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5 Kickass Viral Contest Ideas to Make Building Email Lists Easy


5 Kickass Viral Contest Ideas to Make Building Email Lists Easy


There are many ways to grow your emails list and build hype. But let’s face it, most take a lot of time and it takes ages to gain traction.

If you want to really hack growth and get results fast, go with a viral contest.

Here are 5 viral contest ideas that are so easy you can start reaping the benefits today.

The random draw sweepstakes

Unbounce did some research comparing landing pages using giveaways and those that didn’t. I bet you can guess which ones captured more leads:

Landing pages with giveaways, by 700%.

But you can’t give something away to every person who fills out your email form. Those would be some expensive leads. But that’s where the random draw sweepstake comes in.

Here’s all you have to do:

  • Pick a giveaway (e.g., one of your products)
  • Create a landing page for your sweepstakes
  • Explain that anyone who signs up is automatically entered to win
  • Spread the news on social media

Maybe you’re thinking:

My product is awesome, but people don’t know too much about it yet. Would a sweepstakes really drive that much interest?

The answer is YES!

Sweepstakes aren’t just for the likes of big brands with huge audiences. Here’s a great example of a small business using a random draw sweepstakes to build their list:

Trind, a small cosmetics company, ran a giveaway to win one of their Instant Manicure Kits:

viral contest ideas

All you had to do was enter your email address and share the sweepstakes to social media.

Trind had just started building their email list and had less than 6,000 Facebook fans at the time of the contest. But in less than two weeks, they were able to get 930 new email leads, all with an affordable giveaway.

I like this campaign because it’s not just free stuff that encourages people to act, but a sense of urgency. The countdown timer right on their landing page is a psychological trigger telling people to act now.

The refer-to-win contests

For most random draw sweepstakes to go viral, they need to include social sharing as part of the entry process. But if you want to more or less guarantee that your sweepstakes goes viral, then opt for the “refer-to-win” viral contest idea instead.

Just like the random draw sweepstakes, people enter their email address to join the raffle. But instead of mandatory social sharing, you give entrants an option to refer others using a unique URL. The more people they refer, the more points they get into the contest.

This viral contest idea seriously gamifies the competition beyond random chance gambling. And instead of getting one social share out of every entrant, you can get tens of referrals. That’s what really makes it viral.

Here’s a cool case study of this viral contest idea in action from UAV Coach, a site about recreational and commercial drones.

They created a sweepstakes to give away a free drone (Awesome, I know).


The campaign probably would have generated a lot of entrants even without the “refer-to-win” aspect. But they used it, and here’s what they managed in just 7 days:

3,200 new subscribers.

That’s 457 emails/day, and a 73% increase from their base list.

Setting up a referral system for this viral contest idea takes an extra step, but the effort really does pay off. And luckily, there are viral contest tools you can use to make it an easy process.

The best entry contest

Another great viral contest idea is the best entry campaign. Create a social contest asking your followers to submit something creative related to your brand, like a photo or video. Whoever has the best entry wins a grand prize.

I found a really creative example from Eggo. (Yes, their marketing budget is huge, but the idea is simple and any business can do it.)

Eggo created a two part Facebook contest called The Great Eggo Waffle Off! They asked their social followers to submit their best recipes for waffles.

viral social contest example

Then in part two, they asked their fans to vote for their favorite recipe. Whoever won got a grand prize of $5000.

To adapt this idea to your own goals (list building), make sure entrants have to offer up their email address to participate. And your grand prize doesn’t have to be money, it can be a limited edition product, for example. You can also set up runner-up prizes to encourage more people to participate.

One thing I really like about this style of viral contest idea is that it kills two birds with one stone:

  • Building your list
  • Encouraging social engagement

It also fills your social profiles with tons of great user generated content related to your brand.

The coupon campaign

Giving away coupons is another great viral contest idea, even though it’s not technically a contest. You can use this strategy again and again to capture leads and encourage social engagement.

Here’s an example from men’s clothing company Bonobos:

Every Friday during the summer, they share coupons for a different product or product category:

social campaign example

The event was hosted on Facebook, but they cross-promoted to drive more interest:

Bonobos social camapign

One thing I really liked about this campaign was the theme. By offering coupons every week and using the #SummerFridays hashtag, they were able to build buzz and a brand image in the process.

Maybe you’re wondering:

How exactly does giving away coupons help me build my list?

Easy — just set it up so that people have to enter their email in order to access the code. You can also encourage viral growth by requiring people to share the promotion as well. If your coupon is compelling enough, they’ll be happy to do both.

This style of viral contest idea is another two-for-one. Giving away coupons helps you capture a lot of emails, and can encourages sales at the same time.

The leaderboard competition

Probably the most affordable viral contest idea out there is the leaderboard competition. It turns out people are competitive (shock!), but combine this with a prize and you are onto a winner full stop.

Let me use an example to explain the idea. The Abbé Pierre Foundation, a charity to improve housing conditions, took to Facebook to collect signatures for one of their petitions.

People provided a digital signature and were able to invite their friends to sign the petition as well. Once they signed, the signatures were automatically shared with their Facebook friends.

But the real gem of this campaign was the leaderboard. People were able to see who got the most friends to sign the petition:


This created artificial competition, encouraging people to go above and beyond to invite more friends. Here’s what they got out of the campaign:

  • 75,000 petition signatures from Facebook alone
  • 22,000 new Facebook fans
  • 40,000 email opt-ins for future campaigns

The moral of the story:

You don’t always need a prize to encourage action. Develop a campaign around something people care about (charity, sports, education), then set up a leaderboard to create extra incentive.

Wrapping Up

Viral contest ideas can do a lot to build your social following and create buzz around your brand. But a lot of people forget how they can help you create viral growth for your email list as well.

And you don’t have to take my word for it. Adapt one of these strategies to your brand and see the results for yourself.

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Head of Growth @ Maître | Skibum @ heart | Growth-obsessed by Nature.
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