social media how toHave you thought of using social media contests and sweepstakes to build and engage your audience?

Previously I wrote How to Run a Successful Social Media Contest outlining some important foundational steps: be clear on your marketing objectives, know your audience, understand different promotion types and plan ahead!

If you’re looking to gain even more traction with social promotions, here are eight additional tips to enhance your next social media campaign.

Ensure Your Promotion Doesn’t Get You In Hot Water

It’s difficult to run a successful campaign if your promotion is blocked, removed or challenged in a court of law. So before we get to the fun part of marketing, there are a few logistical tips to keep in mind.

#1: Running a Facebook Promotion Requires an App

Much has been written about the Facebook Promotional Guidelines and how to run a compliant promotion. The guidelines have evolved, but the most important requirement remains the same: any promotion (i.e., something where a consumer enters for a chance to win a prize) on Facebook must be handled through an app.

If you know what you’re doing, you could develop your own Facebook app, but you might prefer to personalize an “off-the-shelf” app by a variety of companies such as North Social, Wildfire or Strutta.

Some are inexpensive and no-frills, while others provide a more robust set of features and options to connect you with your customers and personalize the experience.

If you choose a third-party app provider, choose a Facebook Preferred Marketing Developer so you can feel confident you’re in compliance with Facebook’s platform policies.

pmd badge

Look for developers and platforms that display this badge with the Apps qualification.

#2: Twitter Promotions Must Provide Rules Disclosure

Any contest or sweepstakes must provide participants with terms and conditions of entry and Twitter is no exception. With only 140 characters to work with, this becomes one of the bigger challenges of running a Twitter-based promotion.

The easiest way to address this is to host the rules on a separate web page and include a short link when tweeting about the contest. Alternatively you can host a landing page with all of the contest details and requirements and direct traffic to that page, rather than having the interaction take place within the Twitter stream.

For larger-scale promotions, you may wish to utilize a third-party service such as CMP.LY to ensure compliance.

cmply example

In this example, the CMP.LY service is used to provide a short URL linking to the terms of the promotion whenever it is shared on Twitter.

#3: Beware of the Lottery

No, I’m not worried about you blowing your paycheck on Powerball. But lotteries are the domain of the government and you want to ensure your promotion isn’t deemed an illegal lottery.

Any promotion that contains the following three elements is considered a lottery: prize, element of chance in winner selection and consideration (cash payment, purchase requirement or extensive effort required to enter).

Since you wouldn’t have much of a promotion without a prize, you must eliminate either chance or consideration (or best of all, both) to steer clear of potential legal concerns.

Tips to Build Buzz

Once you’ve dotted your I’s and crossed your T’s on the legal and policy side, it’s time to think about how to drive traffic and build momentum for your promotion.

#4: Make it Easy for Users to Share

This is the most important tip when it comes to marketing. Much of the value in a social promotion comes from the increased ease for participants to share your promotion through their social graph.

One of the reasons contests such as “Retweet to Win” are so popular is the nearly frictionless sharing. If you’re using an app on Facebook to encourage viral sharing, ensure that the sharing options are easy and intuitive.

However, it’s also important to be aware that over-sharing can lead to the perception of spam, so it’s important to strike the right balance.

Note: It’s against Facebook policy to directly reward a user for sharing. You may use Facebook apps to reward referrals, but be careful not to directly incentivize sharing.

facebook share

Integrated share tools make it easy for contest participants to share if they want to.

#5: Regularly Promote Your Contest

Contest organizers will often schedule a bunch of communications when a promotion launches, then fail to maintain communication throughout the campaign.

Be sure to share key milestones and events (e.g., contest round ending, finalists being selected, just reached 100 or 10,000 entries).

If you’re running a user-generated content promotion, it’s also a great opportunity to share content (e.g., popular or unique entries) that will drive greater engagement.

When posting about your promotion on Facebook, be sure to utilize the pinned post feature to keep the post visible at the top of the timeline.

And don’t forget to utilize all of your social channels—it’s OK to promote your Facebook contest on Twitter and Google+.

facebook post

In this example, a compelling image is used to draw attention and a direct link to the contest app is provided.

#6: Amplify Your Message Through Partners

Tap into the power of partner marketing by including sponsors and providing them with exposure in exchange for cross-promotion.

Also be sure to identify influencers (journalists, bloggers, etc.) whom you can reach out to and share news about your promotion.

If you’re running a contest with a judging component to evaluate entries, you may want to invite influencers to be a part of the judging panel. Attaching their name to your contest adds credibility and gives them a good reason to talk about it!

new york intern

PR firm Affect tapped influential people in the PR and marketing world to serve as judges and help them find the ultimate summer intern.

Tips for Contests Featuring User-Generated Content

I am a big believer in the power of user-generated content promotions, but having been involved with many over the past five years, there are a couple of key lessons I’ve learned.

#7: Prime the Pump

Any time you’re asking users to submit content into a promotion, it’s a good idea to seed the contest with a few submissions.

These can be sample entries that you create which are not eligible to win or submissions from participants who have been encouraged to enter early.

contest on facebook

In this contest run by Social Media Examiner's own Mike Stelzner, Mike provided his own sample entry to help inspire participants.

The key is to have some entries right away to break the ice and provide others with inspiration for their own submission.

#8: Think Twice Before Relying Solely on the Court of Public Opinion

Contests featuring user-generated content often incorporate a component of public voting. This is something I would encourage because it drives greater virality, with participants naturally incentivized to share their entries and voters taking an active role in the outcome.

However, if your contest is decided 100% by public voting, you need to be prepared to relinquish control of the outcome to those individuals with the largest social networks and/or those using vote-swapping and other tricks to try to game the system.

The most popular contest model among our clients uses a round of voting to narrow the field of entries down to a predetermined number of finalists, and a panel of judges then decides the winner.

By employing a set of predefined judging criteria, the client is able to retain some discretion over who is named the winner(s) while still generating a lot of voting and sharing activity up front.

Another option is to use judging criteria to select finalists and then open it to voting. Regardless of your preferred contest model, ensure that your platform of choice is well-equipped to handle voting and the potential challenges that come along with it.

A Success Story

Recently Mari Smith launched her very first contest. Mari wanted to do something fun and rewarding for her fans, and to introduce a new webinar she was hosting. She was consistently enthusiastic about delivering a great experience for her community and utilized many of the tips outlined above.

mari smith cover photo timeline

Mari did a great job of promoting the contest and keeping fans engaged by profiling interesting segments along the way.

Mari invited everyone to submit their Facebook cover photo for a chance to win a Facebook Makeover valued at $1,000. In just three weeks, the promotion received nearly 400 entries, which in turn generated 1,500 shares and more than 3,000 click-throughs.

An additional 2,000 people subsequently participated as entrants or voters as a direct result of another entrant sharing the promotion with them.

The contest received more than 25,000 visits in just three weeks, providing great exposure for Mari and generating a significant number of signups to her webinar.

I’ve seen companies of all sizes use promotions in a similar fashion to inexpensively acquire and engage fans, build awareness for a new product and ultimately drive conversions to sales.

What do you think? What would you like a social promotion to do for you? Please join in the discussion below.

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  • In less developed markets such as the one I work (Central America), social media contests are held merely on Facebook or Twitter walls or photo albums. Brands all around don’t see as an effective investment to held a contest, share some prizes and also spend money on the correct plattform to host a well developed activity. It has been a real challenge to social media marketers to change the mind of the vast majority of brand marketers in order to held correctly a contest and it’s through a well based ROI or any other justification that “coud” assure a good number of new users, an enhanced community talking about this, and more likes, shares and retweets in your social media presence. At this point social media marketers around have to work more on statistical growth projections in order to sustain any project to be held on nets.

  • Thanks for sharing, Ben. Some great tips here. It’s always nice to see a success story as well.

  • Awesome tips to run your social media promotions from your profile. Many can definitely use them. 

  • This is one thing I always have to be sure of, that the contests and giveaways are in compliance with Facebook rules. Don’t want to run a successful contest only to have Facebook shut you down because you missed dotting that ‘i’. Thanks for the article Ben!

  • Can a small company find this useful ? e.g. a company who makes Bottling Machines etc ? Which kind of contests we can run ? Keep in mind we are too small—-under 10 employees 

  • The Lottery concept is confusing… can you explain this further?

  • Hi Ben,
    I’m the Social Media Manager for Analog Devices, Inc. and I recently launched a contest called Guess the G’s ( We used a lot of your promotional idea.
    We amplified out message by engaging with our employees, our Distributor partners and Estes Rockets. Our contest appeared in their Twitter feeds, Facebook posts and e-Newsletters. In addition, we used Facebook Ads and YouTube Promoted Videos to promote the contest.
    The contest landing page had a Facebook and a Twitter feed and we had multiple social share buttons.
    I spoke with Legal and one of the things that we had to discern was: Is this contest a Game of Chance (ie Lottery) or a Game of Skill? We classified the contest as a Game of Skill and then looked at the gaming laws in 11 target countries.
    The contest ends on July 9th and is so successful (over 5,000 entrants) that we will be doing a series of Guess the Gs contests.
    Thanks for the post.
    Best Regards,
    Patrick Kusior / Analog Devices, Inc.

  • Thanks for the article!

    I haven’t worked directly with the designing process of contests for our marketing department so this article was full of great information for me.

    The two main takeaways for me were, promote the contest throughout the duration, something we failed to do recently, and the second takeaway for me was to provide examples or how-to pieces of information when the contest is designed for users to contribute something that they have to make or do.

    Thanks again!


  • Rschuetz

    Any tips for contests on Pinterest or Instagram?

  • Manuel Cruz

    Thanks for sharing, I´ve decided  to launch some sort of promotion to engage and this article really widened my horizons.

  • This is why Facebook and Twitter remains one of the top social mediums for marketing and promotion – the ability to do all these. I have the same question as Rschuetz, though. Pinterest seems to be taking off really fast. I wonder how it can be utilized.

  • Great article. 

    Regarding #8 we had a few “complaints” about the public voting system. Fans stating points like these. (we are a danish company)I don’t wanna participate because… it’s always the same people who gets the most votes. 
    … the “contest lowers” are too many and too organized, I don’t wanna compete against them. 
    … its easier to win in lottery then in a Facebook Contest, these days. 

    Because of comments like these, we changed our voting system for content contests. 

  • Awesome article.  Very informative on hoe to capitalize on Social Media. This is a great article on how to reach out to your fans and to increase fans.  Thanks for introducing Mari Smith, she is a Facebook Rockstar.  These tips should help people move forward on Facebook with success when it comes to contests.

  • What kind of blog are you running? We’ll be looking for ways to market our contest. We are just about to launch a major contest with a fairly substantial prize… not sure how I can make my contests available somehow to those looking for prizes… We’re in the vacation rental marketing business and will be giving away weekends and weeks (in separate continuous contests) at awesome rental properties in Exuma Bahamas… side prizes will be fishing and excursion trips, flights, etc.  anyone with some ideas as we prepare to launch would be great! First contest running will be valued you at about $8500 and will include a week’s stay ($4000) at our Jolly Hall Beach House with airfaire from FLA included, half day deep sea fishing, half day harbour excursion w/snorkeling, car rental for the week, and a few other items to top it off with. I expect the contest will run for 3 – 4 months and obviously needs to be somehow dependant on the viral capabilities of facebook and twitter.We were planning on trying the WooBox sweepstakes app… anything better?

  • Sandy Comstock

    I notice a lot of fb people using Rafflecopter. Is that one ok for Facebook? It seems easy to use.

  • Hi – Contests and promotions can be used by companies of all sizes. However, for smaller brands just getting a start in social media we often recommend building up your audience first through genuine interactions on social channels, sharing relevant content, etc. A sweepstakes, give away or coupon can be a great way to build up the audience and then you can think about more engaging promotions such as photo contests. 

  • Hi Toni – It is a bit confusing. Basically you want to ensure that your contest doesn’t have all 3 of these components: a prize, a winner selected at random, and some form of consideration (generally payment or purchase) required to enter. Hope that helps!

  • Patrick, that sounds like a great promotion. Thanks for sharing!

  • Those are both pretty new platforms for contests. Be sure and review each site’s terms of service for anything you may do on their platform. I can’t personally vouch for these but here are some examples of Pinterest contests:  For Instagram I haven’t seen anything that is solely an Instagram contest but I have seen some clever promotions that allow people to submit photos on Instagram or Twitter with a hashtag.

  • Hi Kent – Voting can be a powerful tool to help amplify your promotion but it is good to be aware of potential pitfalls. We generally recommend clients use voting to help filter but not determine the winner in order to keep the playing field more level.

  • I’m not familiar with that one personally. It’s just important to confirm that the app complies with the Facebook policies, which is why I suggest using a Facebook Preferred Developer with the “Apps” qualification. I do realize that some of these solutions are more costly but you can rest assured you are in compliance.

  • sewcalgal

    Does Facebook policies prohibit the business from announcing the name of the winner on Facebook?  I see one business never announcing the names, which makes me suspect of a scam.  They claim Facebook’s policies do not allow businesses to disclose the name of the winner, but I haven’t found anything in FB’s policies on this.  And, other companies announce.

  • sunny617

    Thanks for the helpful article! Do you know if “some form of consideration” includes being a fan of our page? Is it OK to have a giveaway for people who Fan our page?

  • No, Liking a page would not trigger the consideration concern from a legal standpoint so you should be good so long as you are not providing an entry or prize automatically for Liking as that violates Facebook policy.

  • sunny617

    Although, I’m now confused…So, legally, I can enter someone if they Like the page, but for Facebook, liking a page cannot be used as entry? Even if you use a third party? If it’s “we’ll draw one member at random” is that still anti-Facebook policy? 
    Sorry for all the questions. Thanks very much for your help!

  • Sam

    We had voting completely backfire on us unfortunately. With a high value prize up for grabs, we had at least 20-30 entrants resort to a voting exchange platform (ie: you vote for me, I’ll vote for you) and they all received many thousands of votes from complete strangers for poor quality entries. The end winner is decided on judging, but they’re all bad. Are vote exchanges considered cheating? Most of the facebook accounts are fake, however that’s going to be tough to prove.

    My other question I’d love your advice on, is can you run a competition asking users to, 2. share, then 3 – 25 words or less? I’ve seen this somewhere, and while 1 and 2 used in isolation might be against policy, when used with the 25 word entry mechanic, does this make it ok? – thanks

  • I too read about Marismith’s contest. That was really good and encouraging…

  • Sorry about that. The act of Liking alone cannot be used as entry. You can require someone to Like and then submit an entry through a form or other entry mechanism so long as it is done through an app. Does that clarify it?

  • Thanks for all the great comments and shares of this article. I hope all of you have success with contests and promotions!

  • There does seem to be some misconceptions here. You cannot use Facebook communications channels, such as posting to a user’s wall, to notify or verify winners. However, once you have confirmed winners outside of Facebook, say by email you received when they entered, then you can certainly make a post announcing them.

  • sunny617

    Yes! Thanks very much for taking the time to answer my questions!

  • A couple of suggestions for managing voting concerns: first, make sure that the stated entry criteria is such that low quality or non-relevant submissions can be disqualified. Second, some platforms like ours at Strutta have sophisticated fraud guard mechanisms for voting. When it comes to people swapping votes if they are legitimate people voting then there may not be much you can do but if it’s a scenario with fake accounts, etc then a fraud detection system may pick it up. And you can certainly put rules in place that limit voting such that if you do determine a violation you may disqualify the entrant.

    Regarding your second question, so long as its run through an app you can have someone Like your page and then submit their short answer. You can’t require them to share but you can make it easy to share the fact that they entered. If you are asking whether you can have people post to your wall to enter then the answer is no. Many pages still do this but it is a violation of FB policy.

  • Hi, Thanks for sharing this, I am a fairly new site and in the small business and entrepreneurship niche, we are doing pretty well and have a decent amount of traffic being driven. But I want to encourage a bit more interaction. I am going to be running a contest which entitles the winner to some free coaching with ourselves, this article has some great tips especially with regard to the legal side of it.

    I think using many different marketing strategies to make people aware and ultimately purchase your products and services is a vital tool.

    Many thanks

  • I agree 100%. Contests and promotions are but one tool to use in a well rounded marketing strategy. Good luck with your contest!

  • I got really good informaton. Thanks.

  • Mohsinrasheed110

    Hi admin
    i am from Pakistan and i want to do online marketing and i have no knowledge about this plz guide me more about that via email plz 

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  • Alison

    Great post! We utilize a separate landing page for the contests we create for our clients.  We then incorporate social sharing across all the channels to encourage greater engagement.

  • StimulateSearch

    Great info about promoting contests in the social media realm. We set up short life span contests to get quick engagement, this includes, sending in your best picture, guessing what a picture is based on a small section of the original image or explaining why our company (Wicked Lasers) is the best. Each time, our response rate is what we are looking for, plus it gets people to our pages/websites. Don’t forget though, anytime you run one of these contests make sure you are getting something in return (email phone, etc)

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  • We’ve managed development on a lot of Sweepstakes and campaigns, and often we’ve found a the most successful campaigns: 1) Offered an exciting / unique opportunity 2) Were easy to be shared, ie open graph or FB social plugins 3) Kept the barrier to entry simple, ie. a simple submission form with good UI. We’ve also found a powerful backend can be simply built on Gravity Forms (a WordPress plugin), as is provides import / export features, and handles the entire form back-end. 

  • Samwebster

    thanks bpicks. So if you just can’t have them liking the page as a requirement of entry, but can suggest it. We’ve now got thorough T&Cs in place now, however we’ve found people will do anything when there’s a decent prize up to win and will go to any expense. We’ve been put off completely by voting comps now. Thanks for your feedback!

  • Great info! We’re running a FB contest for a small business — is it possible to post too much about a contest? I don’t want our existing fans to get irritated by constant reminders. Any best practices? 

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  • Yes, it’s great to cross-promote or share across channels.

  • Great comments, thanks for sharing. In my original post from a year ago I think I emphasized the need to keep it simple and that the barrier to entry (what you ask of the user) should be commensurate with the prize you offer. Unique opportunities and experiences are always good prizes. And something that appeals to your target audience so you are attracting the right type of entrants.

  • Hi Sara – Like anything it is possible to over share the info about your contest. I would suggest sharing once per day for the first few days, then periodically at key points throughout. If it’s a user generated content promotion and you have user submissions (photos, etc.) you can share then that will be a lot more engaging than simply another post reminding people to enter. Also be sure to share through multiple communication channels. Channels like Twitter can probably handle more repeat posting without people getting annoyed.

  • Kelli Girl

    I just came across this article. Thanks for sharing such great info. We’re looking to run a photo contest on Facebook and want to know about entry fees. How does one run a photo contest on Facebook with entry fees…does Facebook even allow this…if they don’t do you have suggestions on websites we might use?
     Thanks a bunch.

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    There is a better way to do it. Use EarnSocial

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  • Scounto Shop

    Today Social Media Plays an important role in Developing any Business.its the basic for any business opportunities…