How #EsuranceSave30 Taught Us to Retain Fans After Social Media Contests

Alex Sobal
Posted by Alex Sobal on February 12, 2014

esurance-save-30As we’ve touched on the rules of running a Facebook contest before, running a promotion for your brand is a great way to increase fan engagement on your company’s various social media pages. At the same time, however, if a contest isn’t well-thought-out and properly executed, all of the time and resources you put into planning and running it will be wasted. Rather than throw time and money at something that will only leave you disappointed, follow these tips to help you sustain a successful social media contest.


Easily the most talked-about Super Bowl ad this year, Esurance was able to generate tons of buzz by promising to give one lucky Twitter user $1.5 million dollars for simply tweeting out anything (keyword: anything) that included the hashtag, #EsuranceSave30. Within the first minute after the commercial aired, the hashtag had already received over 224,000 mentions and was skyrocketing towards viral status. In fact, in just 36 hours, Esurance had accomplished:

  • Top-trending Twitter topic for 48 hours
  • Top-trending brand following the Super Bowl
  • Top-trending single event on Super Bowl Sunday
    • #SB48: 1,421,791 mentions
    • #superbowl: 2,451,090 mentions
    • #EsuranceSave30: 4,003,569 mentions
  • 2.6 billion social impressions
  • Follower growth from under 10,000 to over 267,000

Pretty impressive, right?

Well…not exactly. You see, when I first saw the commercial air after the game, this was my immediate reaction:

After “sneakily” working in the hashtag and sending the tweet (hey, I wanted that $1.5 million dollars too!), all I could do was sit back and watch the craziness unfold. By the next morning, there were already numerous reports on the ad’s wild popularity – very few of which were positive. With only a few rules and practically no barrier to entry, Twitter users took advantage of the opportunity to make Esurance look foolish. Take this tweet from @AdamWednesdays for example: "Every tweet with #EsuranceSave30 is an entry to win? Then let me use this tweet to say: Esurance was founded by Nazi war criminals." With tweets like these being a dime a dozen during the contest, Esurance had thousands of mentions that brought negative attention towards their brand. But that was only the beginning…

What Really Went Wrong for Esurance?

Despite their brand name being mentioned in tweets about “Nazi war criminals,” among many other things, Esurance was bound to have problems before the contest even started. In fact, when I sent out my tweet about the promotion, the tweet I just referenced hadn’t even been sent yet. And, though instances like that certainly won’t help your brand’s reputation, here’s the three main things that doomed their contest from the start:

1.) Bad Prize Choice

If you told me that I could win $1.5 million dollars for sending a tweet with a certain hashtag, you better believe I’m going to send that tweet. It’s not because I care about Esurance, it’s because I want that sweet ol’ pile of money.  And while the prize should certainly be significant enough to encourage participation, at what point do contestants lose sight of the contest and only focus on the prize? 

Since Esurance announced who won the contest, they’ve been very busy losing their followers. In fact, using the free Twitter Counter tool, you can see below that they’ve already lost nearly 60,000 followers since the announcement! Rather than focus on a short-term gain with a ridiculous, attention-grabbing prize, try picking something that resonates with your brand’s message to your target audience. That way, if a contestant opts-in to your contest, you’ll already know that their interest in your brand goes a little beyond whether or not they win the prize. For example, if you sell camera equipment, what do you think would be a more effective way to get photographers to like your page: giving away a valuable camera accessory for the each week/month’s best picture submitted by a follower or just give away $1,000 to anyone who shares a picture to your page?


2.) Didn’t Require Enough Action

If Esurance had just simply read the guidelines and recommendations for contests from Twitter’s own Help Center, they would’ve known better than to only use a hashtag. Not only are hashtags usually very forgettable (do you remember any others you’ve used for contests before?), but the constant flood of tweets can be more difficult to track as well – especially when the topic is trending! To help influence who enters your contest (and who you hope to nurture once it ends), we recommend requiring users to follow your account – in addition to sending a promotional tweet – in order for their entries to be valid. That way, you’ll gain more followers, responses will be easy to track, and contestants will have to decide whether or not they want to see your brand’s tweets in their personal feed – helping you win half of the nurturing battle right off the bat.

3.) Not Enough Barriers to Entry

In relation to the contest being extremely easy to enter, as I mentioned before, there weren’t really many well-publicized rules for the Esurance promotion. Although they actually did have rules in place that allowed them to disqualify any inappropriate tweets, essentially these were the only two rules that mattered:

  1. Your tweet(s) must include the hashtag #EsuranceSave30
  2. Only tweets between Time A and Time B will count

Just like this Mountain Dew promotion from a couple years ago, if you don’t put up at least some barriers to entry, you’re going to find people who take advantage of it. That being said, you also don’t want to require your contestants to have a genius IQ to qualify either. The perfect barriers to entry are the ones that discourage uninterested prospects from entering, but don’t seem too difficult or personally invasive to your target audience.

What We Can Learn From Esurance

Looking at Esurance’s mistakes, it’s easy to see why things turned out the way they did. With a prize that drew interest from almost everyone in America, and contest rules that essentially qualified every contestant, I really wouldn’t be that surprised if a GEICO or State Farm loyalist won their $1.5 million dollar prize. That being said, while running a contest is a great way to grow your followers and boost engagement on your social media channels, if you don’t target the right audience (you know, the kind that might actually want to follow you…), you’re going to end up back at square one once your free offer is off the table.

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Topics: Social Media

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