How to Run a Successful Social Media Competition

Are you planning to run a social media sweepstake or competition to make your business stand out? Do you need a guide to ensure that you don’t miss the crucial elements of a successful competition promotion?

Competitions, contests and giveaways are increasingly popular among marketers who are vying for the attention of their social media audiences. Choosing a prize is the easy part.

Whether you run your promotion on Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest, it’s easy to overlook something. Making sure you’ve got all your planning, technical and legal “i’s” dotted and “t’s” crossed is critical to your success. At Shout! Digital Marketing we have run a number of competitions for clients with great results, refresh your database now and reward your customers!

Five steps of running a successful social media competitions.

#1: Define Objectives

This is where most companies shortchange themselves. How? By focusing on superficial objectives that may not benefit their business.

For example, does it make sense to run a competition to increase your already-large fan base or do you want to jumpstart your social engagement process?

Here’s a list of potential competition objectives to choose from:

  • Increase awareness of a new product
  • Increase the number of free trials
  • Collect leads with detailed information
  • Generate customer referrals
  • Increase average daily visitors
  • Increase newsletter subscribers
  • Increase social media followers (Facebook fans, Instagram, Pinterest or Twitter followers, etc.)
  • Increase social media exposure (more repins, more retweets of your message, etc.)
  • Increase sales
  • Generate brand loyalty by rewarding existing customers with a chance to win a big prize
  • Increase social media engagement

Often-Overlooked Objectives:

Increase customer micro-insights: For example, post to win: “If I win a $500 Visa gift card, I’ll spend it on __________ #ABCgiveaway @yourcompany”. Not only does this increase social media engagement, it also gives you a much deeper understanding of your target market.

Increase customer survey participation: Brick-and-mortar businesses regularly use competitions to increase customer survey participation, but this practice is rare for online businesses.

Hipmunk is a good example of an online business that is successfully utilising competitions to increase the level of customer survey participation. Hipmunk, a travel booking company, frequently uses small competitions to increase customer survey participation.

#2: The Logistics

This phase can be a lifesaver. If you get this phase right, you’ll be breathing a lot easier during the promotion. We have found at Shout! Digital Marketing this is the phase most easily missed with the greatest potential.

Here are the major steps in the planning phase:

Select the type of Sweepstake or Promotion: This is the most important step in the planning phase because the right type will significantly impact on your results. Shout! Digital Marketing offers a range of competitions including;

•    Photo Contests
•    Video Contests
•    Essay Contests
•    Vote-to-Win Contests
•    Sweepstakes
•    Voting
•    Refer-a-Friend
•    Multiple Voting Rounds

Our features include:
•    Multiple Winners - Select Winners at Random
•    Entry Storage – Great for future activities
•    Export Ready Database – Add to your existing or import into our Shout! One Message Marketing Platform
•    Unique Fields – Ask the questions you need to know!
•    Customisable
•    Mobile & QR Code Ready

Comply with competition laws: It’s imperative to understand the regional and social media platform rules pertaining to competitions. Checking with your state government gambling agency is a good place to start; in Victoria for example competitions under $5000 have very few requirements which make smaller competitions much easier.

Determine competitions duration: 21-28 days is the ideal duration for a competition promotion. Two weeks is often too short and more than a month is too long.

Select a prize: It could be your own product or a product that really fulfills your target audience’s needs.

Determine competitions location: Where will you host your competition? Depending on your objectives, does it make sense to host the promotion on your website, Facebook page or some other popular blog? These are not mutually exclusive choices. You can host your competition on multiple online destinations, but having it in one place often leads to an easier and more efficient execution of the promotion.

Set promotion budget: How much money do you want to spend to promote your competition? How does that divide across different marketing channels? For example, do you want to advertise on specific blogs to drive traffic to your competitions or does a Facebook ad campaign make more sense?

Often-Overlooked Planning Steps

Associate competitions with an event: Is the competitions being held to celebrate your business’s third anniversary or the joyous spirit of Christmas? Associating your competition with an event provides context to your audience and makes a deeper emotional connection with them, which increases the chances of your competitions creating a positive buzz in social media.

Create a short and enticing viral loop: A big prize attracts attention, but it’s the viral loop that continues the momentum—which is why it needs to be thought out in considerable detail. A viral loop is the workflow that maximizes the probability of one contestant attracting another contestant from their social network.

Here are the key elements in each stage of a viral loop:

Stage 1: Activate visitors into contestants

  • Clearly state the action that the visitors should take to enter the competition
  • Display an attractive picture of the prize
  • Inform the visitors that it is quick and easy to enter
  • State all the relevant information to reassure the visitors that the competition is legitimate (e.g., end date, winner announcement process, terms, etc.)

Stage 2: Remove entry barriers

  • Focus on one call to action
  • Make the Submit button easy to find
  • Reassure the visitors that their information is safe

Stage 3: Entice the contestant to share

  • Associate competitions with an event (e.g., Christmas)
  • Award more entries for sharing the competition via social networks
  • Award a guaranteed gift such as a discount or an ebook for sharing the competition on social networks

Stage 4: Attract new visitors through shared messages

  • Write compelling copy for the message shared by the contestants when they press the Facebook Share or Retweet button. For example, instead of “Enter to win a $500 Visa Card” being shared, modify the copy of your shared message to “Wouldn’t it be nice to go on a Christmas shopping spree for free? Enter to win!”

Make sure every shared message has a link to the competition.

#3: Launch the Competition

You’ve done all the heavy planning work. Now, it’s time to execute. Here are the most important steps for a flawless launch:

Conduct a test run: Once you’ve set up the competition, ask a few of your friends and colleagues to enter and perform every primary and secondary call to action. Confirm that you see their entry in the competition tool’s analytics; that the messages being shared are not cut off due to character limits and that the competition links within the shared messages are working.

Contact influencers: Reach out to social media influencers and ask them if they will promote your competition. The more you convince them that the prize and the associated event of the competitions appeal to their readers, the higher the chance of them promoting your competition.

Request listing on competition directories (with caution): Submit your contest to a competition directory. This may make sense for some audiences, but not for others. You really need to think through what kind of audience you’re trying to attract, because competition directories often bring in “professional sweepers” who use fake accounts to submit multiple entries or immediately reverse their entry action; for instance, unlike, unsubscribe, etc.

Determine launch day: Your promotion gets an early boost if you launch your competition at the right time and the right day of the week. While you’ll have to rely on your own data to determine the best time and day for your audience.

According to a study published by Marketing Profs, Sunday evening is the best time to launch a competition.

Often-Overlooked Launch Steps

Create a support plan: Despite your excellent planning and execution, things can still go wrong, and usually they’ll have to do with technical glitches.

Contact Facebook influencers: There’s a lot of focus on finding Twitter or Pinterest influencers, mainly because of the ease of finding influencers on these platforms. Finding Facebook influencers is more challenging, but it’s worth the effort, especially because many of these influencers don’t have their own dedicated websites or blogs.


#4: Follow-up with Contestants

So you’ve launched the competition and the entries are rolling in. In this stage, your focus needs to shift to following up to meet your primary and secondary objectives. Here’s a list of the major steps that are needed for a successful follow-up process:

Follow up with auto responders: Sending a follow-up email adds more credibility to your competition and dramatically increases the chances of contestants taking the secondary action that you’d like them to take. Schedule automatic follow-ups via the auto responder features of email marketing tools such as MailChimp or Shout! One Message.

Determine reminder frequency: Your fans and subscribers are really busy and they’ll either forget to enter your competition or miss your announcements. That’s why reminders are vital to maximizing the number of contestants. To ensure that you don’t annoy your audience, a good rule of thumb is:

  • One reminder email per week
  • One reminder Facebook status per day
  • Two reminder tweets per day


Conduct daily test runs: Technical glitches are often unreported, which translates into fewer contestants. That’s why it’s important for you to enter your own competition on a daily basis (with a test account) to verify that all of the competition procedures are working as planned.

Perform weekly modifications: As the competition progresses, you’re sure to learn a lot and generate ideas on how to make your competition better. It’s important to set aside some time each week to make adjustments based on those lessons. It could be something as simple as changing the tweet message to make it more enticing, or something as effective as reducing the number of actions required to enter the competition.

Often-Overlooked Follow-Up Steps

Follow-up for soft-selling: Competitions draw a lot of traffic and attention. Why not encourage them to buy from you? Here’s a list of things for you to do on your Thank-you page or your follow-up emails to increase your sales:

  • Show contestants your business video and ask them to start a free trial
  • If the prize is your own product, give them a link to where they can buy that product
  • Give entrants a discount code to entice them to buy from you. Here’s a good example from a competition promotion.

#5: Ending the Competition

You’re almost done. A few more steps and you’ll have the pleasure of communicating with the winner and watching him or her respond to you with joy and disbelief. But before that point, there are still a few things you need to get right:

Send final reminders: Send out final reminders via email and social media about when the competition ends. Reiterate what the competition was for and how easy it is to enter.

Select a winner: If you’re using our competitions tool, it will make the winner selection process very simple.

Remove the tool: Now that the competition is done, remove the widget from your website and/or your social media pages.

Send winner announcement: Announce the winner to all contestants via email, blog and social networks.

Contact the winner: Send a separate email to the winner asking him or her to respond within a specific time period. Also ask about the person’s age and location. This step needs to be done within 7-10 business days of the competition’ end.

Mail the prize: Once you’ve confirmed all of the details with the winner, mail the prize to the winner’s address and let him or her know the estimated date of arrival.

Often-Overlooked Ending Steps

Create an internal assessment report: This is the moment of truth. Did you meet your objectives? What was the return on investment for the amount of money you spent? Would that money have been better spent on direct ads or other PR activities? What worked very well and what would you do differently? Competitions are not a one-hit wonder. They’re supposed to be done with some regularity and these kinds of post- competition assessments ensure that your next competition generates even better results.

Share your results: Everyone loves to see stats, a final report card or a set of lessons learned during a promotion. Now that you have completed your competition promotion, you’re sitting on valuable data. Why not share that data on your own blog or with a different audience through a guest blog post to gain additional coverage of your business?

What do you think? Do you have some tips of your own? What successes have you had with running a competition? Please share some of your own tips in the comments below.

For more information contact Neil Devonport at Shout! Digital Marketing – 0404300533.