This is an offshoot of the Community Promotion Contest underway on on Gaming.

I am putting together a series of contests to help promote and enliven Stack Exchange communities.

Communities would be able to pick a contest appropriate to their site and run with it. These "recipes" would provide a step-by-step process to launch these contest, without all the guesswork and flailing about needed to crowd-source these ideas.

We have the resources to provide funds, prizes, promotions, materials, or any database/programming support you might need, so don't worry about costs or logistics at this stage; That's our problem.

Submit your ideas below.

We're looking for bits of ideas or fully-formed concepts for contest that could be used to promote Stack Exchange sites. A few simple examples:

  • Best post about a hot topic — Think in terms of what's hot in your industry that isn't being posted about enough? Nominations could be conducted through meta.
  • Best canonical answer to an often-asked question — Announce the contest that you need the best possible answer to this question. The benefit to the site is that you can close the repetitive questions with a link to this awesome, award-winning, canonical answer.
  • Make a video — Participants could create the best how-to demonstrations of a product, a do-it-yourself tutorial, a walkthrough of a game, etc. The video should point back to the site and the entries linked from a meta thread.
  • Photo contests, design contests, competitions — figure out how these activities work for your site.

This is a brainstorming activity. I made this wiki, so feel free to jump in and work off each other's ideas.

Below are some guidelines to keep in mind about the goals of this project:

  • The activity should leave useful artifacts
    We're looking for activities that either provide good content, encourage useful community participation, or generally promote the site. A contest to guess when the millionth question will be posted doesn't help a site move forward.

  • The execution should be crowd source-able
    In the most ideal case, these contests should be executed through small, incremental units of work by the community. Promotional activities generally flat when it takes one person to do a lot of the work. — but sometimes it's okay to appoint a "project leader" to coordinate the efforts, if that's what it takes.

  • Contests should be generally applicable to multiple Stack Exchange sites
    Some communities are predominately academic while others are professional or consumer-oriented. If a contest applies to all Stack Exchange sites, great! But keep in mind these diverse groups when considering your contest idea. Meh… If the idea is only applicable to your site, post it anyway.

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  • I'm having trouble understanding the basic idea. How would such a contest work? Who would be contesting who in what way? Could you make an example? Maybe it's me, but I also can't see the "contest" aspect in Jeff's original post - Isn't Jeff just suggesting a raffle of x number of games among senior users at the moment? – Pekka May 5 '11 at 17:27
  • @Pekka Yes, our example is less of a contest, more of sponsoring potential question askers. Contests, however, run similar to the overarching goal of it. – Grace Note May 5 '11 at 17:33
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    Why not start a blog instead and get everyone a t-shirt... :-P – Ivo Flipse May 5 '11 at 17:34
  • So what is asked here is, like, modi operandi for what metrics a contest could use - like, users with the greatest rep gain in x amount of time; users with most upvotes on questions (= best askers) etc.? – Pekka May 5 '11 at 17:40
  • @Pekka: The gaming reference is an example of the type of activity (albeit, not a contest per se) whose end-goal is to promote additional desirable content. I added a few examples to make the premise clearer. – Robert Cartaino May 5 '11 at 17:47
  • Although it doesn't fit all of the requirements, I just posted this question here that would be useful: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/246411/…. Participating in a SE site for prizes alone isn't fun; a competition that generates content as a byproduct while is fun has great potential. – Anonymous Penguin Jan 1 '15 at 0:26

When we were discussing options on how Super User could approach the community promotions, our first idea was to do something similar to the Super User contest. The contest got a lot of users very enthusiastic and generated quite a surge in activity.

However, there was also a negative downside, because of the highest reputation produced in that week in some cases resulted in 'negative activity'. Users would simply post any answer, see if it stuck and else deleted it again. Clearly not the kind of activity we strive for.

  • We want to award participation, not obsessive participation.
  • It had to be accessible, so that users have a (legitimate) feeling they have a shot at it. But also not be too easy, as to become trivial.
  • Having only one competition a year felt like it was too isolated, makes it hard to keep up momentum and interest.
  • Stack Exchange users come from literally everywhere, while not everybody can come pick up a USB stick at Jeff's house, it's not exactly easy to send a monitor to Pakistan either.
  • Not everybody likes the same prizes, so while a unicorn gets the MSO crowd wild, the SU crowd would rather have more Dropbox space.

So instead we'd wanted to set up something more along the lines like the DropQuest, where Dropbox users could gain additional space in exchange for performing certain tasks.

enter image description here

Off course, we wanted the challenge to contribute to the site in a good way, so no solving superuser-sudoku's! So the idea was to set up challenges that required them to use features like:

  • create awesome tag-wiki's,
  • edit posts to make them better,
  • update old and outdated posts,
  • raise their flag weight,
  • vote more regularly (like a fanatic voter),
  • get an accepted answer on a meta question

Basically, make users more familiar with our privileges in a competitive way. There may not be any rep to be gained, but heck, you can win a monitor! But our problem was: how do we track if they get done and more importantly how to measure the quality of these actions, since we don't want trivial actions?

As you can see, the kind of behavior we want to encourage is pretty hard to force into a contest format. So instead, we thought about letting users earn 'credits' for these actions (again still not knowing how to measure) and let them spent these in a webstore (thanks for making store.stackexchange.com!). Users would have to perform quite a lot of these tasks to get anything worthwhile, like stickers or a t-shirt, but it wouldn't be so outrageous that it's not achievable. Basically, it would be like WoW only the grinding isn't done by gathering rep, but by performing useful chores.

However, while we still wanted to do our contest, we decided to start a blog first. While we couldn't directly reward users with materialistic stuff, getting your question picked as the Question of the Week still means you were the best piece of content out of a 1000 others! That should stand for something, right?

Soon Kronos managed to get a bunch of SSDs from Kingston and that's when things started to get exciting. Because even better than having to buy prizes, we could get them for 'free' or we could sponsor users to blog about something that interests the users (and reward that blogger in the process).

To me, I think the blog has so many more advantages than holding a contest. Because a blog post is the best way to write up a canonical answer that sums up all the separate answers or can serve as a starting point towards asking better questions. Or if users "don't know what debugging is" it would be best to have a blog post to help them post better questions!

In the few months that we've had a blog on Super User we have:

Also, we shouldn't forget two important things:

  • Not everybody reads every blog under the sun, so while something isn't news to you, doesn't mean it isn't to everyone else. This also means that while something has been reviewed by a dozen other sites, that doesn't mean our users will actually have read those!
  • The opinion of a reputable user on Stack Exchange is worth a whole lot more than some random person I never met on a big blog. Heck, who knows who paid them to write the article and what do they really know about that stuff anyway? If I a top user for a given tag or someone who's answer I generally trust recommends me a product or not, that counts for me. We may not be a social network, but that doesn't mean I don't trust a lot of you more than a review on Gizmodo.

So to me, a per-site blog (or a network wide one!) allows us to talk about hot topics, write canonical answers, post video's, hold small contests. They are useful to a lot of users and can be applied to every site, given that it's big enough to sustain itself (hence a network wide one, like blog.StackExchange.com). The only downside is that its not crowd source-able 'yet', unless the team sets out to replace WordPress like they did with IRC...

Contests are great, but blog posts are even better.

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  • Oh and Programmers and Stack Overflow are so dying to have someone write more canonical blog posts, so we can finally put a stop to the endless duplication – Ivo Flipse May 5 '11 at 22:00
  • see my answer here which is a partial response to yours – Jeff Atwood May 7 '11 at 2:00

For a site like Seasoned Advice, provide copies of a book on cutting edge techniques like Modernist Cuisine to some of the top users (and at the price tag of Modernist Cuisine it won't be many). You could also pick a more topic-specific book such as Under Pressure. Ideally some of the needed tools would go with the book.

How would you pick the top users? I can think of two ways to start. 1. Pick users who are active but not in the tags related to what you're giving away (so if it's Under Pressure the user can't have anything in [sous-vide]), so they will be expanding their repetoire. 2. Pick users most active in the relevant tag to hopefully expand their knowledge.

Ideally provide a part of the user profile for those users that shows them quesions and answers deemed to be related to their winning of the book.

For a site like Writers I think we most need to garner more experts on the site. A contest where you bring in an expert (defined for writers as someone employed in the industry or published by a publisher, perhaps) would be very helpful. Getting an expert to answer one of your questions or ask one of their own. We'd want a way to link people who sign up to "expert" status and then to link them to the person who referred them. There should be incentive for if those experts stay around.

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  • I'm sure half the people on MSO already know about, if not own, this book, but: Cooking for Geeks – Pops May 5 '11 at 17:53
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    I like #2 (Pick users most active in the relevant tag to hopefully expand their knowledge)—rewarding experts and getting them to return is always a good thing. – Dori May 5 '11 at 21:32

Just as a reminder the original Super User contest had four awards:


  1. The best rookie performance of a new user this week, as measured by the Super User leagues, will receive a 32 GB USB key.
  2. The highest reputation produced this week, as measured by the Super User leagues, will receive a 22″ LCD monitor.
  3. The “most awesome” new Super User question or answer that week, that most embodies the type of Q&A that make the site great — as judged by the Super User community moderators — will receive a two bay NAS device.
  4. The most useful Meta Super User question or answer of the week — as judged by the Super User community moderators — gets a Super User t-shirt and stickers.

While I certainly think this can be expanded on and improved, I'm not sure I entirely agree with Ivo that "most reputation by new user / any user in this week" is a bad contest criteria:

because of the highest reputation produced in that week in some cases resulted in 'negative activity'. Users would simply post any answer, see if it stuck and else deleted it again. Clearly not the kind of activity we strive for

Based on the 4 weeks of the contest, there was one user who was clearly gaming the contest. But the rest of the winners were quite legitimate and quite a few of them turned into avid SU community members. Judge for yourself:

So based on 1 out of 16 data points, I think it'd be a very bad idea to discard 15 excellent results.

(Also, even at worst, the user who gamed the contest did produce reasonable posts during the contest -- and didn't disappear completely. So the 1/16 bad result isn't that bad.)

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  • Ah by no means do I disregard my buddy @Kronos for being an awesome rookie ;) It was rather aimed at users who didn't stand a chance yet tried to anyway. But perhaps my perception is skewed towards negative content, since we get it shoved in our face more often. – Ivo Flipse May 7 '11 at 6:49
  • @Ivo Ah thanks :P @Jeff While I agree that the contest was the main point that brought me to SuperUser I feel that there was a flux of 'fluff' or even lower quality answers and questions that came. These factors ultimately were a stumbling block as we discussed community promotions. Of course I'm a little partial to the whole blogging, but from what I've seen and experienced, I've made more progress/contribution as a community member writing for the blog than I did as a contestant. – James Mertz May 9 '11 at 20:45

How about a "bad question" contest in the spirit of the Bulwer–Lytton Fiction Contest? That is, a contest to produce questions which are not obviously bad by virtue of outright errors or vacuousness, but which instead contain subtle problems which help to inform the concept of what a good question actually is?

Questions could be submitted under the categories of different frequently-used tags, thereby providing a compendium of "bad questions" that helps to inform the site's ongoing evolution in a similar way to off-topic questions in Area 51.

Either the judges or the community could provide, instead of traditional answers, a careful explanation of why the question is actually a bad question (this activity could be contest-worthy as well, providing a second angle to the competition). Later, people who ask questions with similarly subtle problems could be referred to these canonical examples for a full explanation of why exactly their question is bad--helping them to learn more about how SE sites work and potentially improve their question at the same time.

One reason I would like to see a contest like this is that it puts experts in the question-writing chair, allowing them to expand their role into a different region than they usually inhabit. Such opportunities often produce valuable content.

For those not familiar with the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, some winning examples are listed here.

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    clever, but the side-effects of such a contest would be potentially negative. We're encouraging people to write questions that are bad? And we want them to try to be not useful, but funny in a clever way? Also, will random users who happen upon this stuff understand it all? There are a lot of ways this can go wrong. – Jeff Atwood May 11 '11 at 10:40
  • You would definitely want to segment the contest questions from actual questions both practically and visually. But having done that, the contest wouldn't serve to increase the number of bad questions. Instead, it would serve to identify some of the many subtle ways that questions become unsuitable for the site. The objective would not be to find funny questions, but rather questions that expertly fail without breaking any obvious rules. Even in the BLFC the humour is only a side-effect of the literary dissonance. For writers, thinking about why the questions are bad is the true value. – eMansipater May 11 '11 at 20:22

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