social media how toHave you thought about running a social media contest? Wondering how to best measure your return on investment (ROI)?

This article will help with three case studies.

But first, about that ROI… It took some time after the advent of online advertising before marketers started asking, “What are these ‘eyeballs’ worth that I’m paying for?”

With social media, the tough questions around metrics started being asked much sooner. As marketing budgets stay tight, it’s no surprise that the need to show results is high.

So when it comes to contests on the social web, how do we go about evaluating ROI?

Investing in Your Social Media Contest

Before you can demonstrate a return, you must first make an investment!

As mentioned in my previous post on social media contests, it’s important to have a well thought out marketing plan for any promotional campaign. The first step is always to define objectives: are you trying to engage existing customers, acquire new users or gather data? Only then can you set realistic goals and build a campaign to deliver on them.

Once the objectives are set, you can determine the type of promotion and how you’ll communicate. You’ll likely need to invest in marketing beyond the cost of merely setting up your contest.

This investment will generally focus on driving traffic to the promotion site or application. If you’re running a contest that includes user-contributed content, be sure you take advantage of sharing this content in both your social and traditional marketing efforts.

If you’re running your contest in Facebook, Sponsored Stories are a great way to promote. While the platform you use to run your contest should include integrated sharing tools, those shared items may get buried in the news feed.

sponsored story

With Sponsored Stories, your promotion will remain visible as users see that their friends just interacted with your page or application.

Other forms of investment outside of Facebook advertising could include Sponsored Tweets on Twitter, targeted online advertising and email campaigns to your existing customer list or through partner email channels. Note that co-marketing can be a huge bonus if you find partners that can be brought into your campaign (potentially as sponsors).

Of course there are some campaigns that can succeed, again depending on your objectives, without major cash investment. However, even in these instances, it’s rare that a campaign simply “goes viral.” Generally there’s a good deal of forethought and effort that goes into building the momentum for something to truly take on a life of its own. So even if you aren’t investing hard costs in advertising, you must be prepared to allocate resources in the form of human and social capital.

What’s the Return on Social Contests?

Return on investment doesn’t have to mean solely financial return. Bottom-line results clearly matter, but they can’t be the sole objective for any social media campaign.

Objectives drive outcomes. By setting your objectives clearly up front you can establish what goals matter to you and track against them.

Return on investment doesn’t have to mean solely financial return. Bottom-line results clearly matter, but they can’t be the sole objective for any social media campaign.  In this post, Dag Holmboe provides a good perspective on social media ROI.

Depending on how you set up your promotion, these are some of the key metrics to consider:

  • How many people visited your promotion? How much time did they spend engaging?
  • Of those who visited, how many actively participated? How many entered? How many voted (if applicable)?
  • How much sharing took place?
  • What type of content generated the most interaction (i.e., comments, Likes, retweets)?
  • How many new Likes on Facebook or followers on Twitter?
  • What was the level of Twitter activity (especially if you have a contest-specific hashtag)?
  • What was the redemption rate of any coupons or offers?
  • How many users opted in to your email list?
  • If you included any outbound links to drive traffic, what was the click-through rate?
  • And ultimately what new business (revenue/profit) can be attributed to the promotion?

Here are several case examples to compare and contrast different forms of investment and return on that investment.

Crate and Barrel’s Ultimate Wedding

crate & barrel

Giving one lucky couple $100,000 to create their ultimate event.


With its Ultimate Wedding contest, multi-channel home furnishings retailer Crate and Barrel sought to drive gift registry creation and engage consumers online.

How it Was Done

Users were required to create a gift registry through Crate and Barrel before being eligible to enter the promotion. (Note: Requiring this type of “consideration” to enter a contest introduces greater legal complexities than a contest with no consideration to enter.) After a user’s registry was verified, he or she could submit an entry to the contest, which consisted of a photo and short answers. Public voting narrowed the field and a panel of judges ultimately picked the winner of a $100,000 dream wedding. The contest was promoted on the Crate and Barrel website and through other online advertising, as well as in-store.


This contest has now run two consecutive years and generated more than 17,000 entries, each associated with a registry valued at more than $2,000. That’s $34 million in registry value, the majority of which represents new customers for the retailer.

While the amount of product purchased from these registries is confidential, even a conservative estimate yields a large number. In addition to the financial results, Crate and Barrel also experienced a lift on numerous key social metrics as well.


So after all I said about focusing on results beyond the bottom line I’m starting with one that shows some impressive financial metrics. Obviously not everyone has the ability to offer a $100,000 prize and to put such significant resources into marketing a contest. Read on to see how smaller investments can also yield powerful results.

But remember that there are lessons here that apply to any contest: First, prize matters—even if it’s not $100,000, it must be something appealing to the target audience and must be commensurate with the level of effort users are expected to put in. Second, it’s important to tap into all possible channels to promote your contest, whether that’s social media, online ads, email lists or offline promotion.

Cosmopolitan Orthodontics Photo Contest


Contests have proven to be an effective marketing tool in a field not traditionally perceived as fun or cool.


Ingenuity, a marketing firm catering to orthodontists, wanted to develop a creative means to drive new patients into orthodontists’ offices.

How it Was Done

Utilizing the simple premise of a photo contest, existing patients (generally children and young adults) were asked to “show their smile” for a chance to win an iPad or similar prize. The entrants were then encouraged to share through Facebook. Their friends, and more importantly the parents of their friends (who were potentially in the market for orthodontics services), would then see the mention on Facebook.


Based on a number of contests that Ingenuity has run with multiple orthodontists, the approach has proven quite effective. While there’s no guarantee of new patients with each contest, in a field such as orthodontics a single new referral is worth quite a lot. And social media contests can greatly amplify exposure to new potential clients. In the case of Cosmopolitan Orthodontics, you can see the amplification effect as follows: 50 entries generated 100 shares, which yielded more than 1,500 clicks and 800 voters!


This is a great example of how a small independent business can tap into the power of social media to drive meaningful results. I’m certain that there are other service industries (that have historically relied on word of mouth or traditional channels such as Yellow Pages) that can utilize contests as a great entry into social media.

While any business with a high lifetime customer value can benefit from this type of promotion, you need to be prepared to potentially invest in running more than one before seeing that new business convert.

“Help Me Launch” Contest


This contest was geared to small business owners.


Social Media Examiner’s own Mike Stelzner wanted to create awareness for the release of his book Launch.

How it Was Done

A contest was held on the book’s Facebook Page where people were asked to submit a photo with the words “Help Me Launch.” Entries were voted on by the public and then judged to select the winner. The grand prize was 3 hours of private consultation with the author.

The Facebook Page started with virtually no existing fan base (50 Likes), so building awareness for the contest required tapping into other channels. Social media was the primary means of promoting the contest, with regular Twitter messages to a base of approximately 70,000 followers across two accounts (80,000+ subscribers). The contest was also featured on the Social Media Examiner Facebook Page (40,000+ fans), in email newsletters and to an audience at a webinar event.


Approximately 80 entries were received and these entries generated 4,475 voters. At the conclusion of the contest, the page had 1,300 Likes, an increase of 2600%! This provided a much larger fan base with which to share information and to begin an engaging dialogue about the principles outlined in the book.


I realize 80 entries may not sound like a large number to some of you, but bear in mind that this contest was targeted at a niche audience of small business owners and entrepreneurs rather than the mainstream consumer. Had Stelzner chosen to give away an iPad, he might have generated more entries, but might not have connected with the audience he wanted.

When setting up the contest, Stelzner was clear about his objectives (it wasn’t just about sheer numbers, but about reaching the right people). However, it’s worth noting that attention was paid to both driving entries and driving votes as it became clear that voters also represented a valuable group who were engaging with the page.

Hopefully these examples help frame a variety of ways that social media contests can generate ROI beyond what you may currently be considering.

What do you think? How do you measure ROI on your social media endeavors? What do you feel are the important metrics to track when it comes to contests and promotions? Leave your comments in the box below.

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  • Great advice.  We have a constant battle with clients over the role of objectives in determining ROI.  Objectives can’t just be financial, but objectives should translate into financial outcomes.  I use a hierarchy of effects funnel concept to guide them towards objectives that translate into financial outcomes, which you can find at:

    Unfortunately, some objectives (and metrics) measured in social media don’t translate into financial outcomes.  For instance, # of fans or followers doesn’t translate well, especially if they became fans just for the contest.  Unless their fandome drives engagement with the brand — sharing messages, following links, commenting, etc.  their value is 0.  

    Just my opinion.

  • Thanks Angela. I agree. As you say, if someone becomes a fan only for a contest they may not be a “true” fan of your brand. That is one argument against “fan gating” a contest. However, if you run a fun and engaging promotion and people Like your page as a result you may find that those people actually do engage with the brand after. I know we’ve seen it!

  • meercat007

    Thanks for putting those case studies together. I looked at the entries of the orthodontics contest, but I can’t see how to vote for the entries…

    Do you first need to create an account to be able to vote? I imagine that this would reduce the number of people sharing and voting for entries considerably.

  • Hi Margit. The orthodontics contest is now closed to voting unfortunately. In general with our platform users can either create a new account or simply log in with their Facebook account. This makes it easy and provides opportunities for integrated sharing. The reason users must log in to vote is to ensure the integrity of voting and so that you may set voting limits such as one vote per user per day.

  • These are some excellent tips. I love the “help me launch” idea in particular as it is very creative. People like to take part in interactive contests that capture their imagination.

  • Anne

    I’m a little disappointed this article didn’t cover the Facebook rules which state that you MUST use a 3rd party app to run a contest, and cannot use the FB wall as a means of entering, judging, or announcing the winner.  We are a non-profit and don’t have a big budget to spend on apps, so it would be good to know what the good, affordable apps are.  I’m really worried about one of our pages that is clearly violating these rules with a contest they’re running, however they seem to think it’s okay because they are working with an agency that obviously doesn’t know the rules either.

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  • Hi Anne – I had addressed that topic in my prior post but it is definitely a good thing to remind people of. Our company, Strutta, offers an application at two different price points and we have worked with a number of non-profits. Wildfire is another popular application. Both Strutta and Wildfire are Facebook Preferred Developers so we are very cognizant of the promotional guidelines.

  • A couple of points I would like to bring up:
    1) Don’t assume I am not a potential customer or cheerleader for your product, services or company. Although I win a lot of prizes, I buy 98% of the products and services I use. So yes, I may LIKE or follow you to win today, but I may become a client tomorrow.
    2) I like that Mike Selzner targetted his campaign.  He obviously put thought into his promotion as his prize refelected his target market.
    3) Many companies do not follow the FB promotional guidelines.  I see it everyday!
    4) In some realms, voting contests have become almost vicious as people try to obtain votes to win.
    Carolyn Wilman

  • The photo contest is a good idea, Ben — except for potential privacy issues, which could turn their fun contest into a total nightmare. I see they have a disclaimer to that effect, which is good.

    I looked at the orthodontist contest and the only problem is, it seems difficult to enter. It says “upload your photo,” but doesn’t give instructions as to WHERE and HOW to upload it (at least, not that I can see at a glance).

    I think a primary rule for running a contest should be to make it easy for people to enter.

  • Hi Laura – Thanks for your comments. Totally agree that the contest needs to be easy. That particular contest (the ortho example) has ended so it is not open to enter or vote. But our platform has been created with easy of use in mind so when the contest is live it should all be quite easy for users to navigate.

  • Great article and examples!

  • Thanks for pointing that out. No wonder I couldn’t figure out how to enter! My other suggestion would be to take down a contest once it is closed to avoid confusion among people who might still try to enter.  I understand you leaving up for demonstration purposes, by typically, I suppose you’d take it off the site altogether.

  • This a great post on how useful contests can be when properly executed.  Lots of groups/brands think they can just through a contest up and it will drive traffic.  In this day and age the mind set of “if i build it they will come” no longer works.  There are too many distractions for that philosophy these days.  The most successful campaigns will be just that, campaigns, not just simply a contest.  Our company CrowdTogether offers a free platform to host contests and is happy to consult on how to best implement a full end to end campaign. Check out how we can help make your next campaign a success

  • Woe, what a great resource you got here! I can certainly make use of this on my next social media contest. Do you have a template that I can download?

  • Hi Sydney – You can build and preview your contest for free with Strutta. You can get started here:

  • Mahek Shah

    Is there a way to evaluate these contests and investment in any social media activity by some different model than just fan page likes and entries?

  • I think running a contest on Facebook is a good idea. But advertising on Twitter is 50/50 because its filled with so much spam that people tend to ignore any type of promotional type material.

  • Wow, perfect timing! We are just kicking off a promo contest this coming July 4 and this article can be considered a source of helpful information for us to come up with a contest that will help our brand and surely pay off.

  • Glad to hear that! 

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  • Love the examples given in this post for well done marketing practices. Thanks for including hard facts, they provide phenomenal insight on how to set realistic objectives. 

  • With all due respect there’s a pretty massive hole in what has been
    proposed here. There’s no mention of defining how success will be
    measured. Nor is there mention of defining benchmarks and milestones for
    what defines success. Marketing without measurement is simply
    messaging. We need to stop confusing one with the other. 

    There are some good ideas and insights here but as it is without
    discussing the importance of measuring this is mostly half-backed. Quite
    frankly the title is more than a bit misleading for my tastes.

    Also, while I don’t think it’s mentioned above it’s worth noting that
    using contests to increase FB Likes is a no-no. The moment the Like
    button represents anything but a Like any ongoing analytics become
    compromised if not corrupted.

  • I appreciate the feedback on the article. Yes, measuring success in social media can be a bit tricky but I certainly wasn’t advocating not to measure.  In fact, quite the opposite. I stated at the outset of the article that defining your objectives, which will correlate to success metrics, is vital. I merely proposed some alternative means to measure success with an online contest. And I think that measuring the effectiveness of your messaging is in fact quite important (even if you can’t tie that directly to the bottom line).

    The issue of the Like is one I would like to explore further in a future article. Requiring users to Like a page could certainly compromise the value of a Like but when users make a choice to Like because you are running a fun contest that is certainly a real Like. And even someone who Likes the page initially for the contest only could become a valuable fan. But as I said, it is important to look beyond the Like.

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  • Good morning Ben –

    Thanks for taking the time to reply, as well as comment on my blog. I do appreciate the effort, as I hope you appreciate mine 🙂

    Allow me to clarify a couple things.

    1) I wasn’t trying to be “adversarial”. On the other I believe the world has had its fill of Mashable-ities. Clients are tired of social media gurus selling snake oil (and giving everyone a bad name). At some point “conventional wisdom” (?) needs to be challenged. And yes, from the perspective of the challengee it might look a lot like tough love. But I assure you, it’s still love.

    2) I think the difference here is I see it differently. I don’t perceive yours as being “some alternative means…” Maybe it’s just me but it looks like the standard fuzzy marketing-is-an-art-not-a-science fare. I agree it’s tricky. But that’s not a excuse for not addressing it. In fact, with so many fearful of analytics, it’s all the more reason to do so. Additionally,  that’s all the more reason the bar needs to be raised at this point. Pushing the same soft (?) metrics is not going to make the marketing mind & body stronger, is it? Who needs another Mashy – opps, I mean mushy – marketer.

    3) Simply defining objectives is not the same as defining how to measure, what measurements define success and to what level. My point is, by definition, unless you define success at the start and can measure it, you can’t succeed. To your credit (again), you got it half right. Unfortunately, the key half wasn’t emphasized enough. For example you said, “I realize 80 entries may not sound like a large number to some of you..” I agree, 80 could be great. In fact, I believe 8 could be great. It’s not the quantity that matters but the quality. So the question remains, did any of those 80 convert in any reasonable time frame? What is/was the definition(s) for conversion? Was a sample taken (small as it might be be) to see what percentage of the 80 fit the targeted profile, as defined in the success portion of the planning? Or is 80 a total flop?

    I apologize if it seemed like I was attacking you Ben. That was not my intention. If I was attacking anything it was what was not there and not so much what was. In fact, if you’d like to collaborate on an article or two that addresses some of the holes in the prevailing wisdom, I welcome the collaboration. You can get me on FB, Twitter or via my blog.

    Thanks again. I hope I’ve inspired the right people in the right way.


  • I agree Angela. The ROI of social media cannot be measured entirely by sales/revenue, although I believe it plays a part. Gary Vee and Paul Castain put it well in a post here:

  • Matthew Collis

    Hi everyone, my company, IXACT Contact, recently launched a successful social media contest on Facebook called Share Your Story and Win. We asked our existing customers to share with us on our Facebook page how IXACT Contact (we are a real estate CRM/ real estate contact management firm) has made them a more effective realtor. We promoted the contest through an email marketing campaign, frequent tweets, through LinkedIn, and on our blog. We used Offerpop to help run the contest. Ben, thanks for mentioning the Facebook sponsored ads idea, I didn’t realize that existed.
    Cheers, Matt

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