local media insider
Case study

Facebook contests power sales at E.W.Scripps

Alisa Cromer

Company: The E. W. Scripps Company, 19 television stations in 13 major markets and 13 newspapers across the country.

Key Executive: Brian Page, Director of Digital Products, television division

Initiative:  Social media strategy

Summary: Under the leadership of Brian Page, Director of Online Products and Digital Sales, Scripps television division grew its Facebook fan base by 300% to 500% and began sales of large scale Facebook contesting for major accounts. They worked in tandem with Second Street Media, who originally deployed Facebook contests at their request. 

"We were telling them this is the future of contesting and where we need to be. We were familiar with Wildfire (Facebook tools) but there were features we didn't  like and we had more control of how we present the contest with Second Street."

The platform launched in 2011 across 19 television sites. After growing a megabase of fans, top-selling ABC15.com, (the digital brand of the ABC affiliate in Phoenix), sold 20 to 30 contests to major accounts in 2011 (we estimate the contests are generating upwards of $250,000 in campaign sales for that station alone). Across the company, Facebook is now a priority.  Some stations have goals of 100,000 fans and have pulled in as many as 20,000 fans with a single contest. Paid social media campaigns can command five figures,  or can secure  annual programs of $10,000 a month that include one contest per quarter. Starting in 2012, Scripps began merging its TV and print operations, and rolling out similar programs for its 13 newspaper sites (see also,  Eight Ways to Monetize Facebook). 

Here is how Scripps built its social media assets and revenues:

1. Setting goals to build the media's Facebook audience first 

As early as  2009 Scripps set out to test  the value of posting content “on our selves first" to see what effect it would have.  

“We quickly found out the more fans we had, the more pageviews we had." 

Stations set and met goals of 300 to 500% increases in their fan bases, with large markets targeting 100,000 fans, primarily by creating a number of large contests designed to directly increase audience growth.  Audience building contest have produced as many as 20,000 fans, often doubling the fan base in one shot. 

Other contests have a dual objective - both revenue gains and audience growth - and require people to  "like" both the advertiser and the station's site in order to win. The advertiser gets a better price and additional promotions in return for allowing the station to also capture fans.  

Increased fans has had a significant impact on traffic to the regular websites. Around 12% of Scripps online traffic now  comes from Facebook, (we've seen figures as high as 36% of local media site traffic from FaceBook). 

To engage news staff in building engagement, Scripps deploys three tactics:

a. Real time analytics in the newsroom

Scripps uses a tool recommended by this site, Vitrue.com, that creates real time analytics. It is especially helpful for reporters and other social media posters to  to understand which Facebook posts cause people to “click through.” (LMI also has other independent verification that real time analytics is addictive to reporters and inspires them to post more frequently to see their stories "go to the top" of the rankings).

b. Train reporters and social posters to start “a different kind of conversation”

People communicate differently on Facebook. "We repurpose our stories, and try to write the kinds of things that  ‘start the conversation’  and then  let the audience own it.  It’s a different writing style."

An example was sharing coverage of controversial approval of street cars in Cinncinnatti. Instead of just posting the headline on Facebook, posts read:  “Street cars just approved. What are your thoughts? Is this a good thing or a bad thing?"

“It’s more stimiluating. We do the same thing for our customers as we’ve evolved,” Page says.

c. Using on-air personalities to drive social media

On-air personalities not only drive contests, but also have their own Facebook pages, becoming part of the overall Total Digital Audience. 

These skills in fan accumulation and engagement were directly transferable to the business side. 

2. Selling campaigns around Facebook contests

Once the media's Facebook fans and contesting skills were on a roll, the next step was selling campaigns around Facebook to major advertisers. The sale itself is more consultative, and starts with helping merchants identify the end goal. 

 "A lot of companies are product-centric. This is a customer-centric approach," Page says. We've heard this many times, however, note the different structure of the sale.

Structuring the sale.  Page says the sale starts with defining the objective - fans or leads - and the metrics for success. That is, how many fans, and/or customers  in the door. Then he talks about the offer and strategy. Then advertising is layered in, and, finally, the partnership posts are added on.

Starting with the objective and metrics for success

Depending on what the merchant wants,  the campaign can focus on fan acquisitioncustomer acquisition or, ideally building fans and converting them to leads in a long term program. Annual campaigns can include multiple contests, each followed by an offer that converts fans to customers.

So the first step is to help advertiser identify if the objective should be  fans, leads, or fans-then-leads, then refine specific numerical targetsPage notes that some entities – such as non-profits – may just want fans, as a way to get their message around.  However, for most small businesses a new customer is the main success metric. 

“A fan is not always a metric for success. If you are a small HVAC  company, a fan is not a conversion. A new customer is the success metric. They may want to see ten new customers a month." 

One solution for a  family dentistry was to offer one free adult teeth whitening for each new child patient, in return for "liking" them. No contest was necessary, though the promotion still ran on the contest platform, which can create a promotion with personalized coupons in a few minutes and post to Facebook with a click.

"If you bring two kids in you get teeth-whitening for Mom and Dan and get four new customers." The campaign  is supported by banner ads. 

When the advertiser wants fans 

Larger accounts with the ability to manage a fanbase may have goals to accumulate as many fans as possible, then convert them.  For these accounts, Page recommends pointing the advertising campaign and/or contest to the Facebook page instead of the web site - even if the contest is mentioned on the website.  By using Facebook instead of a plain email capture, the advertiser accomplishes two things, ie acquiring both the email and a fan, a built in customer-relationship program. 

Advertisers who want fans (especially if you teach them to convert fans to sales) have a high perceived value for contest campaigns as opposed to an ordinary campaign, so are often more willing to invest in advertising. Merchants see fans as "real people" rather than anonymous clicks and as building an asset for low-cost distribution of promotions in the future.  


For an annual campaign, a station may charge $1000 a month for quarterly social media contests, and up to $9000 more  for advertising, partnership posts and on-air promotions around the contest, including a method of converting fans to leads. Single contests, including the advertising can run up to $20,000, with the Social Media portion of the buy totaling around 20 to 25%. 

When fans are not the answer

Some customers should not build a fan base, but can still use Facebook contesting tools to directly generate leads. An example was an national company that gave loans against personal automobiles. An outside consultant had told the company that it needed a social media presence.

Page's view was different.

"I told them  they could not do the damage control."

That is, if a customer didn't pay, and the car was seized, they were sure to post a lot of negative comments. So in that example, the social media strategy was not to acquire likes and fans.   Instead, the station's digital group created a welcome page, with two big buttons, "get cash now" and “find the nearest location."

"Get cash now" opened up to a form that captured the lead, using Second Street's tools.  "That was the whole strategy," Page said.

Another example was an HVAC company that created and advertised a straight coupon offer that captured an email, phone number and requested time for the appointment. 

Leads capture works like a simple photo contest, you input images and conditions, post the code to the Facebook page, and then capture leads (emails and phone numbers) instead of fans.

3. Build simple entry forms

"Less is more" when it comes to contest entry forms. Page advocates a very simple sign-up that includes, at maximum,  “First name, last name, phone number, email address and zip code." 

"We can check their address to make sure they are local when they pick up the prize." 

Note: SecondStreet also advises adding an opt-in to receive the daily deal or promotions to contest sign-ups,  so that the deals email list is built at the same time.

4. Educating advertisers via workshops

A powerful marketing component for Scripps program are educational workshops given by Page that  acquire customers, train staff and raise the profile of the media company as the local digital expert (see related blog on Terry Heaton and why local media should become the "trainers" in the new "many-to-many" media universe). 

 The seminar is broken down into about 40 slides covering:

*Social media defined

*Why is it important

*How to build your own profile and execute a strategy.

*Samples of some success stories

*New social media tools like Google+

*The importance of mobile

Page's pitch during the workshops lays the ground work for merchants to buy social media campaigns. It starts with educating merchants that offers are responsible for the majority of fan accumulation. Businesses often do not understand the nature of fanning; they think that people become fans because they actually like the business.  

"According to eMarketer, February 23 2011, 57% of fans liked a business based on an offer and 38% because of a sweepstake. You have to offer something to get someone to like you. They are not going to like you for no reason." 

This  information opens the door to substantive conversations about how to promote offers using advertising and partnership posts. It becomes clear that the only way to power social media,  is through a traditional multi-media plan, or  partner-posting by media entities  with a significant fan base. He also teaches merchants how to convert fans to leads - an important step. 

And  he works with real examples from the audience to help engage them in solving their own social media puzzles. 

5. Using reciprocal posting

Reciprocal posts are a key to leveraging relationships.  As an audience builder for its television sites,  Scripps uses  reciprocal posts with major sports teams as well as ticket giveaways. ABC15.com was able to trade Facebook posts with the Arizona Cardinals on a ticket giveaway that reached  300,000 Cardinal Facebook fans and generated new fans in the five figures for both the station and the team.   Partner posts also drive paid contests, hence the asset value of having a big list of fans when starting to sell contests to advertisers.

Page says as a rule, partner posts should be engaging, "You don't just say 'Go to xyz to win.'  You ask a question like 'What is your favorite iPad app? Don't have one? Check out our friends contest at xyz." (Note: Take a look at ABC15.com's fan page always for a number of good examples of engaging posts). 

A high engagement post can receive 40 to 50 responses - and thus goes to the top of the wall of those 40 to 50 people, adding value.  

An  example of how partner posts can work for a paid Facebook campaign, is how ABC15.com promoted a Fiat giveaway by a Phoenix car dealer.  ABC's partner posts asked,  “Where is the first place you would drive in your new Fiat?”  with a link to enter the contest on the dealership page. People had to “like it” to enter. This engaging partnership post -  in the form of a question -generated hundreds of responses - and moved to the "top of the wall" on fan pages. 

During workshops, Page introduces the topic by explaining reciprocal posts on non-competing businesses - including between clients - as part of standard  fan-building protocols.  One recommendation at a seminar, for example, was to a  Catholic High School and a local library in the audience, who had about 600 to 800 fans a piece. "Do you compliment eachother? Then why don’t you each do a post on each others behalf."

6. Dual and multi-fangating

Another innovation that SecondStreet made at Scripps request is dual and multi-fan-gating, in which the contest may require fanning two or more different pages. This allows the media company and the client both to capture a fans and email adreeses, in return for a slighly lower price and additional promotions.

7. Converting fans to sales 

One of the biggest complaints from merchants is that their fans "just sit there" and so they don't see the value of accumulating the fan base at all. Page educates large advertisers with major goals for accumulating fans to plan to both engage and convert these fans into customers. A car dealer for example, could aim first to build fans, and then to sell three cars a month to its fan base using conversion programs.

Scripps uses two basic methods of converting fans to customers:

*Post to fans asking them to mention Facebook to get an special offer.This is the simplest method and these offers do not need to be as significant as the original sweepstakes, but can be in the 10% off range. 

*Allow fans to opt-in to receive a personalized coupon. The SecondStreet platform allows a link in the post to go to one or mulitple coupons. Fans can pick what kind of coupon they want and the coupon is automatically sent to their email inbox. Personal coupons sent by email also helps keep the email list clean, since it eliminates all the entrees of "mickeymouse@abc.com."

Page recommends also keeping  these posts engaging by asking a question. For example, a restaurant might ask fans,   "What day do you want the weekend to start?" then, if they answer, they get emailed coupon for a free appetizer on that day.

"The more people engage, the more it will go to the top of their wall" and be shared with their friends, being seen by an average 34 more people  for the typical Facebook user. 

8. Long term engagement strategies

Merchants who are accumulating fans also need an ongoing strategy to engage with the fan base, rather than just sending offers. Unengaged fans (an approach he calls 'Set it and forget it') can actually have a negative impact.

"If that is your plan, don't do it."

Some additional examples of successful engagement strategies:

* A Facebook "this week only service special"  posted every Monday at 8 a.m. 

*For an auto service company, who promoted a "Like us to win a gas card," Page recommended a series of YouTube videos on related subjects, such as how to make simple repairs.

"It should not be about your business all the time, give people usefull information and you will  get people to engage." 

For broadcast sites for which video is a core competency, producing YouTube videos as Facebook content is a great mix, in high demand, and something merchants can rarely do on their own. Page advises a series of six very short videos.

"People's attention span on the internet is nil, plus six gives more chances of being found. If we click on Part Five, we know that Part One is there somewhere. The first segment is just an introduction, "Here I am, notice how I look." Stick to topics that people want to know about. 

"This goes back to the company's goals and strategies. What do you want to communicate? What does your custommer want to hear form you?  How will you measure success?"

9. Organizational issues

Digital specialists support multi-media reps in selling Facebook programs. Scripps is in the process of combining its print and broadcast digital divisions, and shifting its digital specialists from reporting to print or broadcast channels, into the new division.  

Also in the works is a centralized fulfillment division that is 100% dedicated to coordinating implementation, pacing and optimization.

10. Post campaign reporting 

Since Facebook campaigns have identifiable numerical conversion targets, sales people are responsible for returning to the client, reviewing performance against the objectives and making recommendations. Scripps works with a vendor who has white-labeled a universal dashboard to pull in metrics from Facebook, GoogleAnalytics, DoubleClick and ExactTarget.

Lessons learned

1. Build your fan base first. As  Julie Foley of Second Street Media put it, "Advertisers want to  piggy back on your fan base. That is what has made some affliates (like E.W. Scripps Company) so successful.”

2. If there is a popular - or winning - local sports franchise,  built a relationship to work on getting tickets and reciprical posts. Sports franchises typically have big fan bases and VIP seats get top response and "Likes." 

3. Ask each advertiser, what the value of a Facebook fan to you? "A car dealer who wants to see cars in their service bay may offer fans a coupon for a free oil change, with another purchase. They know exactly how much the average service costs. Encourage them to measure what moves the needle for their business."

3. Point out that by using Facebook, you also get a CRM tool. Page recommends pointing all campaigns to Facebook because it captures both the email and the fan.  

 "The majority of the time, I push putting the contest and capturing leads on social media. If you use social media you can kill two birds with one stone:  You can get them to like you and get an email address. "

4. Don't forget to add “opt-ins" for for deal of the day or promotions, to use Facebook contests to accumulate organic opt-ins for deals. 

5. Keep sign -up simple. You don’t need an address. “I’ll check their drivers licence when they pick up the prize,” Page says.

6.  Do use coupons (emailed back via Second Street) or "mention Facebook to receive a discount" as part of ongoing promotions that convert fans to customers. Help advertisers create long term programs that include multiple contests, and ongoing ways to engage fans. 

7. Make your programs scalable. Page says he'll sell a contest for as little as $500, or four larger quarterly ones for $1000 a month, with six figure annual multi-media program.

8.  Structure the sale.  Page says his sales approach starts with defining the objective - fans or leads - and the metrics for success. That is, how many fans, and/or customers  in the door. Then he talks about the offer and strategy. Then advertising is layered in, and, finally, the partnership posts are added on. Note how different this approach is that selling features and benefits of partnership posting. 


*Sharepoint for writing shared proposals. Also mentioned by LMI members is Google documents. 

*Vitrue - Real time Facebook analytics

*SecondStreet Media - Contesting platform

*ClickFuel - Post campaign universal dashboard

Alisa Cromer

The author, Alisa Cromer is publisher of a variety of online media, including LocalMediaInsider and  MediaExecsTech,  developed while on a fellowship with the Reynolds Journalism Institute and which has evolved into a leading marketing company for media technology start-ups. In 2017 she founded Worldstir.com, an online magazine,  to showcases perspectives from around the  world on new topic each month, translated from and to the top five languages in the world.


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