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3 Steps to Generating Buzz with a YouTube Contest

3 Steps to Generating Buzz with a YouTube Contest
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Back in 2009, Ford Motor Co. made a bold move to give away new cars, free gas and free insurance to 100 lucky drivers. This six-month social media experiment, called "The Ford Fiesta Movement," started with a simple video contest on YouTube and generated a huge amount of buzz.

The rules were simple: Upload a video explaining what you would do with a new Ford Fiesta if you were one of the winners. I was one of the fortunate 100 who received a free car, but Ford was the real winner.

In just six months, participants posted 11,000 Fiesta-related YouTube videos, and the company tracked more than five million mentions of "Ford Fiesta" or the "Fiesta Movement" across social networking platforms. As a result, there was a 38 percent boost in awareness of Ford Fiesta among the Generation Y population -- and without a single dollar spent on traditional advertising.

Ford may be a huge brand with the resources to offer huge prizes, but small businesses can host more modest but still successful contests. It just takes the right strategy.

With some four billion daily views, YouTube is an ideal platform to share your message and build a community. But with more than 72 hours of footage uploaded every minute, there's also a lot of noise. It's not a race to upload as many videos as you can. Rather, it's about developing an effective strategy to separate your business from all the chatter.

A video contest is one way to stand out, and it's far easier and more realistic than trying to create a viral video. The most successful YouTube contests can transform customers into sales evangelists who willingly tap into their existing networks to do the marketing for you.

Here is a three-step strategy that can help you launch an engaging video contest:

Related: Chris Brogan on Using Video to Market Your Business (Video)

1. Motivate your audience.
The trick is to create an incentive that is strong enough to encourage your audience to take the time and effort to create a video. You don't have to give away a new car, but a free supply of your product would be a great start.

Marie Forleo, a business coach for female entrepreneurs who has used YouTube for video contests for the past three years, offers 10 full scholarships to her $2,000 coaching program. Contestants submit a one-minute video sharing their story and explaining why they deserve a scholarship. This year, more than 370 women applied, and each of their videos became a testimonial for Forleo's program.

What can your business give away that would motivate people to participate? You might think a shiny new toy is the answer, but that may not be the best choice. People desire things that money can't buy, like recognition and special treatment. They like to feel important and would welcome greater access to successful entrepreneurs like you.

In my private forum on my website I recently asked my users what type of prize they would want if I offered a contest. Answers ranged from "a VIP coaching day with James" to free promotions that showcased their business to the rest of my audience.

Related: Tips for Creating Business Videos That Customers Will Watch

2. Give customers a voice.
Start by uploading your own video to your YouTube channel explaining the rules and other details of your contest. Contestants can then upload their entries by leaving a "video response" under your video.

A YouTube contest not only can provide value to your audience, but also show that you're listening to them. You want to give your audience a voice so they can express themselves and not simply promote your business. But you also want the videos to help boost your business. So, you might ask people to demonstrate how they use your product, talk about why they like it or offer suggestions for new product lines.

3. Cash in on the social capital.
To determine the winner of your contest, make the social influence of contestants one of the criteria. When Forleo is choosing winners, for example, she awards bonus points to the contestants with the most retweets and shares. In the past year, she has increased her YouTube channel following to more than 1.6 million views.

If contestants know that views, likes and shares are key to winning, they will reach out to their friends for support -- effectively spreading awareness about your brand at the same time. You also can encourage contestants to tap into their social networks to cast votes in your contest. Using software such as LaunchPad6, contestants can invite their friends and followers to vote on their video entries.

Whatever approach you take, it will mean free marketing and brand exposure to whole new audiences.

Related: Ways to Optimize Video for Search Engines

New York City-based James Wedmore is the author of The YouTube Marketing Book (Level 5 Publishing, 2012) and founder of Video Traffic Academy, a community of video marketers.

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