Challenge marketing for credit unions part 8: Encouraging participation

Encouraging multiple levels of participation that build and reward an army of followers

How do you get people to not only take you up on your initial challenge, but to also continue to be involved with your challenge marketing program website throughout the year?

It's worthwhile to go back and review the 90-9-1 Principle that I cited in Part 3. Remember that 90% of users are the "audience," or lurkers, 9% of users are "editors," sometimes modifying content or adding to an existing thread and only 1% of users are "creators," driving large amounts of the social group’s activity. (Source: 90-9-1.com)

Since participation is driven by your creators, your energy and your thinking when developing your challenge concept should centre on how to get and keep your creators involved. The more compelling your content is, the more likely your editors are to participate and the more likely you are to convert your audience from lurkers to contributors.

Encourage and facilitate various types of interactions

Your blog is key. Everything that is new should be blogged about. Your blog will enable you to disseminate information on a regular basis and to encourage dialogue with site visitors. And because your blog will be the main source of information, you should make sure to offer ready access to various subscription methods. I recommend running your RSS feed through Feedburner because it offers both RSS and e-mail subscription options and lots of free tools to optimize, publicize and track your feed traffic.

I would also suggest going beyond a blog with other forms of interaction. On Young & Free Alberta, in addition to commenting on blog posts, there are various ways to add content and to interact with the site. All visitors can vote on weekly poll topics, submit poll ideas, add events to the calendar, add to the free stuff directory and ask the experts a question.

On Change Everything, casual visitors can view all of the content, vote on the latest poll and comment on blog posts. Logged-in members can initiate changes, write blog posts, create success stories and nudge and follow other site members.

On What Are You Saving For?, casual visitors can use the savings calculators, read blog posts and view videos. Logged-in members can initiate savings goals and comment on blog posts.

Leaving a comment on a blog can be very intimidating for those not immersed in the online world. People who are timid about leaving a blog comment will be far more daring with an anonymous vote on a poll. Make sure to include at least two or three lightweight ways to interact with your site.

Ask for permission within every interaction and communicate often

Gaining permission is the key to building long-term return traffic. The time to draw people back for their next visit is while they are involved in the current visit. A typical visitor will likely be drawn to your site through a referral, a link, a shout out on a social site or maybe even through a paid advertisement. Take advantage of this momentary attention. If you are lucky enough to have encouraged this visitor to interact with your challenge marketing site, now is the time to ask for permission to enter into an ongoing dialogue. We recently upgraded the database functionality of our Young & Free platform to include e-update opt in options throughout the site. Every time a visitor comments on a blog post, submits a poll idea, adds an events to the calendar, adds to the free stuff directory, asks the experts a question or votes for their favourite finalist during the spokesperson voting phase, he or she is asked, "Would you like to receive e-updates and the chance to win great prizes?" More than 75% of participants on the site opt into the the Y&F Club.

To sweeten the pot and reward our visitors for ongoing participation, we offer simple, yet attractive monthly prizes that range in value from $50 to $150. To keep our audience in the loop, we send out an informative Y&F Club e-update every month. Because we have gained permission to e-mail our visitors, fewer than five people unsubscribe every month.

Constantly remind your staff and members about your challenge

Out of sight out of mind is not a winning strategy! Take advantage of the branch setting by putting your challenge marketing program in front of your staff and your members. Consider dynamic point-of-purchase posters and displays, ATM screen graphics, short videos for your plasma screens and banner ads on your corporate website. And remember, your members are not coming in through your homepage, they are bookmarking your online banking URL, so don't forget to include links within your online banking system and on the exit screen.

Additional participation strategies for a short-run annual program

If you are running a 12- to 16-week annual program, your schedule will likely culminate with the bestowing of your reward. Much like any popular reality or game show on TV, after the prize has been handed out, you will see participation, interest, traffic and attention drop off abruptly until your program is relaunched next year. This is to be expected. If you plan to run the program in the same period of time year in and year out, you will see the participation, interest, traffic and attention build again as you approach relaunch, because you've created built-in anticipation and interest.

You should not put much energy into promoting your challenge in the off season, but since you have likely grown your e-update and blog subscriber base, you should keep up the blog and e-updates from time to time. Consider tracking what your winning contestants have done with their reward or build excitement as you near the next year's challenge.

Additional participation strategies for a 52-week program

If your program is perpetual, you are going to have to work very hard to sustain a high level of interest year round. A good strategy is to break your year into phases and to make your reward in the competitive phases something that can fuel the rest of the year.

You can expect a high level of participation throughout a competitive challenge phase especially if the challenge has an exciting and appealing human interest story coupled with a significant reward. With Young & Free Alberta, the 12-week competitive challenge phase is broken down into three mini-phases. The applications, the shortlist and the public vote. The drama and excitement of young people gunning for a great job and doing everything within their creative powers to impress voters is undeniably exciting. Not only are our competitors actively participating on the site and around the social web, they are driving friends, family and fans back to site for more. The sheer excitement builds as more and more people are drawn into the story. This challenge phase finally culminates with the winner being surprised with the reward.

Since the prize with Young & Free is a full-time spokesperson position, the rest of the year has built-in sustainability. Our Y&F Alberta Spokester's job is to talk, type and tell good stories on the site by creating daily blog posts, weekly video blog posts and podcasts and getting out and attending and speaking at events.

Another worthwhile strategy to explore is to split your year into short bursts of excitement. Change Everything has a series of mini challenges with smaller rewards throughout the year. Some one-time challenges, like the Bike Share program, and other annual challenges, like the Viva la Resolution challenge surrounding the New Year, fill the calendar with reasons to get involved and to repeatedly return to the site.

What Are You Saving For? account holders are eligible to win monthly cash-prizes of at least $100 and can compete for a $2,000 share certificate in the semi-annual Biggest Saver Contest. These periodic competitions ensure that participants are engaged and casual visitors are intrigued on an ongoing basis.

No matter which way you slice and dice your year, you will need to leave your visitors wanting more and to give them a number of ways to interact and plenty of reasons to return.

Next up: setting participation goals and consistently measuring.

Tim