big success with many first time comments and a lot of thank you emails from readers who seemed to enjoy it.

It’s was a lot of Work – when I first called for prizes for the giveaway I didn’t expect the response from sponsors that I got. Previously when I’d called for prizes I’d had 30-40 offers – but this time it ended up being around 130 (including a few late ones). I realized at this point that the event could be huge – but that it was also potentially going to be a logistical nightmare. The solution was to hire Lara to manage the project. This took a lot of the work away from me – however the week was still a lot of work for us both and left me feeling quite exhausted.

Get a Team to Help – one of the best things that I did was to bring Lara on to manage the project. A smaller scale giveaway would have been manageable for me alone – but with 100+ sponsors to coordinate and thousands of entries to sort through it would have been beyond me.

Reflections on Prizes – I am so grateful to those who sponsored the project. It was amazing to see them all listed. Having said that – there’s a few things that I’d do differently when it comes to prizes next time:

  • Less Prizes – 100 prizes of such high value was great for creating a buzz about the project – however it brought a number of challenges. These included the logistics of making sure everyone who won one got one – but also giving sponsors value for their buck. 10 prizes would have meant that each sponsor got some serious attention – but with 100 it was difficult to give each their moment in the spotlight.
  • Higher Value Prizes – having less prizes would mean that we’d be able to include just a few higher value prizes. This would hopefully keep the value of the competition high and give people incentive to participate
  • More ‘On Topic’ Prizes – while I loved the fact that we gave away prizes with a lot of diversity (everything from scar treatment cream, to bunny slippers, to holidays) it made it also made the project challenging. I think next time I’d attempt to keep the prizes more blogging related – or at least to weed out some of the more off topic ones.

Less Giveaways – having less prizes would mean fewer giveaways. Over the week we ran 18 separate giveaways. While this gave a lot of people a chance to win something it was probably too many things happening over the week. At times we had two giveaways running at the same time (some went for 24 hours and some for 8). This caused some confusion and made it all quite hectic for us to manage. Next time I’d attempt to make the whole process simpler.

Weekdays not Weekends – we decided to run the bulk of the competitions over a weekend rather than during the week simply because it’d make it easier to manage it for us. The downside of this was of course that less people are around to compete on the weekend. We couldn’t really avoid this on this project – but next year I think I’d go for a midweek project.

Using Keywords for Comment Entries Was Genius – one of the challenges that we faced was that to enter people had to leave a comment on a post here at ProBlogger. The challenge with this is that my comment moderating tool (Akismet) can be a little too eager on occasion and filters some first time comments as spam. While these can be retrieved – I get a lot of real spam comments and finding them all was going to be a challenge. However we decided to make entrants include a ‘keyword’ in their comment so that we could quickly track down comments falsely queued as spam. This saved us hours of work.

Distraction and Burnout – running a competition of this scale does have a downside. If you haven’t got it already – this was a lot of work and I’ll admit that it’s left me in the last couple of days with a bit of a hangover (what good party doesn’t). Next time I think I’d work harder in the lead up to a competition to have some posts written before the competition that I could use in the days following it to take some of the load off.

The other downside of any project that runs for a few days on a blog is that it can be a distraction from the main purposes of the blog itself. I attempted to combat this by keeping new ‘normal’ posts going up on the blog over the week. This helped a lot – but the blog did get a little crazy for a few days and on reflection a few less giveaways might have helped to keep the blog more on track. I think we did OK on this – but next time I think that a simpler competition with less giveaways might be better on this front also.

Overall I’d judge the experience as being a success. I definitely want to do another one next year – but will approach it a little differently.

What did you think about the week that was? I’m aware that it wasn’t perfect – but would love to hear your constructive critique and suggestions on what you thought about it and how you’d suggest we tackle it next year.

PS: Lara has written a similar post with some of her own reflections on the week of giveaways.

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
  1. The giveaways was a perfect idea to bring the community together. Even if I didn’t win, it was still fun.

  2. It’s too bad I didn’t win anything, but it brought me out of lurkdom, so it did its purpose. Great job, by the way. :)

  3. Even if you didn’t win you still won for participating in some of the exercises.

  4. It was definitely fun to participate in as well as being a sponsor of a prize :)

  5. It may have been a lot of work, but it was worth it!

  6. It must have been a lot of work. Congrats of doing a fine job! And it’s also very interesting to read your thoughts about organising this contest.

  7. I was proud of you Darren, I entered couple of contests , haven’t won anything but was fun!.

    I am planing to do the same soon, well not the Net Amount you had but hopefully close to that.

    If you could provide me some of your distributors and see if they would like to giveaway more goodies, that would be awesome. (Email Me)

    Thanks Darren.

  8. I said it this earlier in another post, it think it’s amazing what one community can accomplish with “give away’s” and asking the community to join in.

  9. Congrats on the success of the prizes and giveaways. Keep it up!! Hopefully I can do something like this in the future :)

  10. One added point. You gave away items with real value. As we have launched our new search engine Search Free Apps (www.SearchFreeApps.com) we have found that the credibility associated with the free services is critical. Yes, people love prizes and free services, but they are naturally skeptical. So you need to be providing real value–even if it’s a contest or a free service.

    Bruce Judson
    Founder, Search Free Apps

  11. it was for pure fun, seriously and winning is not everything..

  12. Darren, you did a great job running this contest. Hopefully, I will be able to run my own blog contest like this one day! Can’t wait till the next time this rolls around, maybe I will win something next time ;-)

  13. Great tips from experienced people, would use the management philosophy if I will have similar contest. IF I have $60,000 to giveaway that’s it.

  14. I enjoyed your Birthday celebrations and thought you and your sponsors were quite generous.

  15. It was fun to participate and to see how many other people responded to the challenges. However, sometimes I just felt like the entry barrier was too low. Only commenting, regardless what one says in the comment, can sometimes turn into a not very entertaining outcome. On the other hand, for such a short time, it would have been almost impossible to organize it in any other way.

    What I liked most: the challenge with the poems. I had a lot of fun reading them. You could publish them in a humorous e-book :)

    Happy anniversary to problogger, and see you at the 10th birthday!

  16. While I appreciate you giving some prizes away to the community at large, I actually stopped reading the blog for a bit. The prize notifications were very overwhelming.

    Less sometimes is more.

  17. I thought it was perfect. With the quantity of prizes, there was hope to actually win something! I kept watching the clock to see when the next contest was coming up.

  18. And to be frank, I used to look in on Problogger every now and then but the contest is what got Problogger into my feed reader.

  19. One thought, and you kind of touch on it above, is that you had giveaways going on for 8 hour periods. Now, this can be good to give people all over the world a chance to participate, but I must admit, there were a few of those when I looked before I went home from work one day, checked the next morning, and missed two giveaways I would have entered it.

    So perhaps extending the entry period to at least a 24 hour window could allow for greater participation. Though, as you also mentioned, this would require fewer giveaways.

    All in all, though, loved the contest!

  20. this was one of the best giveaways i’ve ever seen darren, you held up the fort and managed to get away from it with few if any battle scars. good job, can’t wait until next year

  21. overall,the competetion was nice.Thanks darren for such conducting such competetion.Well managed.The only problem was at last moment you speed up the giveaway process.Instead of 8 hours,you could have got to 15 hours.For many people its not possible to come after 8 hors.12-15 hous is reasonable.Over all..it was nice.

  22. I thought it was a great event! I was one of the people sponsoring a prize…and was a bit disappointed I didn’t get the traffic boost to my blog I was hoping to see, but it did increase a bit. This probably happened because my blog has a narrow focus that is probably not appealing to the majority of your readers. I think you are correct in saying fewer prizes would have given more visibility to each sponsor. Overall, I had great fun entering and following the contests and appreciate having the opportunity to get my little blog linked to a big one like yours. I hope you do it again next year.

    Genealogy Reviews Online

  23. Maybe I am a miserable old soul but I found the constant onslaught of ‘BLOG GIVEAWAYS !!’ too much like spam.

    I have absolutely no interest in ‘winning’ a pair of ‘barefoot bunny slippers’ or a ‘pampered pooch pakage’ just by adding a comment that contains the word RANDOM69.

    When I saw multiple comments like ‘Wow. This is great’, I honestly thought people were taking the p*ss.

    It would take a lot for me to unsubscribe from a blog I enjoy greatly but if that exercise is repeated, I may well do.

    PS. Full disclosure. I already have a pair of (pink) barefoot bunny slippers.

  24. Ah! Now I see why you had people use keywords. That makes perfect sense. You can see why I thought you were doing some kind of research as part of the contest. That is genius. Well-done.

  25. All and All, I ‘d have to say the week was successful — an here’s why.

    1) The magnitude of your giveaway was impressive and tends to set your blog apart from most.

    2) The number of sponsors participating made them aware of value your blog offers. Think about it, often sponsors infrequently visit their advertising blogs. The giveaway gave them another reason to take a good look at you property.

    3) The giveaway generated a underlying amount of suspense and excitement; similar to what happens when children are waiting of Santa Claus. This can only create more buzz for your blog that will outlive the giveaway.

  26. Yes – it was fun to participate even though I wasn’t a winner.

    Especially fun was the poem…I still think mine was the best =)

  27. From one of the first time readers/commenters I had fun with the contests, as well. I didn’t win anything except a valuable resource for the future. Thanks.

  28. I was lucky enough to win the SEO ebook, so here’s my chance to say thanks and Happy Birthday ProBlogger!

  29. I liked the contest overall (disclosure: I won something and I had readers that won), but I do agree with some of your suggestions. While the odd prizes were funny, many weren’t really on-topic with the contests.

    Perhaps you could solve this with a gift registry option for sponsors. It can be hard to come up with an acceptable prize, and not know if your prize will be accepted. This would let you control the lower value prizes, and keep your prizes relevant. Of course for the big granddaddy prizes, sponsors could be allowed to come up with their own packages.

    I do think perhaps there were too many contests going at once, but having so many prizes meant that a lot of people could win. I liked the contests that involved some effort more, even if it was just to compose a short poem about how awesome ProBlogger is, or write what you would do with a million dollars. The ones that just involved leaving a comment with a keyword felt a little cheaper and didn’t add value to the site.

    Also, thank you for clarifying the reasoning behind the keywords in the comments. I had some readers who were concerned about the intentions behind the keywords, and I could only reason that they must be for searching purposes (I was close).

  30. It was a lot of fun reading all the posts and comments, as well as participating. I did win something and I think the fact that you had a lot of smaller value prizes is what made that possible. Your blog isn’t the lottery, no one is going to retire off one of these giveaways, so I’d say that more smaller prizes was a definite plus.

    Thanks for a weekend of fun, for the prize itself and, as always, for running a great resource here.

  31. I thought it made a nice change from your usual posting schedule, I looked forward to the competitions, especially as weekends are quite quiet.

    I also won a prize, which helps :)

  32. I agree with Simonne, I’d love to see the e-book on the poems.. they were really hilarious!

    The scar treatment cream mention still throws me into laughing fits Darren but I am grateful for all the prizes I got …… :)

    it was pure fun and enjoyable and although the blog looked a bit crazy, the spirit of the people was enough to bring me back to check what was going on!

  33. I thought it was a lot of fun! I would agree with all of your “lessons learned,” and next year you may be able to do more pre-party planning, which usually helps mitigate the headaches.

    I was excited to be a prize sponsor, and I found some very interesting sites for other sponsors as well.

  34. My question is… Was it worth it? Did you get what you were looking for or after a couple of days everything went back to normal?

  35. Birthday bash giveaway was a really awesome idea. Reader were enjoying to participate in the giveaway. To post their comment on the top, they decided to subscribe. I like the poem competition .

  36. Well, it sure was hectic for us – I can imagine how it would have been for you!

    But it was fun – and yes, reducing the prizes would give more value to sponsors and would be less of an ordeal to you too.

  37. Great job! It is really amazing that you pulled this off as smoothly as you did. I learned a lot as a new blogger and was exposed to new blogs and people.

    I heard that you (or was it Lara) took the time to comment on the posts people had on their site to enter to win the Monitors. That was thoughtful. Maybe as the dust settles you’ll have time to check out and comment on the reviews some of us did for your $2,000 IttyBiz prize. :-) I had fun doing it.

  38. Great Job, It was a great week, but in the future I don’t think that you should just limit it to blogging related prizes, I think that you will find that some of your subscribers discovered your site looking for one of the non blogging prizes and now have stayed becuause of your content (my non-blogging fiancee independantly found your page, because she wanted to win a truffle tree and then subscribed and told me about the great stuff on your page and that I should sign up for your feed) plus it is fun to win something that you would not necessarily buy for yourself (unlike your blogging prizes)

  39. A. Nonny Mouse says: 10/12/2007 at 8:30 am

    Well done – it was obviously a huge logistical job and I think you were really smart to bring someone in. A lot of people would have tried to do it on their own.

    I’m sure we can all learn a lot from this, even if many of us aren’t doing stuff on quite the same scale.

    One small point, only because I am a pedant, but it should be ‘fewer prizes’ and ‘fewer giveaways’ rather than ‘less prizes’ and ‘less giveaways’. Sorry, I couldn’t help myself – it’s a pet peeve.

  40. Because I’m a newcomer to blogging and visit for the advice, the non related prizes didn’t matter to me. I loved the blogging exercises because that’s why I’m here, to learn. I also believe less would be better next time.

    Overall? It was fun, interesting, educational, brilliant, tiring, confusing, competitive and must have been rigged because I didn’t win anything. :( (just kidding)

    By the way, I still have not received my piece of cake yet. Did you send it FedEx or UPS?

  41. Hey Darren (and Lara) –

    Great job! As a prize donator, next time I would just recommend narrowing down exactly what type of prizes you are looking for…

  42. I finished a month long contest in September where I offered a unique set of prizes each day…it was hard, and ultimately I doubt it did little to add to my unique visitor count…

    but, the most important thing that came from it was that I believe i built a stronger set of primary readers…those who check the site out day after day

    but eventually, I know they’ll tell their friends

  43. That was a lot of posts indeed. Although I am on my computer a lot, I’ve still not see a few posts until the 8-hour was already over. But I like the fact that you still keep the regular posts coming!

  44. It was a great cause, and many people participated, I dont think I personally won anything, but then again… I don’t really need anything at this point.

    Nice going Darren.

  45. The contest was great. I did win something. The 8 hour give away was also great. I hope some of the traffic that was generated can be sustained. And next time there should some real contest testing some skill or other of the bloggers looking up problogger.
    Thanks Darren

  46. Since I’m sort of a math freak, I was curious as to what kind of device you used to select the winners by. Was there a “random code generator” per se?

  47. Great post, Darren. I enjoyed reading this and found it pretty informative.

    I have to say one thing: One aspect of the giveaway that greatly disappointed me was being contacted by the winner of the prize, who mentioned he didn’t *want* the prize he’d won from us/you – and no, it wasn’t butt cream and yes, it was online business/blogging related.

    There has to be a way to ensure that people who enter the giveaway are actually interested in receiving the prize. Offering many prizes at once without people knowing which they’d get might have been a bad idea in this regard – they’d be hoping for X but end up with Y, something they didn’t want and couldn’t use.

    However, regardless of whether the prizewinner wanted his prize or not, I was still proud to be a sponsor of your giveaway and I appreciate your hard work in all this. Congratulations to you and Lara on pulling this bash off with a bang!

  48. Man I just wonder what blogging will be in three years. $54 000 for giveaways! Heh.. I am giving out one music album in http://metal-music-videos.com, worth of $25 :)

    Blogging is developing fast. I hope this won’t be a bubble as is was few years ago.

    Great weekend for everyone!

  49. Hey Darren,

    I’m really coming late to this particular party, but interestingly enough have just posted on my brand spanking new blog about the pitfalls of sweepstakes when you don’t do the necessary back end work. Anyway, I have no idea if you worked through rules and regulations and the like, but you might want to keep all of this in mind if you do a giveaway again next year.

    (here’s the post I’d mentioned http://coolquotient.blogspot.com/2007/10/sweeping-changes-what-not-to-do-when.html)

  50. Feel free to send those sponsors my way! I’m trying to raise the last few gifts for my $1,000 cash giveaway!

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