Is There an Art to Giveaways?

This post probably won’t be what you expect.

I occasionally run giveaway opportunities, usually music and occasionally tickets or passes to various performances. I used to jump at the chance to participate, thinking that it was some sort of indicator that I was a “real blogger” when I was new at this.

It was Ledcat who pointed out to me that I wasn’t doing a cost/benefit analysis on the item I received as compensation. I was just giving away the cow and the milk for free, sometimes throwing in some chickens for good measure. It was a market transaction, not a signifier of my impact or value. It was actual work and I should be compensated for it. She reasoned that I was using my creative talent as well as my social media capital to promote things so I should be more choosy.

As for art, there is certainly skills involved in the layout of the giveaway as well as promoting the giveaway. I’d probably say it is more of a craft than art because it involves a lot of rather rote handson work combined with some creativity. I’ve learned a bit of coding through the giveaway posts. For example, this is how I set up the CD/music giveaways that I run with a certain PR group.

  1. I review the opportunities and select those I want to promote. This can take a few moments as I look up new-to-me artists to see if there’s either some interesting LGBTQ angle or they are just someone I’d personally find interesting to hear.
  2. I listen to the review link or videos on YouTube. I also do a little Googling on the album.
  3. They send me the approved copy with some general date suggestions. I have to cut-n-paste with a little bit of editing because of my software. This takes on average 10 minutes.
  4. I promote via my social media channels. Because I use scheduling software, I can take care of a week’s worth of touts within 5 minutes or so. Maybe 10.
  5. I visit some sites that list giveaways and add mine where I think there might be some interest.
  6. I monitor the giveaway, I use a random generator to pick winners and contact them.
  7. The PR firm mails out the prizes.
  8. I receive a copy of the album for my own use.

The reason I’m explaining this is to show that it does take some time. If you assume a CD is $12-$15 in value, how much time would you invest to get one for free? I’ve got it down to about 30 minutes max, give or take. That’s a reasonable exchange.

You know what has been the most popular? Divas doing covers. Annie Lennox. Bette Midler. Aretha Franklin. That’s a very interesting twist. Of course, I love all three albums. Aretha covering Adele is growing on me.

Now to be fair, I do also get the benefit of people visiting my blog for the giveaway and staying to look around. On the other hand, I sometimes do giveaways that have no benefit for me – I’m doing one for the movie “Annie” coming out next month simply because the racist response sickens me and I want to show it some support. I get nothing out of it, no movie passes or anything.  I think Annie is a perfect movie to update. As a former foster parent recruiter, I’m sure it will be ridiculously untrue but perhaps it will inspire people to consider child welfare. And Quvenzhané Wallis doesn’t deserve that sort of hate – she’s a kid.

When I do a true review, there’s more involved. I outlined in a post about the Keurig 2.0 how I occasionally don’t even break even in terms of time. For the record, I’m planning to paint my Keurig 2.0 pink with glitter and rename it the Queerig 2.0 for an art installation next year. When I review a play or performance, that’s a better bet. It is easy to calculate the compensation – a pair of tickets starts around $30 and can go as high as $100. Some venues (like The Pittsburgh Opera or Off The Wall Theater) will also throw in tickets to giveaway. So it is usually a fair exchange of my time and effort. There’s the time I spend at the event + writing the review + sharing the review on social media.  Best of all – I picked what I want to attend. I’m not required to go by my employer. I can decline.

Frankly, I think the Cultural Trust and other arts organizations should do more of this. When I wrote up an event I attended this summer just because I liked it, all five of the performers shared it on their social media outlets in addition to my own shares. And then everyone retweeted and liked each other’s shares. It was a lot of bang for one blog post. I once wrote a post about the events I think should add a blogger component.  Bricolage has a wonderful initiative called the TweepSeats that really taps into viral networks to gain new audience members.

So the connection with art is literally a connection to the arts scene in Pittsburgh and beyond. I personally get a connection via the vehicle I am reviewing or giving away. But I also have the opportunity to promote the arts to my readers and followers. And my participation in those events brings something to my personal creativity and welfare that can’t be replicated. When I attend a live musical performance, I always buy a CD if merch is available to be supportive and encourage more such performances. Sometimes the artists or their promoters contact me directly about upcoming trips to Pittsburgh.

Let me assure you that I’m not a giveaway snob – I recognize that the Taylor Swift giveaway brought more traffic to my site than most anything else of late. I also like the album! But I get more pitches than I can begin to process for all sorts of things that I have no interest in using personally. I’m not going to be one of 788 bloggers offering you a $9000 prize trip to wherever because – meh.

And sometimes there are headaches. Mail goes astray and prizes are not received. Resentment builds even though I am unaware of the problem. A few months ago, a local television station did an investigation on mail disappearing throughout this region which is exasperating. These things make giveaways a PITA for everyone.

I believe there’s no such thing as a free lunch so when I’m asked to promote something, I think it is reasonable to assess the value it adds to my life either personally or for the mission of my blog. I also don’t feel obliged to write about anything so that tactic rarely works with me either (guilt.) Sometimes, I write reviews simply because the experience resonated with me. That was the case with Union Pig and Chicken and the film Finding Vivian Maeir.

If you read all this way and hoped I’d share *how* I got connected with product or event reviews, I don’t have much in the way of advice. I have a unique audience as a LGBTQ blogger so defining your unique audience is a good idea. Write some interesting reviews as samples. Focus on quality content to build your social network (and your blog analytics.) Ask. If you want to review the Pittsburgh arts scene, call the venue or the company and ask to be added to their media list.

Most important of all, value your work. Of course there is an art to the giveaway and that begins with you as a content creator (and coder and graphic designer and writer and …)


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  • Thank you for this excellent, incredibly helpful post. My blog is fairly new, and I too feel like offering great giveaways on my blog would signal to the world that I am a “real” blogger, albeit with a free WordPress site that I can’t even post affiliate links on! I am also a giveaway geek, and have been since I was a child and I would watch my otherwise solemn dad get excited by clipping contest forms out of the Sunday newspaper coupon pages, filling them out carefully, as there was a lot of information to fit into a small 1/4 size of an index card piece of shiny paper. He would then stick each form in an envelope and place each entry in our mailbox to be picked up the next day. I don’t actually remember if he ever won anything, but he loved the process of entering contests and giveaways, along with the random chance at winning.

    Now I am only slightly younger than my dad was when he began entering all the contests from the coupons each weekend, and I too enter many giveaways, usually through bloggers I follow. I love the thrill of winning something I otherwise could not afford! I would love to offer a giveaway related to my small homestead, cooking, writing, reading, raising kids, being a bisexual mama blog to my handful of readers, so thank you so much for this advice! I have a tendency to do work for next to nothing, as is evident from the low rate of pay I accept for doing freelance editing and writing. Your post has given me a much-needed tool- the way to mindfully, carefully decide which giveaways or promotions are worth my time. Thank you very much! I look forward to reading more of your posts! Have a great day!

    Tracy Spangler

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