So you want to run a contest on social media, eh? Not sure where to start? Which social network is the most appropriate choice? If you're even allowed to run a contest there?

There are so many rules and guidelines, so much planning and preparation involved, that we thought a blog post was really required to explain how to run a contest that delivers a solid return on investment. Who knows -- it could be the best tactic you’ve ever introduced to grow your reach, drive site traffic, and generate leads! Here's how you can set yourself up for success with contests on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.

How to Run a Contest on Facebook

Follow the Rules

Before you start your Facebook contest, make sure you can actually run it legally. Facebook has cracked down on contests due to liability issues, so read through their strict rules ahead of time. For example, did you know that you can’t use liking or commenting on a post, checking in, connecting to your app, or uploading a photo to your Timeline as a contest entry mechanism? Did you know that you can’t notify winners of your contest through Facebook -- whether through messages, chat, or posts on their profile? Did you know that you can't even use Facebook features as a voting mechanism?

What I'm trying to say is read their contest rules before you get started -- but in general, you can assume you're responsible for the legal and logistical portions of your contest; Facebook just provides the people. To learn more about Facebook’s contest rules, visit their Page Guidelines.

Make Use of Third Party Apps

The most common and effective way for getting around Facebook’s contest rules is by using third party apps -- some good ones are ShortStack, Woobox, and Offerpop. You might remember the days before Facebook Timeline, when brands had welcome pages and like-gating mechanisms. Well, technically these features still exist; they’re just buried within likes, photos, videos, and events. With this said, make sure you’re properly promoting your contest so people can actually find it! I highly suggest posting about your contest (including the link for where to find it) and pinning that post to the top of your Timeline. Just take a look at how Dunkin' Donuts is doing it on their Timeline:

Dunkin Donuts Get SanDDwich%27d resized 600

Include CTAs to Drive Traffic to Your Website

If you’re using a third party app for your contest, including calls-to-action is a piece of cake! In this example with Dunkin' Donuts' Get SanDDwich’d contest, you can see two very obvious CTAs -- “Enter Now” and “View Gallery.” If you want to achieve something similar, simply come up with the design, upload it using your third party app, and drag and drop your links over the correct piece of the image. Really, it’s not hard. I promise. Just remember to use contest-specific tracking tokens for your links so you know who’s clicking. If you don’t have access to a designer and need help with your CTAs, take a look at our free ebook: Mastering the Design & Copy of Calls-to-Action.

Include a Form on the App Page to Generate Leads

If your goal is to generate leads from your contest, you might want to include a form directly on your third party app. This will make the process much easier for people trying to register for the contest. Avoid making your entrants dig through mountains of rules or a maze of landing pages to get to where they want to go. Include your Official Rules in the form of a link in the body of your contest explanation. Which brings me to my next topic ...

Create Your Own Terms & Conditions / Official Rules Page

Facebook makes it very clear that you must provide the official terms, rules, and eligibility requirements for your contest. You need to “include a complete release of Facebook by each entrant or participant and include acknowledgement that the promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed, or administered by, or associated with, Facebook.” In addition, it is important to provide disclosure information -- that if the participant is filling out a form and giving you personal information, that information is going to you and not to Facebook.

Notify the Winner Via Your Website

Since you’re not allowed to notify your winner via Facebook, why not use this as an opportunity to drive traffic to your website? Explain in the rules for your contest that the winner will be announced on such and such a day on a specific location on your website. If you include relevant calls-to-action for compelling offers around the announcement, you’re bound to generate some leads.

Give Away Something Awesome

If you’re going through the trouble of creating a third party app and getting lawyers involved, you better be giving away something really good. If you’re making people fill out a form, tell a story about their first experience with your brand, or explain why they love your product, you’re not going to get many entrants if you’re giving away a lousy keychain. If you have an amazing prize, people are more likely to put some serious effort into your contest. Just look at Dunkin' Donuts -- they're giving away a beach vacation! Yeah, I'd upload a picture for that.

Remember Your Goals and Measure Your Results

You can create the most impressive contest in the world, but if it doesn't align with your goals or if you didn’t measure it correctly, who really cares? If you want to generate leads from your contest, for example, you know you need to include a form and calls-to-action on your contest page. If you're looking to build reach and brand awareness, make entrants share your brand or contest page on their Facebook Timeline. And how will you know if you generated leads or grew your reach? Well, Facebook Insights can let you know how much your reach has grown, or you can invest in closed-loop marketing software to track the number of leads generated and the growth of your reach.

How to Run a Contest on Twitter

Follow the Rules

When you’re running a contest, just like any day on Twitter, make sure you’re following The Twitter Rules. Discourage dishonest behavior such as the creation of multiple accounts or posting the same tweet repeatedly. However, do encourage good behavior such as topic relevance and creativity! Your entrants must also comply with applicable laws and regulations -- Twitter makes it clear that this portion is your responsibility. In other words, you write the official rules, and any legal backlash will be your problem, not Twitter’s. I highly suggest you consult with an attorney if you have any questions or concerns with this.

Set Your Goals

If you don't know what you’re looking to achieve with the contest, how will you know if you’ve achieved it? Plus, your goals will help you figure out how to run the contest. If you’re looking to promote a specific event or offer, for example, have your entrants tweet a link to it; just make sure you’re using tracking tokens to measure your leads and clicks to see exactly how successful the contest was. If you are trying to improve reach, on the other hand, have entrants retweet the original tweet you sent out about the contest. And if you’re looking to build awareness of your brand, require your entrants to follow you in order to be eligible.

Iron Out the Details

Do you want to run a sweepstakes-style contest? How about a caption or creative answer contest? Or perhaps a photo contest would make the most sense. There are several types of contests you could choose from, so make sure you pick one that aligns with (all together now) your goals. You also need to figure out when the contest will take place, for how long it will run, and then the announcement of the contest will take place -- will it be days before via your blog and other social media networks, or just minutes before the contest? But once you have your goals set, details like these are the easy part!

Find a Way to Filter

It’s impossible to honestly select a winner for a contest if you can’t find and weed through all the submissions. Make sure you set yourself up for success by creating streams specifically dedicated to the contest. When tweeting the announcement that you’re having a contest, ask users to include either an @mention to you in their tweet, or a specific hashtag dedicated to the contest or campaign you’re running at the time. This way you can clearly see all the entrants, making your life much easier when time comes to select a winner.

Measure Your Results

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know how important measurement is to, well, anything you do. It's how you know how successful you are, after all! Track your contest hashtag over time using a third party app, use a contest-specific link, drive traffic to your landing page, and view the source of that traffic (all that Twitter traffic!) using an analytics platform or your marketing software.

How to Run a Contest on Pinterest

Follow Proper Pin Etiquette

Unlike Facebook and Twitter, Pinterest doesn’t provide any official rules or guidelines for running contests. They do, however, provide suggestions for respectfully using the site with their Pin Etiquette Guide. If you’re looking for a more in-depth guide on the rules of Pinterest, take a look at their Terms & Privacy page, but in a nutshell: be respectful, authentic, and create contest rules that reflect that. This contest from Garnet Hill, for example, falls right in line with what pinners love to do!

Pinterest Contest Example Country Living

Make an Announcement

Leverage those social networks! Don’t just announce that you’re having a contest on Pinterest, tell your followers on Twitter, your fans on Facebook, and your circles on Google+, too! Depending on the length of the contest, you should make social promotion of it a regular part of your social media updating to encourage participation.

Clearly Articulate the Rules of the Contest

What should be included in your photo/description to tell users what is required to enter the contest? Do you want people to create a whole new board for your contest, like Garnet Hill? Should they simply repin one image? Let participants know so they can follow your rules properly. Include a bullet point list of the rules right on a repinnable image. Behind the image, include a link to more details about your contest using a landing page on your website. And hey, guys, did you remember the tracking token? How else will you know the number of leads your contest generates, or the all-mighty click-through rate? And don't forget, as with any other social media contest, you have to ...

Remember Your Goals and Measure Your Results

What are you trying to achieve with this contest? Do you want more leads? Awareness that your brand does, in fact, have a Pinterest account? Tailor your contest to suit your goals and measure your results accordingly. For example, if you are looking to generate leads and you could care less about engagement, why are you measuring reach? If you align your goals and metrics with your contest, you'll be much more successful in the long-run.

Find a Way to Filter

Use a hashtag so people can follow the contest entries on Pinterest. This will help spread the word about your contest, and it can also help you find participants. If you’re requiring entrants to create a board for your contest, have them use a pre-defined hashtag on their images so it's easy to find. Or are they simply repinning the original contest image? That’s easy -- just click on the pin to see who repinned it!

Have a Prize Your Audience Will Love

If participants are creating an entire board on their Pinterest account dedicated to your company, you’ll need to give away something really awesome. The more effort your participants need to put in, the better the prize should be. You will get fewer participants with a contest giving away a koozie than a contest giving away an entire bedroom set. Plus, a prize like a beautiful new bedroom set plays right into the interests of Pinterest users -- beautiful, visual items.

Announce the Winner Via Your Website

Unlike Facebook, there is no problem with you contacting a user on Pinterest to let them know they’ve won your contest. However, it might be beneficial to you if you announce the winner on your website if you're looking to generate leads. This way you get more eyes on awesome website content that can convert into leads for your business, instead of just notifying one person. But you should certainly publicize the winner and their board on your website and your Pinterest account for some great PR!

How to Run a Contest on Instagram

Follow Best Practices

Much like Pinterest, Instagram doesn’t have any official contest rules on their site. They do, however, suggest best practices for “How to Host a Photo Contest on Instagram” in their company blog. Notes include posting frequently, giving the contest time, spreading the word about the contest, using the Instagram API, and giving away prizes.

Set Your Goals and Clearly Articulate the Rules

Your goals should be directly correlated with how you run your contest. Want to drive traffic to your website? Make participants go there! Want to boost engagement? Make them leave a comment! You are the owner of your contest, so only you get to decide what is required for entry. Use this power to your advantage!

Instagram Nail Contest resized 600

Make an Announcement

Photos on Instagram fly through the feed so quickly, you might have trouble being successful with only one contest announcement. But you have fans and followers on other networks, right? Promote the contest on your website and other social networks to get as many participants as possible! You can certainly post about the contest multiple times if you keep it creative and always craft unique updates.

Follow a Theme

Are you currently running a campaign that you want your contest to run alongside of? Follow the same theme! Your Instagram followers are certainly a creative bunch, so even if you’re a B2B company, they will find a way to add excitement to your brand. Trust me. For example, GE ran a contest on Instagram using the hashtag #geinspiredme. After the contest, they featured the top photos as a board on their Pinterest account.

GE Inspired Instagram Contest

Find a Way to Filter

Using a hashtag, like GE did, is a great way to filter your contest. However, if you get thousands of submissions, it might be tough to weed through them all. So in addition to the hashtag, try filtering with an RSS feed. Webstagram allows you to search a hashtag, and you can view every Instagram photo using this tag with the original caption and comments. Take a look at how it works with GE as an example.

Measure Your Results

Statigram is a great site for management, measurement, and promotion on Instagram. And lucky for you, it even has a "Contest" section with a toolkit for running photo contests. Does it get any more convenient than that? Now that you have all the tools working for you, match your measurement tactics with your goals and rules and you should be a breeze!

Announce the Winner Via Your Website

Instagram isn’t exactly a broadcast platform, so it’s a bit more difficult for contacting and announcing a winner for your contest. Instead, try creating a landing page showcasing those fun, creative photo submissions with the winner clearly set apart from the rest. You should also make sure to have calls-to-action on your landing page that are relevant to your contest -- with a relevant offer to back it up and generate some serious leads. Of course, only do this if it’s a part of your goals. ;-)

Now that you know the nitty gritty of social media contests, what are some of the most creative contests you've seen on social media? Let's get our creative juices flowing!

New Call to action

Originally published Jul 3, 2012 12:30:00 PM, updated August 09 2017


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