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12 Tips for Running Your Own User-generated Video Contest

October 22, 2008

This week, my video above “Thru the Plexiglass”, reached a milestone: 15,000 views in 7 months. This may not be as big as some other digital videos, but I see it as an achievement of sorts. I made the video for a class I took at U.C.L.A. but decided to submit it as an entry to the Center for Community Change’s Movement Vision Lab (MVL) video contest on immigration and community values. This video milestone made me reflect on lessons I learned from participating in the contest. Even as a contestant, I learned a few things about planning on-line contests that are designed to encourage user-generated digital content, particularly video. So here goes:


1. Determine your goals for a contest. Video contests are a great way to get more public awareness content about the issues your organization works on. By participating in your contest, entrants are helping you with marketing and publicizing your organization and its work. Even more than that, video contests can help spur further discussion and dialogue which is the ultimate goal of today’s “social media.”

2. Pick a deadline. Give participants a month to six weeks. Give enough time to create incentive to do something. But be flexible. If you don’t get a lot of great content by the deadline, considering extending it (which MVL did with its contest).

3. Decide on a theme that you want all video entries to explore and a time limit. Help participants focus their entries with suggestions but leave room for participants to surprise you. Don’t be too specific but be sure the theme relates to foundational issues your organization work on.  MVL chose “Immigration and Community Values.” The Movement Vision Lab created a video to explain the contest and help with entry submission (see step 6 below). Three minutes is generally agreed as the optimal length for effective digital videos.

4. Decide the eligibility and any disclaimers for the contest. You need to clearly tell participants who will “own” distribution rights for the video. For example, “The Hub” by Witness lets users decide which Creative Commons licenses the content can have. MVL clearly stated these on their website.

5. Determine a prize. Besides the honor of winning, what can you give the winning participants? Of course money is a great incentive: MVL gave $1,000 to the winner. If you don’t have those kind of resources, try to find some sort of in-kind donation from your organization’s connections in the community: perhaps a yearly museum membership, tickets to a community event, etc.

6. Use a video-sharing website that enables participants to post their entries as comments. The Movement Vision Lab asked participants to post their videos as comments to their initial explanatory video posting on YouTube. You can explore other platforms but higher-traffic sites (like YouTube) can help with the following steps.

7. As a requirement for entering the contest, tell all participants to end the video with several seconds of frames that display your organization’s name and website. Since MVL did not do this, I learned this lesson in hindsight. In MVL’s case, the organization added the final frame to winning entries and reposted them on their YouTube channel. This resulted in a disruption to the traffic to each video and divided the web traffic to two different postings. For example, the winner entry “Arivaca” was initially posted as a video comment and, once it was selected as the winner,  MVL reposted it with the additional frame. The first posting has 1,800 views at time of writing while the second posting has 3,671 views. Even though the video is now branded by MVL and occupies a place on MVL’s YouTube channel, traffic to the video slowed down once it was divided between both posts. This is important due to the following point:

8. As part of the contest, weigh the number of views, comments or amount of discussion spurred by each video. This final frame could read something like “This video is a contestant in the [name] contest by [name of your organization and website].” This gives incentive to each participant to drive traffic to their videos which in turn raise the profile of your organization with this final frame. Encourage participants to reach out to their friends, colleagues, bloggers and other organizations to get more people to see their entry and to comment on it. MVL gave my video special recognition (“Breakthrough Performance”) due to its “popularity” demonstrated by the sheer volume of views it received (resulting from all the leg-work I did in promoting it…).

9. Do outreach for your contest. Let the world know about the contest through blogs, social networking websites, your mailing list and other organizations. It’s important to have existing relationships with bloggers for them to post your information. Your contest might be the first step in establishing such a relationship. Consider reaching out to local colleges and universities to encourage students to participate.

10. Judge each entry on how effectively and creatively they address the contest theme. Remember: while professional-looking videos are great, you’re looking for good creative content. In today’s “publish then filter” world, you should encourage participants to simply create content and then involve them in a process that results in better content. Reward those who are creative even if their content is not the most technically proficient. You’re not looking for Hollywood-level videos but content that spurs discussion and debate. It’s not a bad thing for someone to watch a video and say “Great concept but here’s how you could have perhaps done it better.” That’s the point! Also, keep in mind that participants may not create a brand new video for your contest but re-edit or configure earlier-created content to fit your contest. This is not a bad thing as you start out running video contests. If you plan to continue doing contests like this, eventually folks will make content specifically for you.

11. Consider a live event to screen the entries. I co-produce a monthly event, Digital Cabaret, where we screen themed video entries with a live audience. This experience helps participants see how their content affects a group of people and helps make them become better content-producers. Live events also relate to the goals for user-generated contests: to create more discussion and dialogue between people.

12. Announce the winners and keep in touch with all the contest participants. Consider ways of continuing to engage contestants beyond adding them to your mailing list. They demonstrated that they have the skills to actually conceptualize, write, producer and distribute a video. These are skills that you can continue to utilize! Involve them in further contests or as videobloggers on your site. Be creative about harnessing the energy they demonstrated in creating something free for your organization!

I’m curious what you think of these tips or if you have any others to add. Please post a comment below.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 19, 2011 5:10 am

    Oops. I meant, “video contest”.

  2. June 19, 2011 5:10 am

    Great post! We’re going to try using your tips to launch a video conference for the Focus Fusion Society.

  3. dennischin permalink
    November 10, 2008 1:38 pm

    All excellent points! I was about to add point # 7 since that indeed was a headache for us at MVL. One other suggestion for the creation of any type of video is to create a discussion guide alongside with it, especially if the video is part of a larger campaign. POV does this. They create guides with discussion questions and activities – very helpful esp. if the video is going to be screened.

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