From the marketing perspective, a challenge is an activity that takes a fixed time to complete and takes a user from point A to point B.
As a SaaS company, you might think using this or that tool is already a difficult task and it’s not worth overwhelming your users with another challenge. However, challenges or hackathons are meant to simplify the life of your users, help them achieve something meaningful, and do it in a fun way.
And in case, humans tend to welcome challenges and participate in them as they help us understand our potential, become confident and accountable, and have that nice feeling of reaching a goal.
So today we will cover the following sections in our post:
- How to start a Facebook challenge? (or not necessarily Facebook)
- How to market a challenge and make it go viral?
- What do SaaS companies share about challenges they have organized?
Checklist: Your 7-step guide on how to create a viral challenge (+ BONUS example)
A challenge is a marketing campaign. You need to have a clear plan for organizing and managing it, be specific with what you are trying to do and achieve. Here is a 7-point checklist that will help you make sure your challenge is ready to go live:
- An attainable, specific goal – For example, I organized a 7-day challenge for Wiremo, a customer review platform for eCommerce and we promised a specific outcome: “Start getting customer reviews in 7 days”. Depending on what users can do with your software, you can promise to teach them a new mini-skill, help master your software, build habits, etc.
- A target audience – As a software company, you might target different buyer personas. But a challenge that is useful for a beginner freelancer will probably not be relevant for an agency. That’s why you can ask qualifying questions and make sure only people from a certain group accept the challenge.
- Contest or a challenge? – Now it’s important to understand whether what you actually want to organize is a contest or a challenge. Well, if you consider assigning daily tasks to the participants and helping them achieve a specific goal, then you want to organize a challenge. If you want to organize a competition, choose winners and reward them, then you want to organize a contest. For example, if you assign your participants to design a landing page with your design software and compete with other designers, then it’s most likely a contest, not a challenge. Though the formats are different, the context is the same – challenge participants and make them work hard to achieve a result.
- Timeframe – Some of the most popular challenges I have seen have lasted for 7 days. But you are free to make it a 14-day, 21-day, or 30-day challenge. However, the longer the commitment period, the fewer people will complete the challenge.
- Daily tasks – A challenge requires you to take the participants from point A to point B by posting or sending them daily tasks. You can do it using different platforms, from email to Twitter and a Facebook group. However, emails or text messages are the best ways to connect with users as they allow one-on-one communication while Facebook or Twitter posts can’t be personalized.
- Resources – You can’t simply assign tasks without guiding the participants. They will give up if the challenge takes more time than it provides benefits. Attach links, pdfs, screenshots, and other resources that will help them save time and complete their daily tasks without obstacles.
- Free or paid? – If your goal is to increase brand awareness, build a community, and have more users try your product, your challenge should be free. If you are an established brand and want to create an additional source of revenue or attract only highly qualified participants, you might charge a participation fee.
For example, Digesto, an RSS-to-email application for Marketo, charges $99 for their email challenge where they teach how to automate your blog emails.
Now it’s time for the BONUS! I am bringing a practical example of what a 7-day challenge will look like. Imagine we are organizing it for an SEO and content writing tool.
The goal of our challenge is to help writers create an SEO-optimized blog post in 7 days.
Our target audience is limited to freelance and in-house writers who want to create content that ranks.
Our challenge is free and will last for 7 days.
A company could launch a 7-day challenge like this:
Day 1: Sign up for the software and create an account (with screenshots, short demos, and instructions)
Day 2: Do keyword research and decide on primary and secondary keywords (keyword research tool and process recommendations)
Day 3: Create an outline for the post, understand the optimal word count, optimal number of sections (+tips/templates for a perfect outline)
Day 4: Research the topic and all the sections you have decided to include
Day 5: Write the article
Day 6: Optimize and finalize the article (meta description, URL, title, improve readability, add images, etc)
Day 7: Publish the article
7 tips to promote your challenge and make it go viral
You decided what your challenge will look like and now is the time to think about promotion strategies. Here are a few ideas:
- Ask to add your hashtag – In 2020, Adobe XD, a design tool for web and mobile apps, organized a contest for designers. One of the requirements was to add #xdcreativechallenge on Behance to enter the contest.Behance won’t be a perfect platform for every SaaS company’s challenge. You can ask participants to add your hashtag to an Instagram, LinkedIn or Twitter post.
- Ask to challenge a friend – One of the secrets behind a viral challenge is having the participants spread the word about your initiative and inviting their friends. When you promote your challenge through a Facebook post or an email message, ask your audience to tag their friends in the comments or forward your email to a person who might be interested.
- Reach out to niche influencers – Imagine a niche influencer joining your challenge and telling about it in his/her Youtube video, Instagram story or blog. Thousands of quality participants will learn about your challenge quickly and get closer to testing your product. Financial rewards still remain the primary source of compensation for influencer services but you may try offering other options. For example, free access to your product for a few months, brand association or status (e.g. official badge, partner badge), invitation to an invite-only community, etc. Your company co-founder, CEO, other C-level executives can also play the roles of influencers in your viral challenge strategy as they probably have a large social media following.
- Launch a PR campaign and contact journalists – This tip won’t work equally for everyone. If your challenge can make a social or global impact, your chances of getting media coverage are higher. For example, if you are a restaurant management software and launch a challenge to reduce food wastage, food and climate-related blogs, magazines might be interested in covering your initiative very actively.
- Create a sense of anticipation – When your challenge is already live, the mystery is gone. Everyone can see what it is about. However, when you give a hint about your challenge and pick people’s curiosity, you might be able to build your participant list even before the challenge is published. Start building your waiting list 1-2 weeks before your challenge launch and once it’s live, notify interested users.
- Change your social media cover photos – Your page visitors might not see the post you published a few days ago but they will definitely notice what is on your cover photo. Update your cover photos on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook with your challenge banner and pin your post that is inviting people to join your challenge. In the description/caption, include a CTA that leads to your challenge landing page.
- Partner up with other companies – Regardless of how big your audience is, there’s always room for making it even bigger. Partnering up with other companies will help you reach a wider audience that you otherwise might not be able to get to. For example, if your software is a video editing tool, you can partner up with companies who sell or rent video equipment. You target the same audience but your products aren’t competing.
Use these promotion ideas as they are the answers to how to create a viral challenge.
6 SaaS companies advice on how to create a viral challenge: Key takeaways
This post wouldn’t be practical if we didn’t interview SaaS companies on this topic. We asked them what challenges they organized, what results they reached, and what is behind a successful challenge campaign.
Our first contributor’s company operates in the health technology sector. They organized a challenge to help people build a positive attitude.
#1 Joe Stafura, CEO at the Affective Health, Software solutions for healthcare
“At the time we launched the Happiness Challenge we felt that some people might benefit if we gave them a “window” into the good things that were going on in the midst of unsettling times.
We approached it like most programs on our GoThrive.io platform, developing a program that generated thoughts and perspectives that might typically remain uncovered, using the principles and process of cognitive psychology and neuroscience.
The Happiness Challenge program was sent to a variety of groups, with a completion rate of 71.43%. We didn’t drive new business as much as awareness of our company during a time where marketing new ideas were particularly difficult due to the uncertainty and palatable risk that everyone was feeling throughout 2020.
In summary, we set out to show that Affective Data can provide a useful understanding of your situation and the options that provide the greatest opportunities for one chance of achieving “Better Days”.
In our view of our new rebranding as Affective.health, the reason to have a challenge is to create a new way for customers to see the benefits of what you do in some way that delivers perceivable value or benefit.”
Our next contributor’s company frequently organizes challenges and contests for their followers on social media.
#2 Alina Clark, Co-Founder & Marketing Director at CocoDoc, Online PDF editor
“We often run monthly challenges on our social media platforms to push for more engagement, and more onboarding. Our most frequent challenge has been the eye-pretzel challenge. Essentially, we print a full graphic on our social media platforms, Facebook and Instagram. The users simply have to find the candy nestled somewhere within the graphics.
We’ve also tried our hands at social media challenges. For instance, we offer free lifetime subscriptions to users who creatively use our Saas tools in their daily jobs. Such a challenge is often based on the amount of engagement that a user can get to their idea. Works great for our engagement and brand positioning too.
So far, similar initiatives have driven valuable user feedback, new sign ups, increased user loyalty.
To succeed, your marketing challenge should be simple enough, yet still interesting enough to attract users. A complex system will confuse and push away prospective participants. The easiest challenges are those which engage them.
Besides, there’s no point in having people participate in a challenge on your site if they complete the challenge and leave the site. A game should always direct the participant to other pages of your site. This will drive product awareness to the side of the customer”.
Our next author talks about the role of incentives in participant activation and engagement.
#3 Emilia Korczynska Head of Marketing at Userpilot, Product Growth Platform
“Postfity, a social media marketing tool, has A/B tested an onboarding checklist built with Userpilot with and without an incentive.
The new users have a challenge to complete all the onboarding tasks (leading to key activation points) within 2 days in order to get a 50% discount for any plan they choose.
The checklist completion rate went up from 27% to 40%. This shows offering an extra incentive to complete a task has a positive impact on user activation.”
Our next author shares a quick but important tip on how to bring your challenge participants together.
#4 Timothy Robinson, CEO at InVPN, VPN reviews
“I recommend making a private Facebook group for your challenge. It’s a great method to connect with participants throughout the challenge and stay in touch with your community after it’s over.
Make a catchy name for the group that corresponds to your brand or expertise. Make sure the privacy settings are set to ‘closed’ so you can restrict who has access to the group and protect your members’ privacy as much as possible.
If you’re concerned about a lack of participants, keep in mind that you can encourage friends and relatives to join the challenge and group! People who support you will usually be delighted to be a part of your community.”
Our fifth author’s company organized a challenge where business/tech experts helped nonprofits with free advice and showed some ways to improve their operations.
#5 Frank Bauch, Director of Communications at Tonkean, Adaptive business operations platform
“Tonkean users include some of the most advanced biz operations professionals in the world. They tend to work at big, enterprise companies, helping them reshape business processes to run more efficiently. Their knowledge of systems and workflows is elite.
Unfortunately, nonprofits, despite their passion and amazing work to affect change, never have access to these expensive biz professionals. So, we decided to inspire our community of users to help those smaller orgs in our communities who are making a true societal impact.
That’s why we helped to create “Changemakers”, a week-long hackathon where we (along with our other sponsors) connected some of tech’s smartest minds with the nonprofit projects that needed their help to run efficiently.
Nonprofits who needed operational/technical help were paired with ops experts from tech companies to work with them for a week to revamp their operations. It became a big success, with dozens of ‘makers’ helping 17 nonprofits from around the world. It was so successful we decided to make it an ongoing event to connect nonprofits with the operational experts they need, for free.”
Our last contributor talks about a contest that helped their client get user-generated content and increase Facebook engagement.
#6 Brenton Thomas, Founder at Twibi, Digital marketing agency
“At Twibi, we’ve run a number of challenges for our clients. Most notably, we ran a challenge targeting business owners on Facebook.
We challenged them to share a snapshot of a reporting dashboard they created using our client’s software. We then reposted the most impressive dashboards.
The outcome has led to some of the most liked social posts of all time on our client’s Facebook page.”
The success of your challenge, like any other marketing campaign, needs to be measured. And you can do it by tracking
- user-generated content,
- participant feedback,
- increase in your group members and engagement,
- new software signups, and
- completion rate of the challenge.
Would you like me to help you create a viral challenge for your users? Let’s chat.