Giveaway Guidelines: To Give or Not to Give

giveaway guide, giveaway guidelines, internet ethics, blogging ethics

by Jessika Hepburn, Editor

There was great feedback in the comments on my post about The Good, The Bad & the Simply Amazing side of giveaways. I also got a number of emails & messages via Twitter on the topic- obviously this is something that many people have questions about. It can be confusing to decide what the right thing to do is when there are so many conflicting opinions on what an ethical giveaway looks like, or if it’s possible to have one at all. This post from Design*Sponge suggests that bloggers be paid to offer giveaways since editorial space is valuable, while others recommend the complete opposite, saying that the blogger should pay the giver.

I personally believe there is no one right answer, what the definition of a good giveaway is will shift from person to person but there are questions everyone should ask before choosing to do a giveaway in order to make the best decision possible. I have focused this post mainly on questions small businesses should ask themselves before they give their handmade work away but have included some thoughts on giveaways for bloggers with more to come in another blogger focused post this month.

Did the site contact you for a giveaway?

I would look extra closely at any blog that contacts you out of the blue asking for you to offer an item for giveaway. A feature, interview, showcase or behind the scenes look at your work? Absolutely. But if they are actively seeking giveaway items from small handmade businesses then likely their traffic is not going to be high enough to justify offering a giveaway. If you are a blogger wanting to do giveaways wait until you have built your traffic up enough to have people contacting you or try pitching a giveaway idea to a major company with a big marketing budget.

Did they address you by name?

I answer emails & submissions from people who show they know my site first-the same should apply for giveaway requests. If they don’t take the time to read your bio and show they have an understanding of you & your work then they probably aren’t worth your time.

Did they ask you to send an item to review?

My little Etsy shop has never made me a penny. It takes me so long to hand-dye & felt or stitch each piece that it is mostly just for the love of it and I am no longer focusing on it at all. But frustratingly I have literally gotten more convos from people wanting to review my work then I have for sales.  They typically ask for one item to review & then suggest that I do a giveaway also. Where is the value for the artist in hand making and shipping two items? If you are approached for freebies I suggest saying no immediately. Write up a standard response form to send to those type of review requests.

Most of the blogs that approached me for review had limited posts, few comments and none of them had an engaged readership. To me they are just fishing for freebies, which is a scam-and a bad one at that. If you are a blogger: never ever ask for free stuff, especially from small businesses, if someone offers then you can make a choice whether you feel comfortable accepting a sample or product to review. If you are going to review something be sure you let your readers know that you have been given the item and always be honest, above all!

Are they unable to show you a truly successful giveaway on their site or offer you statistics that make sense?

Lots of sites will say they have huge amounts of traffic-and maybe they do. I am of the opinion that bigger isn’t always better and that quantity over quality is a bad trade. For example, one of our OMHG posts got stumbled on StumbleUpon and it got over 4,000 views, so as an experiment I started sharing more posts to see what happened. I got lots of traffic but no comments from those visits and the bounce rate was 100% meaning that visitors clicked over to the the post and clicked right out again. So I stopped using Stumble-I want OMHG to grow organically and have readers who value what we do here, I would rather grow slowly and with intention then quickly without substance.

There are lots of ways to drive traffic to your site to increase pageviews, including giveaways but if none of the content except giveaways has any comments then they obviously don’t have an engaged readership that is looking to the blog for the content of their posts. Look for the truth behind the numbers by reading their blog & the comments, visiting them on Twitter-do they have an active group of followers you will be exposed too, what about their Facebook page?

If the site doesn’t seem to be legitimate just say no-it can be hard sometimes but it is worth it. If you don’t value your work who will?

You contacted them:

You researched their site and past giveaways:

While giveaways typically get more comments there is obviously a group of readers who love the site and it’s content. You can see that the blogger posts regularly and has a game plan and schedule. This is important! Would you want to work with someone who only showed up when they wanted to and didn’t plan for the future? Look for consistency and proof that they know what they are doing.

The editor shared stats and readership info:

That you then double checked. Do this by visiting Alexa and typing in their web address to see their ranking & compare them to other sites. Check out their Klout-Klout is a Twitter based way of assessing influence. Below is the Klout score for OMHG and you can learn more about each number by visiting: http://klout.com/ohmyhandmade. While there you can also search the username of anybody on Twitter to find out their score and see what their influence is with their Twitter followers.

I also suggest looking through their Twitter followers & Facebook fans to make sure their readers are your target market. Check that the blogger knows their readers and what motivates them, they should be able to tell you about their demographics and who their readership is.

Do you know & respect the site & the editor(s):

If you are seeking sites to do giveaways with I strongly suggest contacting sites you know and respect, blogs you have followed for a while and/or editors you believe in and identify with. Someone choosing to do a giveaway with you should have interest in building a longer term relationship. That is my plan whenever I agree to a giveaway- I see value in the work, think it is a great fit for my readers & am willing to work hard to promote the business & the owner because I want them to succeed. I will contact them for future opportunities, keep them in mind for posts and pass on their business info.

Their readers are potential customers:

A website might have great traffic and your giveaway might get a 1000 comments but if the readers aren’t your customers then you might not get any sales. And that’s really the whole point of the giveaway, to generate traffic to your work so that you get sales and expose your products to your target market. This ties into the question about who the readers are and if the blogger can tell you about their readership.

The site has a mix of content:

Look for sites that have a good mix of well-written content within their niche-a blog that is a little bit of everything all scattered about or a blog that is totally exclusive to one topic might not be a good match. Also pay attention to the overall look and tone of the site, spelling and grammatical errors are possible red flags that the blogger is unprofessional (unless they speak English as a second language in which case mistakes can be quite endearing & part of their charm).

More Q’s:

-How old is the site? If the site is brand spanking new it might be wise to be cautious and wait to see what the readership and stats are like in the future.

-Do they post regularly? Showing up on time (with good content!) proves that the blogger is committed to what they do, they take their site seriously and they are willing to work hard to create a good site.

-Do they have giveaway policies? Having policies shows that the blogger has considered the ethics of giveaways and is trying to protect your best interests.

-Would it make more sense to buy an ad? Many businesses have told me they offer giveaways because they can’t afford advertising-while a giveaway might expose your product to a bunch of people for a week an ad space will introduce you to the sites readers every day. Consider what is more cost effective & experiment with doing both and seeing how it affects your traffic and sales.

It’s important to remember that giveaways are advertising and that they should be budgeted for in your marketing plan-keep track of how much it costs you in time & materials to make the items & ship them.

I hope this post and chart (click here for a printable copy) help you in making decisions about what giveaways are worth your time and how to watch out for scams. To sum up, do your research, have clear expectations and don’t hesitate to ask questions (if you are uncomfortable asking questions of the blogger then don’t do it!) hopefully this will help keep you & your business safe. I will be doing another post later in the month on my favorite types of giveaways with examples from some of my most loved sites on how bloggers can create fabulous & ethical giveaways that are great for everyone. I will also be doing a how-to guest post on creating a giveaway over on www.meaganvisser.com next week.

Please share your thoughts, questions & experiences in the comments below & I’ll join you for a chat there!

  • Brenda {Ooh La Lollipop}

    Thank you so much for this article – and for introducing me to the Alexa site! I’ve struggled in the past making these decisions – so this information is really helpful!!

    • http://ohmyhandmade.com/members/ohmyhandmade/ Jessika Hepburn

      You are so welcome Brenda! I am so glad the post is helpful to you-let me know if you have any other giveaway questions: )

  • http://www.heartmadeblog.com Mayi Carles @ heartmade

    This is beyond fantastic! Just what I needed to read. Lately, I’ve been bombarded with requests for freebies + giveaways + samples + it’s all making me feel a little uneasy + unhappy about the system. Of course I love giveaway things – Santa Claus does too, but yizee too much can be overkill. So I’m typing up a giveaway policy right now to stop being so philantrophic + a bit more biz savy. I need to eat too lol 🙂

    • http://ohmyhandmade.com/members/ohmyhandmade/ Jessika Hepburn

      Oh thanks Mayi! I am so glad to hear that: ) I totally love giving things away and will often try to find ways to say yes instead of no-but it is so important to make sure you are protecting your best interests! I limit OMHG to a maximum of 3-4 giveaways a month-maybe you could choose a number of giveaway items you are willing to offer per month and set a budget like a max of $50 per month, you do need to eat, the starving artist thing is just no fun!

  • http://www.heartmadeblog.com Mayi Carles @ heartmade

    i meant to say “stop” being so philanthropic + a bit more business savy! lol!

  • http://www.ellivenstudio.blogspot.com Julie

    this is so unbelievably good Jessika! really and truly a great read, amazing tips and fantastic guidelines. thank you!

    • http://ohmyhandmade.com/members/ohmyhandmade/ Jessika Hepburn

      Yay! Thanks Julie: ) Worth taking my computer to bed with me to work on then!

  • http://www.atouchofwhimsyshoppe.com Gina @ A Touch of Whimsy

    This is a really good post Jessika, I’m glad you brought this up. Usually when I get a request to do a giveaway, I always check to see how previous giveaways have done on their site, number of commenters, followers, etc. It doesn’t make sense to participate if the demographic doesn’t fit what my products are geared towards. I usually do a lot of giveaways to my own customers. My business since the beginning has been word of mouth. Since 2004 I have done zero paid advertising. I tend to do the most giveaways for my own customers. They love it, tell their friends who then become new customers. I love doing it and they love the surprise giveaways 🙂 I tend to do a lot of donations for fundraisers, things I personally believe in. Makes me feel good doing it and it’s a bonus of I get a customer out of it. Now I have had bloggers email me asking for freebies, but when you call me by the wrong name or send a form email, there’s a really good chance I’m not doing it 🙂

    • http://ohmyhandmade.com/members/ohmyhandmade/ Jessika Hepburn

      Thanks for your comment Gina! It is definitely a great idea to run giveaways as advertising for yourself, you get the increased traffic & all the advertising benefits + you are taking all the responsibility for marketing it & the end results. It is also a sweet way to say thank you to your customers. My earlier giveaway post talked about how giveaways can be fabulous tools to generate community & raise funds/awareness. I think those giveaways make me the happiest! We are definitely going to have to talk more on OMHG about freebie requests, it seems like there’s a lot of that going on-not at all good!

  • http://www.everythingmomandbabyshop.com Erica

    Another amazing post!

  • http://CreativeMamma.com Joy

    Thanks so much, Jessika!
    I’m on my second re-read!

    Also, thanks for the printable chart (you know how I feel about free printables)… Super helpful!

    • http://ohmyhandmade.com/members/ohmyhandmade/ Jessika Hepburn

      Ha! I actually thought of you Joy when I was deciding whether or not to do a printable-not as cute as yours but I’m glad it’s helpful!

  • http://Www.merrypad.com Emily

    Easily the best post I’ve read all weekend. Well articulated, great advice for all parties. Thank you!

    • http://ohmyhandmade.com/members/ohmyhandmade/ Jessika Hepburn

      Thank you so much Emily-that’s a wonderful compliment: ) You are very welcome!

  • http://www.westmamadesigns.com Kimberly

    Wonderful post! I don’t get asked as much anymore… though when my Etsy sales were under a 100 I got asked ALL THE TIME. I wish I had this post then. I did do some of the giveaways and had very little “return” from them. It wasn’t until I had customers (who happen to be bloggers) buy my products because they wanted them and then review them because they loved them that I started seeing an increase in sales.

    I plan on sharing this post with a lot of my fellow etsy friends!

    • http://ohmyhandmade.com/members/ohmyhandmade/ Jessika Hepburn

      Thanks Kimberly! Isn’t it strange how you get less requests the more sales you have-it is obvious that there are people out there preying on “newbies” which is so sad-yes, people should review your work because they love it. That is really the best type of publicity ever.

  • http://newjerseyknits.etsy.com allie

    Incredibly great post! I also loved reading all the comments. Thank you SO much for taking the time to write this all out–will be using as a reference for sure!

    • http://ohmyhandmade.com/members/ohmyhandmade/ Jessika Hepburn

      Thanks Allie! It was hard to cut it down to this much-giveaway are a really big topic, it’s always the things that should be simple that are actually so complicated once you scratch the surface-hope it helps you keep your new business safe!

  • Ruth

    Fantastic advice, read and digested, thank you!

  • Lisa

    I do enter but have never won anything on a give away. However I do go and look at the featured store/ etsy shop, same as when etsy or online stores are featured, and more times than not that is how I end up purchasing something, and usually off of etsy.
    I do agree with Mayi in that it can be overkill. I read blogs for inspiration and knowledge. I prefer a personal story along with a tutorial instead of a give away.

  • http://clarasclosetsoftdesignsforhomeandlife.blogspot.com/ Sallianne

    Right on! There is much confusion about giveaways and offering product. Hard to focus when you’re worried about how to do them right.

  • nicola

    THANK YOU!! I am a small business and sometimes feel obligated to do the giveaways. It’s seriously costing me a fortune, sending the bloggers stuff, and then sending the winner something. The postage alone is insanely expensive.

    • http://ohmyhandmade.com/members/ohmyhandmade/ Jessika Hepburn

      Especially mailing from Canada!!!! I think the Canada Post system was designed just to make small business owners want to pull their hair out; ) Definitely don’t feel obligated ever and only do a giveaway if you are going to get a good return on investment!

  • http://dawnypoo.blogspot.com Not Just A Mommy!

    Blech! This was fabulous and informative, pointing out some serious flaws I have when approaching businesses about giveaways! I always feel bad when I approach ‘bigger’ names and get rejected and now I realize, I didn’t ‘sell’ myself and show my true potential, and I’m sure they are wondering, ‘chica, who are you, again?’

    I’m fab in my own mind, but I have to remember that it’s a business of making money and not to take it personal! Companies get approaced all the time and I forget that sometimes.

    I’m pretty good the other way around about who I do giveaways with, is it my target audience, is it worth the time, would I use their product, etc. I wouldn’t want to attach myself to something I didn’t believe in and that’s exactly how it works for the company doing the giveaway!

    • http://ohmyhandmade.com/members/ohmyhandmade/ Jessika Hepburn

      Thanks so much for your comment! Definitely when approaching a big company it’s all about confidence & making it pretty-put together a one page pdf with a blurb about your blog & you, your readers and what you are offering. Companies like glossy marketing so the better you can present yourself the greater your chances of collaboration. All the best to you: )

  • http://drawntoletters.etsy.com Joanne

    Jessika, thanks for taking the varnish off this tricky topic! I got stung so much by giveaways and now do 25% off for selected reviews which I think is fair and attracts only those truly liking your product not the “hit and run ” giveaway chasers.

    • http://ohmyhandmade.com/members/ohmyhandmade/ Jessika Hepburn

      Joanne that is a GREAT idea-I am totally going to share that in a follow up post. You’re so smart!

  • http://hiyaluv.blogspot.com hiyaluv

    an amazing post! thank you so much. i have booked mark this and can’t wait to try out some things you mentioned! lovely read:)
    gina

  • http://tripledutymomma.com Jamie

    Hi Jessika, I really like this post. These are good guidelines; however, I do not completely agree that business owners should automatically say no to a blogger that requests a product to review. I would like to offer a blogger’s perspective.

    When I send a pitch to companies (be it big name or WAHMs), I do ask if they would like to do some marketing on my blog by sponsoring a review. I suggest a giveaway as well, because we all know that creates even more exposure. I am not writing an exclusively review/giveaway blog by any means, but I am not really comfortable offering a contest for a product that I cannot recommend. This isn’t just about getting something for free, I work for it. It takes time to review a product, compose a good post highlighting, structure a giveaway to really market the business, and promote the review/giveaway/and product through social media.

    To me, this is a business partnership. Rather than being monetarily compensated for the time and advertising that I am doing, I receive products. I also love doing this because one of the things I do as a mom, is research products I want to buy through reading blog reviews. I have also discovered new things through blog reviews and giveaways, which I have subsequently purchased. I also frequently approach companies about sponsoring giveaways for products that I already have and love. In this case, I ask for nothing except a prize for the winner. I’d like to think that I’m not greedy and if I think a product is great, I will happily spread the word about it!

    I do feel that there is wisdom in being cautious. Not everyone takes their blog seriously, and some people do just want a bunch of free stuff for nothing. I just wanted to let you know that there are those of us who operate professionally and we appreciate the businesses that are willing to partner with us, recognizing mommy bloggers as a valid form of marketing. 🙂

  • http://tripledutymomma.com Jamie

    There are at least 3 things in my previous comment that are worded incorrectly. You’ll have to excuse that; I am up way past my bed time so I’m not running on all cylinders. He he. Thank you for letting me put in my two cents, regardless.

  • http://ohmyhandmade.com/members/ohmyhandmade/ Jessika Hepburn

    HI Jamie,
    Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts. I went and visited your blog and looked at your past giveaways and I am sorry but I really do still feel that you would be better off directing the time spent finding items to review and giveaway to building your readership. While I definitely value the power of mommybloggers I think it is dangerous for the online world to think that it deserves freebies in exchange for time spent blogging. It is a business partnership and in any good partnership you need to be sure that what you are offering is equal to what you receive. Maybe a much larger company benefits from exposure to your smaller readership but a small business does not have the overhead. I encourage you to consider this when you are seeking items to review & giveaway.

  • http://tripledutymomma.com Jamie

    Jessika,

    Thank you for checking out my blog. I would say that is a fair statement. I mostly concentrate my efforts on bigger companies right now anyway, and I hadn’t thought of it from that perspective. I know it will take a good amount of time to build my readership, as my blog has only been published since January. I am thankful to have found this post because I now have a better understanding about approaching smaller businesses. After your input, I have decided to offer to review WAHM products that I have purchased without asking for a giveaway contribution. I have an appreciation for moms who work while staying home with their children and I think that should be celebrated. Thank you for the wonderful insight! 🙂

    • http://ohmyhandmade.com/members/ohmyhandmade/ Jessika Hepburn

      I am so happy to hear that this post helped you see a different perspective & I really hope that it helps you to grow and develop your readership & content! Absolutely offering reviews for products you have purchased is really the best way to go-because then your readers can be totally sure your opinion is based on your love of the product! There are lots of fun ways to direct readers to your blog through maybe hosting a craft challenge with WAHMs that you approach to make something & blog about it on their own sites then you can give away the items that were made to readers. This is a fun way to engage readers + make connections with small businesses. If you ever have any questions feel free to email me: )

  • http://www.inkspotworkshop.com Stacy – InkSpot Workshop

    Quite possibly my FAVORITE blog post of 2011- Thank you Jessika!!!

    • http://ohmyhandmade.com/members/ohmyhandmade/ Jessika Hepburn

      Wow Stacy-Thank YOU! I can’t wait to publish your positive giveaway experiences this Wednesday 🙂

  • http://www.ilikeorangetoo.blogspot.com Michelle

    wow. You’ve mentioned things I’ve never thought about. Thanks for shedding a little light on this subject. Now I’ve got a better idea of how to approach my own giveaways (even if they are few and far between).

    So helpful! 🙂
    Michelle

  • http://www.birchleafdesigns.net Wendy Johnson

    Wow! Thanks Jessika…this is so informative!

  • http://www.slimybookworm.com Bola /SlimyBookworm

    I totally agree with your stance. I have decided to stop mommy blog reviews and giveaways. If I do them in the future, they will be far between and very selective.
    As a new business, I thought them a viable adverstising avenue, but after giving away many free products, huge shipping expenses and seeing no sales come my way from them, I am much wiser.
    I will focus my marketing to avenues that bring results.

  • http://www.lady-like.net/blog Diana

    I recently got a request from someone who “loved” my item and said she had lots of traffic. For the free item, she would do a post. We needed the traffic so I sent her two items in different colors. She gave one of them away to the winner of the “follow our blog”, etc. So basically I got two sales in return for the two freebies…Her traffic and comments on our giveaway was hardly anything. Very disappointed and won’t do that again unless I see real numbers. Would rather spend money on sponsoring.