How to Run a Contest on Social Media

With the many expenses we have as business owners, we are always looking for ways we can get the best return on investment to promote our brand.  One way to invest in your company and promote your brand, without breaking the bank, is to host social media contests and giveaways.

Know Why You are Doing It

As you know, it’s important to make sure you have a clearly defined purpose for why you are holding the contest.  You may be looking to boost your subscribers or trying to generate user feedback; the key is to devise a contest strategy that achieves multiple outcomes, and that ultimately leads to more sales.

First things first

So what do you do first?  Choose the prize! When considering a prize you will want to first consider what your target audience would be most excited about winning.  If you are a spa, how about a free service, if you are a meal delivery service, free meals. What about a partnership with a friend business in the area? If you’re a hair salon, what about a partnership with a nail salon or spa? Or a yoga class at the gym across the street? Both businesses can promote and it’s a win-win for everyone! A balance between being budget-friendly and worthy of your followers time is the key.


  • A service (a free photography session, vehicle detail)

  • A product that relates to your brand

  • A new product from your company

  • An experience that relates to your product or service

  • A partnership with another business

Choose the contest.  Will it be:

  • A caption writing contest – Post a picture, and then have contestants write a caption to have their name entered into the contest.

  • Photo/Video contests – Have customers submit a photo that relates to your product for a chance to win; then ask other customers to vote on the best content.  You get engagement and participation.

  • Like – Contestants who like a post will be entered into the contest.

Choosing a Winner

Make sure that you have clearly defined criteria/rules and that your customers know what they have to do in order for a chance to win.  If the contest is subjective like best nature photo, define what it is you are looking for, so that you don’t leave your customers feeling frustrated that they participated.  Let them know if the winner will be selected by customer votes. You can do it the old fashioned way with a name in the hat (write their names down and add them to the bucket of names).  This can be too time-consuming if you are experiencing high volumes of engagement (which we hope you are). Try using handy-dandy online tools like Contest Capture or Random Result.  The former will use likes and engagement to select a winner while the latter uses a random list.


As we know from last week, hashtags are a must with all things social media. They are the common thread that links you and your customers across various platforms.  When you designate a platform to hold your contest, make sure to include a catchy or explicit hashtag that you can share across all channels.

Participant Medals (prizes) are Good for Marketing

People can debate that doling out prizes for participation in youth sports is a bad idea, but when it comes to social media marketing and contests, it’s a must!  Give all your customers something for entering by giving them a coupon code for participating and/or an additional incentive for sharing the contest with their friends and followers.

Sell It

Sell your contest like you sell your products or services!  Use the platforms where your customers are most likely to engage.  If you have older customers, hit them up on Facebook. If they are a younger crowd, Instagram is the way to go.  

Follow the Rules

Each platform has their own set of guidelines for promotions, so you want to make sure and check them out before you begin your contest.

Twitter is a platform that isn’t as convenient for contests.  Marketers recommend only doing Twitter contests if you are going to keep them short and run them for a day or two.  And, don’t use Twitter for retweeting in order to get entry or coupon code. (The powers that be Twitter, don’t like it.)

Facebook contests require a release from each entrant or participant along with the “acknowledgement that the promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed, administered by or associated with Facebook.” You are also responsible for determining and posting official contest rules, terms, and eligibility requirements and complying to online and state rules and regulations. Personal Timelines and friend connections must not be used to administer promotions (ex: “share on your Timeline to enter” or “share on your friend's Timeline to get additional entries”, and "tag your friends in this post to enter" are not permitted).

Instagram fortunately follows many of the same guiding principles as Facebook.  Likewise, you accept the risk that you are solely responsible for all tasks, content, results of any promotions utilized with Instagram. However, Instagram does not have the same rules around timelines/friend connections.

Choosing a Winner

One way to choose a winner is to have your customers vote, especially when it is a photo or caption contest.  It is another way to promote engagement.

Five Minutes of Fame

What happens after the contest can be a promotion in itself!  Take advantage of any photo ops! Get a picture of the winner to further promote your product/service and your brand.  Do a write-up of the winner and post it on your blog. Your other customers will love that you are as interested in them as they are in your brand.

Take some time to peruse your favorite platform and take notes on the different contests available and how they promote them, what kind of prizes they have, what incentives they provide, determine the hoops customers have to jump through to enter and question whether there are other deterrents that cause customers to say, “No THANKS!” Your own experience and research can be a great teacher for hosting success promotional contests that will have customers loving you and your brand even more.