Running A Social Media Contest

Contests, sweepstakes, giveaways, call them what you will, everyone wants to win. We’ve seen contests boost numbers in a brand’s community and more importantly, increase the amount of engagement between the brand and the community as well as within the community itself. There’s no denying the benefits of a well-organized contest. On the other hand, a sour experience can place your brand in the line of fire for angry emails, negative sentiment online, and bad word of mouth.

Our goal for ourselves and our clients is to reduce the risk of anything we do in social media. It’s easy to misinterpret things online, and mistakes cannot be erased – once it’s out there, it. is. out there.

A recent not-so-great experience a couple of us had with a Facebook contest spurred an (admittedly cranky) conversation on how brands are running contests online and what participants expect. That was the catalyst for this post. Follow the handy checklists below to create the awesome contest of your social media dreams:

Do these things:

1. Choose the type of contest

Decide what you want people to DO. Will you ask users to take photos, videos, submit written stories, or leave audio messages? What are users competing for? What do they get if they win? Once you identify the type of contest you’re running, you can choose the most appropriate platforms, which brings us to…

2. Choose the platform

It’s vital to choose the appropriate platform for your contest based on where your community goes online. You may already have a thriving community, which helps, but aside from selecting the right platform, the brand MUST understand how the platform works. Knowing the ins and outs and the Terms of Service (TOS) will go a long way to ensure everything you do is legit. For instance, Facebook is very particular about how contests can and cannot be run. Especially if you’re investing a lot in promotion (see step 5!), you don’t want to get everything set up, only to be shut down by the man…AKA Facebook.

Running A Social Media Contest featured image

3. Rules, Rules, Rules

Providing users with rules and regulations for entering the contest increases the transparency. In our experience, whether we’re running one for our own company, or working with a client, it always makes sense to have a legal team review the rules before publishing. This ensures that the language is consistent and complies with applicable laws. Rules make it easy to tell users what’s expected, and protect your business from potential problems before they even come up. The easiest way to share rules is adding them as a blog post, PDF, or page on your website, and linking to them from the social media channel(s) you’re using to run the contest.

4. Make it easy to share

Do you want people to enter? Of course you do, so make the contest easy to find and easy to share from your website, from your social sites, from your blog posts, anywhere you have it displayed. In most cases, third party apps and software allow participants to share the contest after they’ve entered. In some cases, it makes sense to ask or require users to share as part of the contest entry. It’s a great way for others not already connected to you to be made aware of your social media contest, and to grow your network.

5. Promote It!

It seems like a common sense point, but very often we’ve seen some brands forget to align their marketing efforts to promote the contest. Despite the fact the contest is being run on a social media channel, it does NOT stand alone. It’s important for this contest promotion to be integrated into all online/offline marketing efforts.

Please, just don’t:

1. Don’t make it time consuming

Keep the contest short and sweet. The idea is create a sense of scarcity and the need to rush to enter. The contest should for a limited amount of time – people will forget, you’ll lose engagement, and increase frustration. The quicker the better.

2. Don’t make the contest complicated

This goes back to the “keep it simple” concept. Too many steps, too many requirements can confuse and discourage prospects from participating.

3. Don’t ignore participants

Give your participants an easy way to contact your company. Whether you choose to have them send emails or interact on the social channel, it’s important to have someone paying specific attention to the questions/complaints that will come in so they can be addressed. You cannot afford to ignore these people. Take this opportunity to avoid a sour experience.

4. Don’t confuse a sweepstakes and a contest

Know the difference! You don’t want to be caught up in an illegal lottery, so make sure you know what type of contest you’re running and have a legal team review your documentation. Rules vary between states and countries, so it’s important to know

A contest awards winners based on skill, popularity or judging. A sweepstakes awards winners based at random, based on pure chance.


Unless you have prior knowledge, and there is fine print in your rules and regulations that states the circumstances of exactly when and exactly how the rules will be changed, there is NO reason to change them at any time during the contest. It’s very unlikely that you will need to change them, and it’s not a good idea to do so. Again, this will rely heavily on the rules and regulations put into place prior to launching the contest. From the user’s perspective, nothing is more frustrating than entering only to see deadlines, submission type, or entry requirements changed without a really, really good reason.

The frustration we experienced with the contest mentioned previously was due to rules that were constantly changing without notice or explanation. The contest was a trivia question posted on Facebook, but it wasn’t the first correct answerer who won – it was the same answer, posted weeks later by another person that finally won, for reasons unknown. The contest host said they would announce winners at a certain time, then it was pushed back, then pushed back again, then again, without offering an explanation or even acknowledging that the deadline had changed. The winner was announced even later than the last posted deadline. Experiences like this lower the validity of the contest and the brand itself, and will likely deter users from joining any future contests. Follow our checklist for success and you can avoid giving your users a story like this to tell!

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