9 Tips for Creating Effective Social Media Contests

by Ken Mueller on August 28, 2013 · 7 comments

Show #1004 --Model Alison Fiori shows off what's behind the curtain on the new one-hour daytime series LETS MAKE A DEAL, weekdays (check local listings) on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Monty Brinton/CBS ©2009 CBS BROADCASTING INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVEDI see a lot of businesses using social media as a means of administering contests, some doing a good job, others not so good. And of course don’t get me started on those businesses (and consultants!) who have been violating Facebook’s rules regarding contests on the platform. Of course much of that is a moot point now that Facebook just relaxed their contest and promotion rules drastically yesterday.

In fact, I feel like the number of contests I’m seeing, particularly on Facebook, has diminished a bit. There was a time when everyone was doing them in an effort to chase down “likes” and build their fan base. Maybe there are fewer because businesses are finally realizing they were violating the Facebook’s Terms of Service, or perhaps it’s because they realized that what they were doing really wasn’t helping them in any real way, outside of a few more likes.

It’s not that contests on social media don’t work. It’s that they don’t work when they aren’t constructed and executed well.

It’s like any other tool in marketing: you have to know how to use them properly to reach your desired goal.

As I look at the contests that I see on social media, and the ones that I’ve been involved with with clients, particularly as I compare the ones that I think work as opposed to those that don’t, there are a few things that stand out in terms of how they were put together and carried out. Here are nine that I think are the most important:

Know your goals

This is the “why” of your contest. Why are you doing it? What are your goals? Are you simply trying to build the number of likes on your fan page or get more followers? Is it about awareness, or about moving people further along in the sales funnel? Are you looking to build a larger email database?

Don’t just do contests because they are there. Do them for a solid reason. Know what your goal is and construct your contest from that point, making sure that there is a clear connection between the contest and the goal.

Choose your prize wisely

This is a big one. Just having an attractive prize might not get people to enter, or it might not get you closer to your goals. I have three main criteria for choosing a prize to giveaway as part of a contest.

1. It needs to be enticing

Your prize needs to be good enough to draw people in and make them want to enter. There is no formula for this as it will vary from business to business and location to location. But a $5 gift card might not be enough to get people to go to the effort of entering, and give you some of their personal information.

2. It can’t be TOO good

While a $5 gift card might not be good enough, you also don’t want to break the bank. Giving away a prize of high value might not just cost too much, but it will also raise expectations. If you give away a $1,000 prize in one contest, any other contests you do in the future will be measured against that one. If you can afford to do that, great! But most small businesses don’t have the resources to sustain a regular stream of contests with expensive prizes.

3. It should be related to your business

There was a time when everyone was giving away iPads. Why? Because Apple did some smart marketing to encourage such contests, and because it seemed as if everyone wanted one. But let’s say you are a restaurant. People will enter your contest to win an iPad, and jump through whatever hoops you give them, because it’s a cool prize. But do they really care about your business? Consider: I am not in the market for a new car. I probably never will be. But if a new car dealer offers a great prize, I’ll like their page and give them my email address for a chance to win. After that, I’ll either ignore them, or unlike their page.

The best prizes are ones that relate to your business. Either a product or service that you offer, or perhaps a gift card that forces them to become a customer. A $50 gift card to a restaurant is great because the only way they can use it is to come into visit you. Then once they’ve tried your food, hopefully they’ll like it enough to stick around.

Collect the right information and use it

Remember your goals? Make sure that the information you request from entrants is in line with those goals. Plain and simple, getting people’s email addresses can be extremely useful. You’re not only building up a database, but it tells you something about who has entered, and it gives you greater access to them. That said, don’t abuse that access and start being overly spammy. Yes, it is true that many people have a separate email address just for the purpose of entering contests, but that’s not everyone. Make sure you collect pertinent info, and then use that as a form of data.

Keep it simple

While you might be collecting info and data, don’t collect too much. I’ve found that in most cases, people are willing to give up only a certain amount of information. The more you request, or the more difficult you make it, the less likely people are going to follow through.

Also, the fewer steps and click throughs involved, the better. People want things easy. They want to enter without too much hoop jumping. The goal here is to keep the barriers to entry low. Granted, there are some contests where you might want to get them to engage more and do more, such as submit photos or short essays, but those are exceptions. In most cases, you want a nice simple entry mechanism that doesn’t drive people away. It’s just one more part of your overall customer experience program.

Make it social

This may seem like a really stupid suggestion, after all, we’re talking about social media. But you’d be surprised how many social contests aren’t really social. Encourage people to share the contest. Make the sharing mechanism simple, especially if you are using your blog as part of the contest. Most social media have built in sharing, but too often I see blogs that aren’t easily shareable.

Ask them to share, and again, make that sharing simple. And don’t just rely on your fans to share it, you have to share it as well.

Promote it early and often

Don’t just slap up a contest and put it on auto-pilot. Often I’ll see contests (or even crowdfunding campaigns) where there is a ton of buzz and promotion within the first few days, and then it dies off. Promote your contest across all platforms. You might even want to spend a little money on some advertising or promoted posts to give the contest greater reach.

Don’t forget offline promotion as well. Well placed reminders within your brick and mortar presence can work well. One client of mine used table tents with QR Codes to help people enter, and they added about 10,o00 email addresses to their database, plus they doubled their Facebook fan base. It won’t work like that every time, but it certainly helps. If you do any sort of traditional marketing and advertising, that’s a great place to mention your contest and drive people to your social properties.

Contests are not a substitute for good business

People can see through this. If your business is horrible, your products are of a poor quality, and your customer service is really bad, no amount of contests and prizes will get people on board. They will enter to win, but won’t become regular customers. Get your business in order first, and then maybe use contests to draw people in to show them how you have improved.

Partner with other businesses or organizations

It’s OK to go it alone, but if you get other partner businesses involved, you can get more bang for your buck. Perhaps your prize includes items from other businesses. This way they also get promotion and will help with the sharing. Everybody wins. This works best when it’s already a business or organization with which you have a relationship. Don’t try to draw a connection between two businesses when it isn’t there, but by all means be creative.

Add an element of fun or mystery

Creativity can mean a lot here. Don’t just make it your run of the mill giveaway. Spend time working on the title of your contest, and the wording or pitch that you’ll use to get people to enter. Contests that are fun or have an element of surprise or mystery might work well in drawing people in, so go for it. Have fun.

What other tips would you add to this list in order to make online contests more effective?

Dave Thompson
Dave Thompson

The main aim of running contests is to go viral and reach the right kind of people. As you know many contest freaks also get involved when you run a particular contest. These followers are of no value since they are only interested in playing and winning. We need a good strategy for reaching out the relevant people important for our business.


For bloggers who run giveaways, or if partnering with another company of sorts, do you think it is important to secure some type of contract other than an email chain of communication?  If so, how in depth does this contract need to be?

KenMueller moderator

@EventCrashers I haven't done that, but I've always worked with other businesses that I'm close to. I think if you are reaching out to someone who you don't have a strong relationship with, perhaps you might want to do that, just to be clear as to who is responsible for what.


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