How to Create a Winning Contest with Social Media

Jessica Meher
Jessica Meher




It’s a fact: people like to win stuff. When you pair the word “prize” with an objective, you can generally expect a good outcome. Because of this, holding contests or sweepstakes is a great way to drive more sales, leads, donations, or whatever you’re trying to get more of.

Contests have been a fun and effective promotional strategy for decades, but since the success of an online contest hinges so closely on generating a large volume of participants, having the right promotional strategy is crucial.

Social media, specifically, enables you to reach a very large audience for little cost, which makes it a superb outlet for contests and giveaways. People love to share great content, and the social channel only makes it easier to spread the word about your promotion. When done right, social media will help your contests go viral.

Before we dive into some tips of running a successful contest using social media, here are some great examples:

Social Media Contest Example 1:

Looking for some extra cash? HubSpot is currently giving away a $100 Amazon gift card to a lucky winner every day. All you need to do is grade your website and tweet about it ( official details here ). Not only that, but there is also a grand prize of a free iPad, which will be awarded to a winner who, not only tweets, but blogs about their results.

Website Grader

In just a few days, the contest has already generated hundreds of tweets and thousands of new visitors to HubSpot’s website, and the numbers continue to climb. 1

Social Media Contest Example 2:
In the summer of 2010, the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago launched a contest that required a web –savvy individual to live in the museum for 30 days and report observations to the outside world. The museum offered the contest winner a prize of $10,000, tech gadgets, and an honorary lifetime membership to MSI.

To generate some pre-contest buzz, the museum started conversations on Twitter (using hashtag #MATM) and inspired bloggers and mainstream media channels to cover this unique experiment; BoingBoing, Mediabistro, PBS, The Huffington Post, ChicagoNow, and other mainstream outlets and local blogs wrote about the contest ( see example ). The coverage generated hundreds of comments, tweets, and video impressions. The Museum of Science’s video channel also generated more than 240 new subscribers and more than 15,636 new likes on Facebook. 2

Tips and Takeaways

  1. Run contests using social media, not just your website . Social media can be more than a promotional tool; it can also be a utility. In the case of HubSpot’s Website Grader contest, using Twitter to tweet your website’s grade is the required method for entry. This implementation takes advantage of user-generated content and, in turn, further promotes the contest to a wider audience. A win-win for all.
  2. Use an integrated strategy. Don’t just rely on one outlet for promotion. In addition to traditional marketing methods, use all the social networks that are important to you and your audience. Many successful giveaways expand their reach to multiple sources utilizing blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn (to name a few).
  3. Make your contests easy to share. If people can’t share your awesome contest idea, it may not go very far. To ensure your giveaway gets some traction, use a URL shortener like to create shortened links for others to share on Twitter. Also, add “Tweet This” or “Share on Facebook” links on your website or blog so visitors can easily share your content with one click (AddThis is a great tool for that). Wherever your contest is promoted, make it easy for others to share it.
  4. Generate pre-contest buzz. Don’t forget that you can start promoting your contest even before it officially starts. Use social media to start conversions so people are already lined up and waiting when it launches. The Museum of Science did a fantastic job of this by starting conversions with bloggers and followers on Twitter.
  5. Track your success. To know that your contests are successful, use a unique tag, phrase or link for tracking. Whether it is a hashtag on Twitter or a unique landing page on your website, put processes in place to identify the results you generate from social media initiatives.

Contests present a terrific way to create PR opportunities and to reach out to your target audience effectively. They’re fun, and they help you get noticed by both customers and the media. Social media has become an excellent resource and tool for turning good contests into great ones.

Do you have any great ideas or examples to add? I would love to hear your feedback!

Source: Inbound Marketing Blog
2. Source: 11 Examples of Online Marketing Success eBook  

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