How to run contests on social media

Contests on social media are a great way to establish relationships with customers, improve the image of your brand and boost sales and lead generation. As with anything on social media, there are some best practices to keep in mind, and some pitfalls to avoid. This article will discuss both.

The broad purpose of a contest is to prompt customers to execute a desired action. If contests don’t motivate your followers to do something, you will get little out of it. Examples of useful actions include sharing content on their own sites or posting their own content and giving you information to generate leads.

The following are a few types of contests you can run:

  1. User-generated content. The goal of this contest is to get your customers and their friends to create something related to your brand and post it on their personal social media accounts. For example, if you sell t-shirts, ask customers to post a picture of them wearing one of your t-shirts. This will put your product in an image that many of your customers’ friends will see when they scroll through a newsfeed. To keep up the incentive, give them more entries for each image they post. The winning prize can be something small or great. Just remember the better your prize is, the more people will sign up and the more leads and brand exposure you will get. Another example: 7-11 had a contest in the past with the hashtag #WhatsYourSlurpFace? They asked customers to post a picture of themselves drinking a Slurpee, which 7-11 later posted on their website. Not only was this fun for those taking the picture, but it generated plenty of goodwill for the brand.


  1. Voting /popularity contests. This contest encourages entrants to encourage their followers to come vote for them. Whoever gets the most votes wins the prize. This kind of campaign generates more participation from the friends of customers and may give you better reach. It’s especially effective in getting new followers and likes for your social media pages. One of our clients had tremendous success running a voting contest. They are a roofing company, and they wanted to find more clients. They offered a free new roof – an $8,000 value – to the entry with the most votes. To be eligible, contestants had to post a photo of their roof and explain why they deserved a new free roof. This campaign drove 3,000 Page likes in five months. It gave the company nearly 30 new leads. Every entrant was given a discount on a new roof, many of whom ended up purchasing one. These were customers who had not heard of the company before. Enough voters and friends of the contestants remarked that the 2nd place winner needed a new roof badly. The family had little resources and their roof was in bad shape. The followers of the contests started donating money to this family without being asked. The roofing company was touched and decided to give the 2nd place winner a roof at cost. Three years later, this company is still getting business from people who were moved by their generosity.

Once you have decided to start a contest, be sure to keep these best practices in mind:

  1. Define what the prize is carefully. Be specific and clear. Don’t surprise people! Anything considered deceptive or misleading could get you into legal trouble and bring you bad press.
  2. Encourage people to share. Have them share your pages, content, website, etc. Social media is all about sharing!
  3. Use the hashtags #sponsored or #ad if the content is user-generated. If you have people post on your behalf, without having them disclose they were given an incentive to do so, you can get in trouble with the FTC. See our video on how to avoid trouble with the FTC here.
  4. Create written contest rules. It’s painful work, and may involve consulting a lawyer but hosting a contest without them is asking for trouble. Host the rules on a landing page with the contest so people can read them. The rules should outline what is happening, the start and end dates, the odds of winning, who can win, and include a clause that protects you from liability. If you are doing contest in good faith, it will almost always go smoothly. For those few times they don’t, written rules will save your skin.
  5. Be purposeful about what you are doing. Without a clear objective, your content and interactions with your customers will come off as fake or contrived. On social media, that can be especially damaging.
  6. Use 3rd party apps to manage the contest if it becomes too much of a headache. Facebook Apps like Shortstack or contest-specific apps like Woobox can free up some of your time and help you get started on the right foot.
  7. Think of all of the ways people can “game” your contest. Anticipate challenges in that arena. With voting contests, some people will vote multiple times or even setup computers to vote automatically for them. Use a landing page or an app that mitigates this kind of behavior.
  8. Discover what your followers like, follow and talk about. Craft your brand’s story accordingly. The story you have is critical, and a contest that fits it will perform far better than one concocted just for the heck of it.

With these things in mind, you can get started! Don’t forget to ask your contestants and their friends to fill out forms and refer friends. Have customers promote and talk up your product as much as possible. It’s nearly-free advertising – take advantage of that!

If done well, a contest can give your company sales, brand awareness and leads. It’s easy to do once you get the hang of it, and it can be a lot of fun, too! If you find yourself stuck or need any help, feel free to contact us and we can help you get started.







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