Challenge.gov developer emphasizes marketing

Success depends on 'marketing, marketing, marketing'

Federal agencies should put more emphasis on marketing to get the most out of the Challenge.gov, a free website designed to help them hold innovation competitions, according to its developer.

Developer Brandon Kessler, who also is the founder of ChallengePost, offered several tips to agency executives who hold public innovation contests. He spoke at the Social Graph seminar at George Washington University School of Business on Jan. 20. The seminar was co-sponsored by the L2 think tank and George Washington University School of Business.

Initially, Kessler developed the ChallengePost platform to help all organizations hold public contests.  ChallengePost won the contract with the General Services Administration to develop Challenge.gov, a governmentwide platform that debuted last August. Before that, he helped start an innovation competition in New York City and the "Apps for Healthy Kids" contest.


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Challenge.gov offers agencies tools to publish a competition, sign up supporters and allow supporters to get updates on the competition.

About 75 contests are currently posted on Challenge.gov by several dozen agencies. Users can sort them by agency, post date and application deadline.

The benefits of online challenges include thinking outside the box, paying for performance, galvanizing the public and capturing a “huge” return on investment, Kessler said.

“The aggregate value of the challenge almost always exceeds the prize money,” Kessler said.

Many contests have been successful, including the “Apps for Healthy Kids” compeition to develop video games to teach youngsters healthy habits.

The most popular contests capitalize on a participant's desire for status, intellectual stimulation, creativity, community, altruism and other ideals as much, or more than, the desire to win a dollar prize, Kessler said.

The most successful challenges are specific in nature, with common sense rules, the right incentives and “marketing, marketing, marketing,” Kessler said.

Many contests that fail to attract enough submissions were not adequately publicized, Kessler said. He suggests leveraging social media outlets by asking challenge supporters to share information about the contest through Facebook, Twitter and other sites.

Agencies also should consider a using a variety of contests to meet their needs, including those involving technology innovation, new uses of government data, design innovation, public service announcements, participation, operation and grand idea challenges, such as ideas for how to create inexpensive solar energy.

Kessler recommended a participation contest, in which the goal is to leverage large numbers of participants. For examples, cities or communities might compete to enroll large numbers of children in a reading program or to collect the most recycled products.

In an operations contest, the goal might be to challenge inventors to create a specific device that an agency needs or wants, such as creating a suitcase-sized DNA collection kit and lab that can be carried to crime scenes, Kessler said.

In other parts of the seminar, Scott Galloway founder of L2, said social platforms are major sources of traffic on the Internet. Consequently, they are also very important sources of traffic to public agency websites.

For the White House, NASA and Peace Corps websites, the top source of traffic is Google.com, and Facebook is in second place, Galloway said.


About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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