Running a social media contest is a great way to drum up enthusiasm for your business, increase your list of email subscribers, get new Twitter followers and Facebook likes, and create a fun experience in the process.

In this post, we share 12 recommendations, choices for you to consider, and options to keep in mind to run a successful social media contest of your own.

1. Know what you want
Are you trying to get newsletter subscriptions, expose certain products, gain brand recognition, or drive up Facebook fans? Knowing what your goals are will guide the process.

2. Choose the type of contest you want to have
Sweepstakes contests are the easiest to enter, with the lowest barrier of entry. Photo or video contests with fan votes get the most engagement. Caption contests or quiz contests are other options. Winners can be randomly selected, picked by you or a panel of judges you select, or voted on by other readers. Pinterest also has a wide variety of “Pin It to Win It” promotions you can peruse for ideas including this simple contest from Ally Bank Financial Inc.

3. Decide how long the contest will run
If you’re running a photo or video contest, stretch contests out longer by having several rounds of voting says Nicole Krug, owner and operator of brand marketing and social media company Social Light.

“If you don’t have a huge budget but just want to spur some engagement, you can also do a flash contest,” Krug says. These contests – often one-day contests done every week or two – brings small bursts of engagement without emptying your marketing budget.

4. Choose a platform
Decide whether you want the contest to run on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, etc. Choose one and stick to it, though you can still cross-promote your contest on other social networks. Want an all-encompassing campaign? Popular options for contests include RafflecopterVotigoPromoSimple and Giveaway Tool. Many have free trial plans or versions that are free for up to a specified number of entries. Some have forms and templates. “If you’re on a budget and know how to code, Krug recommends Shortstack. 

5. Create a plan for artwork
Depending on which platform you use, you may need to set aside some time and resources to create artwork for the contest. Some images need to be customized for different platforms.

6. Make sure the contest is targeted
Many businesses ask contest entrants to join their email list as a prerequisite for contest entry. Mike Carroll, creative director at Equinox Design estimates that only about 10 percent to 20 percent of people drop off. Keep this number low by making sure the prize you’re giving away is closely related to what your business offers. Offering free iPads to people subscribed to emails from your cooking company may attract tech lovers rather than aspiring chefs. “If you can get people to show their loyalty to a brand, that’s going to get more targeted people,” Carroll explains. You can always include a prize from your business alongside a second prize that’s more generic.

Here’s an example from Monterey County, in which they asked people to share their favorite winery via Twitter for a chance to win a trip to Carmel.

We want to hear about your favorite Monterey County winery! You could win a trip to Carmel!

— SeeMonterey (@SeeMonterey) January 30, 2012

7. Make it sticky
You can provide motivation in the form of extra contest entries for those who share your contest on social media, but nobody wants to share a boring contest. Increase the “stickiness” by making it fun and engaging even for those who don’t win. An interesting contest gets shared more, whether you combine it with incentives in the form of added entries or not.

8. Promote the contest
No matter how great the giveaway, your content won’t promote itself. Consider using paid options on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms to help spread the word.

You can use a hashtag for the contest to tie it across various networks, but make it easy and fun. Krug recommends leveraging partnerships to get others to post and spread the word.

9. Keep people’s attention with other content
No matter what the contest, some people will sign up for the prize and opt out as soon as the contest is over. However, if the contest is done well, they’ll be exposed to a bit of your brand throughout the process. “Yes, you want to promote the contest, but while you’re doing the contest you have their attention,” whether your contest has several rounds or people are viewing entries, says Krug.

Use that opportunity, she says, to integrate your brand messages into the contest – whether it’s adding product information that may catch people’s attention into the contest itself or throwing other posts to your Facebook page with interesting information about your brand.

10. Have clear contest rules

“The bigger the prize, the more people you’re going to have enter,” says Mike Carroll, creative director at Equinox Design. Carroll created a photo contest for Cathay Pacific’s 30th anniversary, as part of the airline’s “Spirit of Hong Kong” campaign.  People who had flown on Cathay Pacific submitted photos related to their trip, and voted on their favorites. Cathay Pacific offered a free premium economy round-trip ticket to Hong Kong as the prize. He also worked on a more recent Facebook user-generated photo caption contest for the airline.

“One big takeaway is that some people will cheat,” Carroll says. “So really hone in on your contest rules.”

For example, if the contest is for the number of Facebook likes a photo receives, make sure to specify that multiple votes from the same IP address will be discounted. And if you’d like to reuse images submitted as part of a contest, be sure to clearly state that in the contest rules as well. It will save you a lot of time afterwards!

11. Other legalese
To keep everything legal, you’ll also need to disclaim the platform that you’re on, stating that they don’t sponsor the contest. This will be found in the terms of service of whichever platform you’re posting on. “If you’re going to do anything related to kids, make sure you have something saying that the legal guardian is the one that’s entering, because there are some legalities around that,” Krug recommends. Always research the rules for individual social media platforms when designing your contest to make sure you meet all the requirements first.

12. Moderate submission entries
Many platforms have built-in options for moderation. Make sure to approve all images for photo contests before they get posted, in case there is inappropriate material. “We’ve actually had that before with sweepstakes so we learned from our mistakes,” Carroll explains.

You can drive heaps of wild engagement with a social media contest. It just take a bit of planning and execution to make it a smashing success!

Do you have plans for a social media contest to help your business? Share any tips you have in the comments.

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© 2014 – 2018, Contributing Author. All rights reserved.

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