How To Run A Successful Referral Contest

At Digital Growth we've had huge success running viral contests for our clients to build and push users through the social followers -> email subscriber -> paying customer funnel.

For the first time ever we're sharing some insights into how we do this and why viral contests have proven to be so successful for generating email subscribers and reducing customer CPA. 

We love running contests and viral launch campaigns for our clients as a way of turning social media followers into email subscribers and eventually into paying customers.

We’d tried and tested social traffic to landing pages, which were converting fine, but we wanted to amplify the social audiences, and found that viral competitions are a very effective way to do this.

What growth did we need?
Clients would come to us asking us to grow their email lists by thousands of subscribers, and they wanted to achieve this at the lowest possible cost. This is quite a daunting task when there is little momentum or acquisition infrastructure in place.

What are we aiming to achieve by running a viral contest? 
We are generally aiming to get 1,000+ email subscribers from a viral contest of this nature and to send the subscribers and offer which will convert them into customers. We have had results ranging from 500 entries to 10,000+ depending on the niche.

Here's some contest example results:

Justin Bieber Tickets Contest


Here's the top 5 things we learned through running viral competitions:

  • Emails: 8,178+
  • Social followers: 5,000+
  • Customers: 1,000+ app downloads
  • Social media mentions increased exponentially.
  • Evil Energy PS4 Pro Contest

  • Emails: 6,594+
  • Social followers: 3,000+
  • Traffic increase: 20,000+ website clicks during contest period
  • We’ve setup and promoted a lot of these contests. Some work better than others.

  • Viral contests are a great way to turn social media followers into email subscribers.
  • Seeding contests with an existing email list can help a lot get you started.
  • Not every contest you setup is going to be a sure-fire success.
  • The more entries you get, the more viral the contest seems to go.
  • Sending email blasts mid-competition is a great way to boost the viral effect and bump up entry numbers. The more entries you have, the bigger the effect of a follow up email will be.
  • What else do we do to improve viral contest effectiveness? 

  • Send big email blasts to pre-existing lists as soon as the contest launches.
  • Drive traffic through mass tweeting at relevant people.
  • Get as much PR and influencer shoutouts to the campaign as possible. PR has been a great way to get high quality leads.
  • Ask for feedback on the contest page from customers & others before launching.
  • Use custom entries tools to get more information from entrants.
  • How do we promote contests and what works best? 

  • We’ve promoted and cross-promoted contests on lots of different channels. We try to promote through as many channels as possible simultaneously to get the contest going. \

  • Mostly via PR, Email, & Social Media.

    Once we get momentum the contests really start to accelerate :)

    What are the top 8 things that work best for promoting a viral contest?

  1. Email a solid pre-subscribed list (+Get others to email it out for you) – We’ve found email to be a really good source of signups, especially if they’re already on your list. Cold email generally gets much lower conversion rates than emailing a subscribed list.
  2. Twitter – We build networks of 10+ Twitter accounts, build nice followers and send tweets and DM’s to the followers telling them about the contest.
  3. Instagram – We’ve built niche accounts and DM the followers to tell them about the contest. It works ok, but if you start sending too much traffic from too many accounts via DM’s the accounts can get shut down or suspended.
  4. LinkedIn – Building up networks of connections and telling them about the contest via direct message and published pulse blog posts.
  5. Paid traffic via Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Google etc. – We see an opportunity with viral contests to reduce CPA by sending ads to contest landing pages, collecting Facebook pixels for retargeting all the people who land on the page (and those who sign up), and also trying to convert them with an opt-in bribe as soon as they sign up for the contest.
  6. Facebook Groups – We’ve tried a lot of stuff with Facebook groups. Where we’ve had most success is building relationships with the people who own the groups and getting them to post the link into the group as they already have authority there.
  7. PR – We’ve also found that high quality PR can boost the number of high quality relevant signups.
  8. Competition directories – Quality of entrants drops from this source but it’s a good way to get the word out to a lot of people quickly.
  • About Us
    Digital Growth are an international Growth Agency focused on building social media audiences on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn & Instagram. We turn social media audiences into email subscribers & customers by creating and promoting viral contests and launch campaigns.

    For more info on how we can help email us: