How to create an effective Social Media contest

And the winner isSweepstakes, raffles, lotteries and contests have been as much a part of the marketing fabric as discount offers and coupons. They are all designed to to increase awareness, participation or sampling. Social Media adds virality to the mix. Create a compelling contest and your audience will not only participate – they’ll share it with their friends.

An effective contest – especially in social Media – requires answering the following questions:

What is the goal? This seems simple enough but it too frequently overlooked. Are you trying to build a fan base for your Facebook page? Are you looking for user-generated content that people will share? Or, are you just looking for a way to entertain your existing audience. All three techniques are valid contest methodologies. Yet, they also require different approaches. Once you determine which model fits your strategy you can begin to construct your contest.

What’s in it for me? Otherwise known as the value proposition. Every great contest begins with the prize. What many contest creators lose sight of is that a prize’s value is not always directly relatable to its actual cost.

Sure, everyone wants to win a new car, a big trip of cash (in this instance, cash is king). But, despite marketers’ opinions to the contrary – people are not stupid. They know that the bigger the prize the longer the odds are that they will win.

When you are constructing your Social Media contest think in terms of perceived value. A car is great but if I don’t need a new car – or don’t want to pay the taxes on it – it loses its motivational value. However, if you are able to deliver something that fits my lifestyle, fills a need for me or is something I cannot easily obtain –  my interest level goes up.

Too often marketers go for the “sexy” value of the prize and do not consider what their audience wants. For example, six months of free Netflix access is a relatively low-cost prize yet something people would gladly accept. A free oil change is decidedly unsexy – and costs less than $30 – but is something everyone needs.

On the bigger end, an all-expense paid trip to Las Vegas becomes much more desirable if you turn it into a “Visit Vegas like a high roller” and add spending cash, a suite at the Winn and limo service everywhere.

The best prize you can offer is centered around what you do. Free service for a year, personalized attention, an insider’s tour – these are all things you can control that add value to your existing products. Let your imagination run wild. A great question to ask you – and your brain trust – is: would i like to win this?

How hard do I have to work for this? Your contest does not exist in a vacuum. I can walk over to my local convenience store and for a buck enter for a chance to win 40 million dollars. Sure, I know my odds of winning are long but my cost of participation is very, very low.

The point is to make the barrier for entry as low as possible. Asking someone to fill out a simple entry form (name and email only), “like” a Facebook page or re-tweet a comment is not a burdensome request. Conversely, requiring them to fill out a long form, write a 100 word essay or create a video will drive down participation.

Again, refer to question #1 – what is your goal? That will tell you which entry methodology to use.

Why should I care? Wheel of Fortune is one of the most successful game shows of all time. It is also mind numbingly boring. Yet it attracts millions of viewers who will never find themselves on the same stage as Pat Sajak. Why? Because of vicarious participation. Every viewer imagines themselves as the contestant and plays along. This simple guessing game is entertaining.

If you can build an element of vicarious participation into your contest you’ve hit social media gold. Even people who won’t enter will be tempted to follow along to watch how the event progresses. This is very difficult to pull off. To maintain attention over time requires a great concept and on-going content to pull off. Most brands will be unable to sustain this (unless you opt for user-generated content as your hook). If this is your path make sure you feed the beast on a very regular basis or those playing the home version of the game will lose interest.

How does it all work? Let’s assume you are following all the rules – be they FTC or Facebook. You still want to post the how’s and why’s of your contest. People need to know the rules and having actual, legally vetted rules make you appear more genuine. Remember, the point of your contest is to attract (or retain) followers. You risk permanently damaging that relationship if your contest has even the hint of impropriety.

You also need to manage your expectations. Every contest – regardless of construction or prize – will gain entries. When I worked in radio we had what were affectionately known as “prize pigs”. These were people who would call EVERY time you gave away a prize. Often, they had no idea what you were giving away – they just wanted to win. These same people exist in Social Media. Understand that a certain percentage of your entrants will never engage with you again.

Contesting is only one way of building awareness and a database. It is a technique that needs to be used sparingly. It can be quite effective but must be thought out clearly before it is implemented.

Contesting is not a strategy. It is a tactic. Use it wisely.


Steve Allan, Social Media Specialist



About Steve Allan

I am a Social Media specialist uniquely focused on the management, messaging and marketing of social media platforms for non-profits and small businesses.
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2 Responses to How to create an effective Social Media contest

  1. Very insightful … and easy to read and follow. Thanks for sharing! I’ll be looking out for your future post.

  2. Maybelle says:

    Who would have known that contests can be effective marketing tools if all things are considered? Thanks for providing another perspective!

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