Contests as tools of engagement: lessons learned


Using contests as tools of engagement.

In the low-stakes world of “who wore it best”, unexpected  value was found in a just-for-fun  Bat-cat contest. The inspiration came from perusing the shelter’s Petango page, where tuxedo cats seemed to have taken over. Several had the “white cat in a Batman costume” look; an internal joke that always felt too lame to say out loud.

This graphic and contest were put together on a whim, partially in an attempt to force the shamefully weak humor on my colleagues. It was pitched to the shelter’s volunteer Facebook group, accepted, and posted within hours to the public Facebook page.

The Contest

batcat post

Bat-cat was successful in several ways.

  • Lighthearted, “just for fun” posts help change negative or depressing public perception of shelters.
  • The reduced-fee adoption event was advertised within the contest graphic, informing and attracting the potential adopters.
  • Altruistic incentive made everyone involved a winner.
  • 72 people voted via comments, each of which helped more people see the post. For details on how this works, you can read up on EdgeRank here or get a synopsis of the algorithm here.

The Follow-up Post

batcat results

Check out the engagement on the follow-up post in comparison to the actual contest. I call this the “happy ending” phenomenon. These upbeat success stories and epilogues reliably draw more participation than the original post. Your fans want to celebrate with you and find all kinds of creative ways to do so beyond the typical share/like/comment.

bat-cat sponsor

This guy. What a mensch.

Who Wore it Best: Round 2

The Black Swan graphic was a  stinker. This failed attempt to duplicate Bat-cat’s success is a great example of how bad design can sabotage an effort; I consider it what 50 Shades of Gray was to Twilight.

black swan contest


Take note of the low engagement. With only 42 comments, it’s safe to infer that something about the image was making people skim over it in their feed. Do you see it? All that text? It looks like a piñata packed with useless copy exploded all over these gorgeous cats.

If I were to do this one again, the priority would be to unclutter the image. There is far too much going on for the average Facebook-scroller to digest at a glance. The post itself would have been a better place for the contest details; some of which were in the post’s text and therefore redundant.


Bat-cat & Black Swan show us the impact of good design on graphic-based contests.

  • Keep it simple. Excessive text is a strain on the eye and can make participation feel like a chore. Make your graphic easy to digest at a glance to encourage engagement.
  • Make the “happy ending” phenomenon work for you.  Your fans need to feel like their participation means something, because it does. Follow-up is a valuable tool for making them feel included in and connected to your mission.  The emotional fulfillment  of positive closure can strengthen the reader’s faith in your work and lead to all kinds of wonderful things.
  • It’s OK to quit while you’re ahead. A dear mentor once told me never to do the same thing twice, no matter how successful the original was. As a non-professional creative (cat hustling isn’t my day job), I had mixed feelings about this. Time is limited and templates are convenient. However, as the portfolio grows, I’m finding that she was right. Duplicates and close imitations rarely get the same results. When your posts are successful, take inventory of what worked, expand upon it, and stay original.