Remember marketing sweepstakes? You’d fill out a card with your personal details for a chance at a Caribbean vacation or a free steam cleaning.

wildfire-logoThey’re moving online into Facebook Pages and Twitter in a way that could have farther reach and a fbFund-backed startup called Wildfire Interactive, Inc. is setting its sights on this. The company has built a self-serve platform that lets businesses from mom-and-pop shops to international brands create contests. Sweepstakes are a way to lure hundreds or thousands of Facebook users into following the business on its Page, setting the basis for a longer-term marketing relationship.

Victoria Ransom, a Harvard Business School MBA who started an adventure travel business in New Zealand, founded Wildfire as a way to take the marketing strategies that worked for her there and apply them to Facebook and Twitter.

“These kind of campaigns do work well in social networks — contests are a successful way to get viral spread,” she said. “It’s becoming very clear to lots of businesses that display advertising and shouting to customers doesn’t work as well. Customers want connections.”

Pepsi, Red Bull and Unilever are among the brands that have used Wildfire already to build contests or send out coupons. The startup charges anywhere from 99 cents a day for a very basic contest to $20,000 for more control and a custom design.

“A company could do this without us by building an application on their own or hiring a marketing agency, which is frankly really expensive,” she said.

The company has angel funding and won a $250,000 grant from fbFund, Facebook’s start-up incubator. It has 12 full-time employees and Ransom said Wildfire is profitable.