These days, social media space is becoming more and more crowded, so it’s increasingly important for brands to have goals, strategies and consistent marketing on social, says Jim Belosic, co-founder and CEO of ShortStack.

“If a business can narrow their goals and then have software that enables them to reach those goals, they won’t be wasting their time or energy on social,” he says.

ShortStack is a software platform that allows companies to create contests, sweepstakes and data collection forms to enable brands to spur engagement and boost sales.

We recently checked in with Jim (a.k.a. ShortStack’s overlord and Pancake Guy), who shared more about how the platform works and discussed the dos and don’ts of social media promotions.

Can you tell us the story behind ShortStack?

ShortStack is a self-service software platform people use to create what we call “campaigns” – contests, sweepstakes, data-collection forms and more. Each campaign has its own URL that can be used as a standalone website, or be placed on social sites like Facebook.

ShortStack was launched in 2010 and acquired more than 80,000 users during the company’s first year. In year number two, the number of people using ShortStack grew to 190,000. Today, ShortStack has more than 367,000 users around the world and more than 855,000 campaigns have been built using the platform.

Some of ShortStack’s most popular features include templates for contests and sweepstakes, newsletter signup forms and integrations with Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, MailChimp, AWeber, Google Maps and more. Businesses use ShortStack to boost engagement on their social platforms, to collect valuable data from their online audience for future marketing efforts and to drive sales.

What sets you apart from your competitors?

So many things! First, our users get way more bang for the buck than they do with our competitors. In fact, you can build and publish campaigns utilizing every one of our features for free. Second, when it comes to building campaigns, you can use one of our ready-made templates or you can create campaigns from scratch. More advanced users appreciate all the customizing they can do within our platform, while less experienced users like that we have professionally designed templates that look great as is. It’s also possible to publish our campaigns to Facebook and/or to the web, where the campaigns function as stand-alone websites hosted by ShortStack.

How important are social contests and promos today for the growth of a brand?

They remain the easiest and most effective way to collect data from an online audience and to engage with fans. The great thing about the direction contests and promos are moving in is that businesses are starting to realize that they see value in running them in places beyond Facebook. While promotions on social media gained their foothold on Facebook, Facebook isn’t the only game in town anymore. With software like ShortStack, businesses are building their contests and promos on a micro-site, or landing page, or even embedding them onto their own websites and then using their social channels to drive traffic to the promotion. It’s opening the door of contests and promos to be more well rounded as far as reach.

What types of social promotions do users seem to be the most excited about?

People are always excited about product giveaways. At this point, if a fan is following you on a social network and is willing to interact with your promotion, presumably they’re a fan of your product. It’s always been the case that a really cool and relevant prize will attract great entries, but I think we’re seeing fewer “iPad giveaways” because businesses have realized that a more relevant prize is also more valuable.

What types are they tired of?

I believe people are tired of the promotions where they’re required to share something on their own personal profile in order to be entered to win. People are more aware of what appears in their feeds and are reluctant to spam their friends. For example, on Instagram it’s common for a brand to say “screenshot this and re-post it on your profile to enter to win” when they’d really be better off asking people to take their own picture and post it to their profile using a specific hashtag. Bottom line: You should never “force” people to post something on their profiles in order to be entered for a chance to win something.

What are some important components of a social campaign?

An easy-to-enter form. Don’t ask for more information than you have to or need. The more questions people have to answer, the higher the abandonment rate is. I’d also recommend having a share element so that your fans can share your promotion with their friends. Then I’d add an extra component to reward your fans with extra entries for sharing as well. The biggest and most important component is that the campaign is mobile friendly and accessible by all of your friends. This is where the microsite/landing page idea comes back in handy. With ShortStack all of our campaigns are mobile friendly and when you publish them to the web, anyone can access them from anywhere online no matter what device they’re looking from.

What do you think are the most common mistakes or oversights brands make with social media promotions?

Having an irrelevant prize! While the “iPad giveaway” craze has died down a bit, we still see a lot of people who aren’t smart about their prizes. Our advice sounds really obvious – don’t give away a winter sweater in the middle of July, and don’t offer up a new phone case if you’re a restaurant – but you’d be surprised by the number of brands we see giving away totally irrelevant prizes.

Another oversight we see a lot is in the promotion phase of a giveaway. Once you’ve built your promotion and published it, you have to tell your fans about it. Most of the time this includes putting some money into advertising, but there are at least 25 ways to promote campaigns for free. Actually, while we’re on the topic, my team put together a resource that discusses 40 ways to promote a campaign. It’s worth a read!

What have been some of your favorite recent examples of brands using social promos to engage and build their audience?

One of my recent favorites is from Great Lakes, a student loan servicer. They were looking to increase their online audience because they knew they could offer quicker customer service through social media. They also wanted to increase account creations on their website. They built a promotion where they offered to pay $6,000 toward a student loan, but they complemented it with a fun and optional quiz for entrants to take. They managed to educate their fans on student loans, really get engagement going and garner more than 200,000 entries. It was also their first social promotion. I wrote a little case study about it, which you can read on Social Media Examiner.

Another promotion that I thought was well executed is from Tootsie Pops. They recently ran a promotion where they were looking for their next “Tootsie Taste Tester.” The whole thing was super relevant to their brand (fans of Tootsie Pops would surely want to be taste testers!). It was easy to enter and they published it to the web, opening the access to all of their online audiences. I believe it was one of their more successful giveaways with more than 40,000 entries.

What are some of your other favorite tools or resources for social media marketing today?

My team and I really enjoy Buffer. We use them for all of our social media scheduling. I know that my public relations gal is always talking about BuzzSumo as a great tool for finding popular content and connecting with influencers.

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