If you’re doing your fair share of community-building on your blog, contests can be a wonderful source of inspiration as well as interaction.
Contests (or challenges, if you prefer to keep your community non-competitive) can bring your readers, commenters, and online friends out of the woodwork to share their own creativity with you and each other; in those moments, your blog becomes more than just a website about you and your photography and becomes a hub for people who are inspired by your work and who want to inspire each other, as well.
To create a challenge or contest, start by announcing it on your blog. Tell your readers you’re conducting a competition or exhibition around a theme; name the theme, giving a few examples, and ask readers to make their own submissions. As submissions roll in, give readers opportunities to see and talk about the photos in galleries or exhibition blog posts. At the end of the challenge or contest, finish up with a final post about the winning or notable entries and what you learned or how you were inspired in the process.
Themes can be timely or timeless. For example, you could announce a photo contest for images about motherhood right around Mother’s Day. Or you could challenge your readers to submit their best images about brotherhood at any point during the year. The topics you could choose are almost endless. For your first challenges, try to focus on themes of interest to your audience and that fit well with the rest of your blog’s content. For example, if you run a children’s portrait studio and blog a lot about photographing kids, you could run a contest for images about misbehaving kids.
Seasonal challenges (e.g., “winter portraits,” “summer fun,” Halloween scenes) work very well for online contests; because your readers are likely already taking pictures of thematically appropriate material, asking them to submit their best images for that season or holiday doesn’t require too many extra steps on their part. They don’t have to schedule a new photo shoot; they just have to dig through the images they already have and love.
If your community is smaller or not made of professional photographers, consider going with a “mobile” theme, showcasing the best of smartphone photography. Thanks to better smartphone cameras and mobile photography apps, all kinds of people are being exposed to photography tools, and most have no training, formal or otherwise, in how to frame and shoot beautiful images. Take that onslaught of new amateur photogs as an opportunity to find and show off tasteful, interesting, well-done mobile photos on your own blog.
Once you’ve declared your theme, set out very clear, specific rules and guidelines, especially if this challenge will be a contest with a winner named at the conclusion. Are adult-themed submissions okay? What about digitally manipulated images? Is even the lightest Photoshopping to fix levels verboten, or will you allow for extra post-production special effects? In the rules, set a cut-off date for challenge submissions; if you’re running a contest, also let readers know when the winner will be announced.
If at all possible, establish a prize or prizes for the winner or winners of your contest (no prizes are required for non-competitive challenges). The prize could be a brand-donated item, such as a gift certificate for an online photography shop or a fun smartphone camera lens from an iPhone accessory maker. Or you could purchase a prize yourself or “re-gift” a new (still in the box, still with all its tags) toy for your fellow photogs. In some cases, an interesting vintage item might make a great prize— think about Russian toy cameras or old Polaroid cameras from the mid-century period. Keep in mind that if you’re offering a physical prize, you may have to ship it overseas.
Instructions and choosing a winner
Finally, give your readers clear instructions on how to submit their photos, and make sure that submission process is extremely simple and that you, yourself don’t have to take too much action to keep the submissions rolling in. For example, you could leave the comments section of your blog open and ask readers to post a link to their submission photo in the comments.
Also, let readers know if and where their images will be featured. Will you post a gallery of the best pics on your blog? Will you create a Flickr set with the submissions? A Pinterest board? Have a plan for publishing and promoting the images in your challenge or contest.
Next, get your community really involved by sharing the contest announcement blog post on Facebook, Google+, and Twitter. Every so often, revisit those social networks with an update, such as a notable new submission or a reminder about the challenge’s end date.
If your challenge is competitive, consider taking a vote as the contest nears its conclusion. Pick the best three or five images, and use your CMS’s polling function or a separate polling widget such as PollDaddy to tally votes from your readers. As an added bonus to the voting approach, finalists will drag their online friends over to your blog to vote, thereby increasing your blog’s traffic; if your content is good, some of those new visitors might stick around.
When your challenge is over, be sure to write a blog post about the more notable entries, linking back to the websites or social profiles of the entrants. And of course, if your challenge is a contest, contact the winner and blog about the winning photograph, including notes or anecdotes from the photographer.
Blogging for Photographers by Jolie O’Dell tells you everything that you need to know about establishing your own photo-blogging website, from the basics of how to get your photos from your camera to the Internet, and looking lovely, to how you can make money from your site.