Tips for Running Social Media Contests

Social media contests are one of the best ways to increase and improve your social media following. And as Arizona’s leading social media agency, we administer a lot of them. Gone are the days where you have to go to the brick and mortar store to fill out your information on a sheet of paper, drop it into a giant fish bowl, and hope that your name gets pulled at the time of the drawing. With the increased popularity and engagement on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram, the number of business-held-contests is also increasing.

Through the use of strategic social media contests (we will explain later in this article), you will be able to increase engagement, grow your following, educate those engaging with you on your products and services, and even grow your email lists. Social media contests come with a long list of positives, and a nearly non-existent list of negatives. However, running a successful social media contest is easier said than done. There are many do’s and don’ts when it comes to running a social media contest, those of which we will address in this post. This guide will help you develop the perfect social media contest, one that will benefit your followers (and the winner(s)) just as much as it will benefit you and your brand.

Determine your Contest Type

There are a variety of outcomes that an effective and creative contest held via social media can produce. You must determine the overall goal of the contest and gear the content in the appropriate direction to reach that goal. These goals can include increasing followers, engagement, product awareness, or even encourage fans and followers to purchase a new product or service.

If you’re new to the game of social media, and are starting a new account with a low number of followers, your first contest should be simple, easy, and straight to the point. Develop an audience before creating a contest geared towards engaging followers. As the size of your social media audience begins to grow, so should your user-generated content usage. Your contest should progress from a simple click of a “like,” to commenting or captioning on a particular image you’ve posted. Below, I briefly explain how the type of contest you run should relate to the number of followers your account has. The bigger the audience, the more you’ll want to engage your users while they participate in your contest.

First Time Launch: Sweepstake Contest

Sweepstake contests are a simple way to increase your brand visibility and offer your followers a chance at winning the final prize, requiring very little effort on their part. Although you can choose your own prize/reward for this contest, the general rule of thumb is a basic giveaway (e.g. gift card, popular product, etc.) in exchange for basic personal information, such as name and email address. This contest is easy to launch and can provide you with information (demographics, email addresses, engagement level, etc.) that will help you modify your future contests.

Established Audience: Photo Contest

Once you have a solid number of followers to interact with, it is time to run a more user-generated contest, such as a photo contest. This is a great contest to hold on visual heavy social media platforms such as Facebook, Pinterest, or Instagram, presenting visuals to catch the users’ attention. These contests are ideal for increasing interaction between yourself and your followers. Although it may not be as effortless for your followers and fans as clicking a sign-up button, the exciting interaction users experience will account for the larger amount of effort that is required for this type of contest.

Expert Players: Creative Video Contest

Businesses around the world have caught on to the secret that lies within a video. Social media platforms such as Vine and Instagram have taken videos to the next level when it comes to promoting products by holding creative video contests. Video contests are typically launched by businesses that have a high engagement rate, and are constantly involved with their audience through real-time interaction. For more information on the do’s and don’ts of video for Instagram, take a look through this article about How to Instagram for Business.

Determine a Prize

There is nothing more exciting to a user than the chance to win a product or service they love. Whether a person “Likes” your Facebook page or hits the “follow” button on Twitter, there was a reason for such an action—they like you! Contests are a way to reward your most loyal customers, while encouraging them to be creative, innovative, and fun. Announcing the prize as an exciting opportunity to win something special (and free) encourages interaction while also catching the attention businesses are so often competing for. Pump up what you have to offer, and show them this is one deal they won’t want to miss out on. While choosing the prize may seem to be the easy part, it is also one of the most important.

The better the prize does not necessarily mean the better the contest. Large prizes such as a TV, iPad, or plane tickets will generate a lot of attention, but users may be less likely to return for future contests with smaller incentives as prizes. Keep your target audience in mind and remember; you want to gain long lasting relationships with your following. Persuading followers is not the best solution when all it takes is one quick click to unfollow your account once a winner is announced.

A product from your business is a great way to reward your loyal fans, and keep them interested in future posts. This is every advertiser’s dream in disguise. Not only are you promoting your product(s) to hundreds (maybe thousands) of fans at once, but at a very low cost! Pull the audience in with the creative content your contest entails, and don’t push them into entering just for a “cool” prize.

Putting the Pieces Together

You have a plan and the perfect prize to capture the attention of your following, all while spreading brand awareness. There are a few small details you’ll want to include on your initial contest post:

Catchy introduction- The first sentence should be catchy and grab the attention of followers scrolling through their newsfeed. Ask a question or state a strange fact. Think outside the box! The introduction is where you separate your brand from the standard, “Here is a contest… you can win a prize” expectation.

Keep it simple- Explain how to enter the contest as simply as possible. No one wants to read a paragraph of information to sum up the easy steps it should take them to enter the contest in the first place.

Date and time- Include the day the contest ends and at what time you plan to announce the lucky winner. This is helpful for users who may see the initial post later in the day, informing them there is still time to enter.

Visual content- While the written content is important to help confirm all of the contest details, visual content is more likely to increase engagement with your followers. Visuals have increasingly become more engaging than any other type of post, which has recently encouraged many social platforms to update their layout design (read up on Twitter’s recent profile changes) to become more visually appealing.

Brand personality- Always remember to post with personality (you are not a social media robot). Be yourself and express your brand’s personality. This is important to followers who participate in the contest, because they want to feel as if an actual person is behind the keyboard choosing the big winner.

Launch your Contest

Barros Pizza Facebook Contest
Barros Pizza Facebook Contest

Once you have all the essentials to launch a creative contest, it’s time to put your contest into action. Develop posts to go out throughout the duration of the contest. With millions of people posting updates throughout the day, it is easy for a user to miss your initial contest announcement. Include a link to the original post or contest entry form on your contest reminder posts. Simplicity is key in the world of social media. Strive to make joining in on the fun an easy process for your fans and followers.

Planning your contest and monitoring it accordingly is what brings your fans back for future contests. After running a few contests of your own, look for methods that were most engaging, and use these as a guide to identify your target audience, as well as a basis for any future contests.


There are a wide range of state and local laws that go along with launching contests through social media. Please review any official rules the social media platform may provide about contests beforehand. Below are links to rules and guidelines for the most popular social media platforms used for contests.

Facebook Guidelines

Twitter Contest Guidelines

Pinterest Brand Guidelines

Instagram Contest Guidelines

Monitor Your Contest

You should consistently monitor your account while running a contest. Monitoring is important for several reasons, such as looking for negative remarks, addressing any concerns, and recognizing engagement opportunities. Fast response times to any questions or concerns encourage your users to continue to enter. If you have a large number of entries, or seem a bit overwhelmed sorting through it all, look into programs that help to organize your data. Here you can find the top 10 apps for social media contests to help track your outreach, and gather all the data required to review your final results.

Declaring your Winner

You did it! You ran a successful contest and have received multiple entries. It is now time to choose and announce the winner. Publicly announce the lucky winner of your contest, along with what they have won, across all social platforms on which the contest was held. Other than the prize itself, mentioning the winner (and tagging them if possible) publicly is an incentive for users to enter future contests. Let your followers know future contests will be held and remind them to stay tuned. This teaser gives your fans and followers something to look forward to. After you develop your own way of contacting the winner and provide them with their prize, the work doesn’t end just quite yet.

Analyze the data collected throughout your contest. If this isn’t your first contest, first ask the question: did it perform better than others? Did you reach your goal? Did you address any concerns your audience brought to your attention? These are just a few of the questions you should always ask yourself after running a contest in order to improve your future contest’s content. You can never have too many fans, so make the necessary adjustments and watch your followers grow!

Last but not least…stay connected! Don’t stop engaging with your audience just because the contest has ended. Discover other creative methods for your brand to use in order to connect with your fans and followers.

Innovative promoting doesn’t stop at a single social media contest. Time, strategy and effort are required to spread brand awareness and increase engagement with your fans. Whether you are a small B2B company solely on LinkedIn or are a national company with five social media platforms who is actively live-posting from large events and constantly interacting on multiple social media accounts throughout the day, social media is a necessary tool for every organization.