I ran a business page on Facebook called Brocade Certification, which supported the Brocade Certification Program. It was a place where I could engage with our candidates, keep them informed about the program, have some fun by posting challenges, and occasionally, offer discounts on exams exclusively for the Facebook page followers. We had a great level of participation from the followers, and it helped us to build the brand “Brocade Certified”.
As we neared the end of the 3rd fiscal quarter in 2012, our certification numbers were down, so at the request of my VP, I was asked to devise some sort of incentive to get people to take exams and drive the numbers for Q4. I suggested that we offer free exam vouchers to anyone that replied to an email address, with keywords from a post that had some specific instructions to gain the voucher. This way we could track the number of emails received, and whether they had seen the post. I would then have candidate names and could track whether the voucher was used during the offer period.
It was a simple promotion, with an easy way to measure effectiveness. Post “Likes” would be an indicator, as well as the count of emails received with the special subject line they were instructed to use. We also would see how many of the offer participants went on to take the exam, and we would see a spike in that number, as well as how many got certified. This was all pretty much straightforward. Does anyone see the problem yet?
In my haste to get this rolling, I made a serious rookie mistake and did not think it through all the way. I basically put out an open offer, “free certification vouchers”, and did not place a cap on it. I did not say, “For the first 100 to respond” or something like that. The faucet was turned on, and out came Niagara Falls! As my inbox blew up, with over 350 requests, I contacted my VP and explained what happened. Fortunately, she was pleased. I did remind her that free for the candidates meant a cost to Brocade, for each exam delivery. After her, “Oh yeah, that’s right” moment, we decided to cap it at 400.
I quickly made a post that stated that we reached the limit of vouchers available. I expected a negative response since it was never stated that we were limiting the scope of the offer. Fortunately, my followers understood, and there was no firestorm of negative posts. I was VERY lucky on that front. It did mean I spent the weekend replying to each email, manually inserting a long voucher code, the expiration date and a wish for success. There was no automated method available to me that would have made this a simple task.
Lesson learned, when you post the word free, be very careful about the context in which it is used. Make sure you set limits, boundaries, and know your audience. You could potentially face a wave of negative feedback and ill feelings that would offset the gains achieved from the offer or campaign. There are also the financial considerations associated with “free”. This is a dangerous word in social media because it can go viral, in a situation where you don’t want that to happen.
Have you launched giveaways that have gone well…or not? Please share your experiences in the comments!
About the Author
Joe Cannata, Certification Director for Kinaxis, has 18 years of experience in the certification industry, building and running three different programs. He has extensive experience with the exam development process and item writing best practices, having written blogs on the subject. He also ran the social media marketing for his programs using various platforms and strategies. Joe was a community manager and champion for showing how social media could lead to certification program growth.
He wrote a chapter in an eBook, “Best Practices for Creating a Hot Certification Program (that Makes your Product Stickier)”. Joe has spoken at the Association of Test Publishers conferences on exam security and is a Board Trustee for the Customer Education Management Association (CEdMA). In addition, Joe is starting his first term as a NISM Advisory Committee member. He has a Bachelors Degree in Elementary Education and a Masters Degree in Applied Science and Computing. Joe lives in the North Atlanta suburbs.