January 30, 2020 Last updated on April 24th, 2020
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There’s one thing I bet you’ve done at least once in your life: entered a social media contest. Indeed, social media offers great windows of opportunity for that, especially on Facebook and Instagram.

There are many benefits for a brand to run contests or giveaways on social media: from increasing your brand visibility to building an engaged community to creating truly engaging content.

However, as many benefits as there are, running a successful social media contest is easier said than done. It is essential that your contest does not simply give away something to your followers, but actually helps you achieve a real impact and reach your business objectives as a brand.

Good news: this is exactly what I’m going to explore in this article 💪

So, if you are looking to launch a social media contest for the first time, or if you would like to ensure your current campaign is done well, this step-by-step guide is for you.

How to Run a Social Media Contest:
A Complete Guide

Guide to Running Contests on Social Media

Just like an athlete prepares for a competition ahead of time, you must do the homework for your social media contest ahead of time, too. Thinking ahead will create a strategic framework for your giveaway, help you outline important KPIs, measure achievements, and also serve as a basis for any potential future campaigns.

1. Prepare and set up your social media contest

1.1. Set a purpose for your giveaway

First things first, setting an intention and having a clear idea of what you are hoping to accomplish is crucial when building an action plan for your social media contest.

Make sure to consider and evaluate all benefits and risks beforehand. Some businesses simply might not benefit from a social media contest depending on their industry, service, product, audience, etc. (e.g., if you’re selling a high-end B2B digital product). For others, it might just not be the right timing to launch one.

Your goal can range anywhere from getting more followers, to collaborating with other brands, to driving traffic to your website or more general brand awareness.

Here is an example with a collab contest between @benefitcosmeticsuk and @birchbox over Christmas on Instagram:

Social Media Contest example from Benefit Cosmetics

Bear in mind that you should strive to attract your target audience — so whatever business objective you have behind a giveaway, make sure it’s attractive to your followers as well.

1.2. Define the budget

In terms of budget, it is crucial to determine that at an early stage of your giveaway creation. Running a social media contest is a great way to keep your community alert and engaged. And yet, you have to make sure the related expenses are under control.

For this, consider the amount of time you are looking to run similar campaigns overtime. While organising one contest is good enough, it is also a really good idea to set it up as a recurring event, in which case you would have to make sure you include it in your annual budget.

So, how much can you afford in the long run?

Budget hot tip:

If you have paying customers already, one great easy way to determine a budget for your social media contest is to inject the equivalence of your Customer Lifetime Value into your social media contest. This way even if one single participant does convert to a paying customer further to your giveaway contest, it will cover the budget spent. 😉

How to calculate your Customer Lifetime Value?
Average Customer Lifespan x Customer Value* = Customer Lifetime Value.
*Customer ValueAverage Purchase ValueAverage Purchase Frequency Rate.

1.3. Put together the terms and conditions of your giveaway

Now that you have an idea of the goal and budget for your social media contest, the next step is to familiarize yourself with the policies of the platform you are looking to run your contest on.

Just like Facebook and Instagram, each platform has specific rules about running contests. Violating them might result in your contest and/or account being banned, so better not skip reading the rules! (For Facebook and Instagram, you can find them here and here respectively.)

Based on these guidelines, you can then build your own terms and conditions for your contest. It now all depends on the type of contest you are looking to launch, as well as your budget, your goals and the level of engagement you will seek from your participants, your prize, etc..

Clarity is key. Make sure the terms you’ve defined for your contest are mentioned with transparency. Moreover, in the days of GDPR, you need to be particularly clear about what you intend to do with any data collected.

@buzzfeedtasty is ticking all the boxes by mentioning explicitly the T&C’s of their contest on their Instagram post:State the rules clearly in your social media giveaway

Set rules explicitly. However, the complexity of the entry itself must remain on the low side to avoid discouraging your potential participants from competing in your contest.

To make everybody’s lives easier, make sure your contest doesn’t take forever — aim for something between 3 and 5 days.

Keeping a short (enough) deadline gives a sense of urgency to your content, which only encourages people to apply. Additionally, if your contest is stretched out for a long period of time, you’d need to bore your audience with constant updates and notifications —  which you wouldn’t want to do. And finally, restricting the length of time will make it easier for you to monitor the performance of your contest (but we’ll come to tracking later 😉).

Be as specific and timely as possible. All the details should be stated, such as: the start and end date, the way you will announce and reward the winner, the age and geographic limitation if applicable, the prize, etc..

Also, do mention that Facebook, Instagram or whichever platform you are running your social media contest on isn’t involved in the competition anyhow. Here’s a straightforward example from @thehealthyfamilyandhome, with an end date mentioned in her contest publication on Instagram.

How to run giveaways on social media

1.4. Different entry requirements to different goals, choose your pick!

There are many contest requirements you can set for people to be eligible to participate, and they all depend on what it is that you’re trying to achieve.

For example, a requirement to enter a contest can be to “Tag a friend”, “Share to enter”, “Like and/or comment to win”, “Caption this”, “Create the best comment”, “Play and/or vote to win”, etc.. It all depends on your end goal.

Here are a couple of great examples from brand on Twitter and Instagram:

@ProseccoWatch is offering an advent calendar on their contest on Twitter, giving a chance to sample all of their sparkling wines by following, liking, retweeting and tagging their publication — meaning, their end goal is getting exposure.

How to run social media giveaways

A partnership with a brand can also be an option, as a food influencer @elsas_wholesomelife did with @vitamix_aunz and @thewholesomestore on Instagram, using two brands that resonate with her activity and complement her product. Brand partnerships on Instagram as giveaway options

Either way, make it a complete win-win situation!

1.5. Decide what to give away

Last but not least: let’s talk about the prize!

Deciding which reward you can offer as a brand isn’t the easiest thing. It is crucial to make sure you prioritize quality over quantity of your entries; your efforts should be focused on attracting your target audience; and, finally, you must look for a prize that is relevant to your brand.

If you have a huge following on Instagram, one way to reward the audience is to give the opportunity to be featured in your feed. This way, the winner gets exposure and you get free UGC at the same time. Take @buzzfeedtasty as an example. They recently called out to their community on Instagram to share their best recipe and reward them by publishing the winner’s creation on their feed:

Collect UGC during your social media contests

More generally, bear in mind that, no matter which prize might seem the most relevant to your brand, you should focus on making your that prize relevant to your audience first and foremost. You also need to keep your giveaway simple, user-friendly and fun as much as possible — which leads us to the next point.

1.6. Keep your contest entry simple yet fun

A recent study conducted by Microsoft concluded that the average American’s attention span is shorter than that of a goldfish — which is only 8 seconds.Microsoft Attention Spans Infographic

This is exactly why optimizing your followers’ attention span is crucial, no matter which format or prize you might have set your heart on. The message delivered has to remain simple to avoid losing their interest and discourage entries.

One idea would be to use the impact of the images and integrate your prize in your visual. You can stick to a very simple example like this one from the surf shop @annscottagesurf where they gave away their very special skateboard deck:

Use the prize visual in your giveaway

2. Promote your social media contest

You should now have a clearer vision of what your competition will look like.

Ready to launch it? Well, not just yet!

You still need to plan your promotion ahead for a stress-free contest on social and optimize your visibility. Spread the word before and during your competition and let the world know about it!

Before and during the contest you’ll have to work hard on keeping your audience aware of your giveaway and its evolution.

No matter which social media platforms you’re launching your contest on initially, the communication around your contest should be sharp and efficiently knitted across all social networks.

Make sure to promote it over several channels and at different stages. Known as “multi-channel promotion”, this strategy will allow you to optimize the potential of each medium you will use to spread your message — and to promote your business along the way.

This same tactic helps to spread the word about your contest before its launch and once it’s live. A little shoutout, to build up the suspense, can go a long way. Something simple like “We’re preparing something exciting for you – stay tuned!” can be all you need. Develop a communication plan for yourself or a schedule to keep track of your promotional messages.

Scheduling your posts on Facebook and/or Instagram, is a considerable time saver. Third-party apps, like Iconosquare can help you in this task.

Instagram Scheduler

Either way, you can choose to include as many communication mediums as you want: newsletters, social media platforms, ads, blogs, website pop-ups —  the list can go on and on.

I’m covering some of them further on —  so keep on reading! 💪

2.1. Newsletter

Keep your community on their toes and communicate about your contest even before the launch. It will build up interest and can only be beneficial to your contest strategy. Simply include it in your weekly or monthly newsletter.

Once your contest is up and running, send a follow-up email and don’t forget to include the T&C’s and mention the prize, as well as a clear CTA to participate.

For example, this could be what an independent coffee shop could send out to their newsletter subscribers to optimize this powerful opportunity to generate entries!

2.2. Blog and social media  

Similar to the promotion over email, use your social media platforms and blog (if you have one) to inform your community about your giveaway contest at different stages and link it to it when it’s live. This way, the contest will gain in visibility and reach a larger audience.

Here are a few ideas you can try out:

  • Update your cover picture on the channel you’ve decided to launch your competition;
  • Write a blog post about your social media contest;
  • Publish a story on FB and IG;
  • Go live to give an update about the contest

Here’s an example from @thehealthyfamilyandhome: the brand was recently giving away a bamboo toothbrush on Instagram. To promote the giveaway, they wrote a post on their blog and spread the news:

Promote your giveaway through email
2.3. Ads 

Paid post promotion is efficient for increasing exposure and reach in general, and it can be powerful in a contest scenario as well.

Before the launch of your contest, depending on the budget and time you’ve decided to dedicate to your campaign, you can use social media ads or adwords to tease your audience. Give them some information about your contest so they know about it and can give it a go as soon as it is live. Here, again, include all the T&C’s: start and ending date, prizes, etc.. You can already implement a CTA for the followers to like your profile or page so that they can stay on top of your contest updates and announcements.

Once your contest is live,  you can turn ads again to remind your audience about it.

While ads do remain an optional promotion method, they can be a nice addition to your organic efforts.

3. Monitor your social media entries and results

3.1. Picking a winner 

By this time, you have hopefully collected plenty of entries during your contest. But now, you also probably wonder how to select a winner in the fairest possible way.

Back in the day, an Excel spreadsheet was the go-to option, where you’d have to make a list of all participants and manually select the winner from that list.

Well, the good news is, now you can skip this fastidious and time-consuming task!

There are many free tools available on the market nowadays that save you time in picking the winner and allow you to be more efficient.

If you’re an Iconosquare user, check out our own Random Comment Picker Tool! There, you can access if you click into a post, select Media Comments, and click on the Comment icon. From there, you can modify your selection criteria, and the tool will select the winner automatically:

Random Comment Picker Tool

3.2. Announce the winner and reward

One last step before you can completely consider your job done is rewarding the winner.

The best and most direct way to notify the winner is to tag him/her in the contest publication and send a DM. However, you can integrate this contest update as part of your content strategy by communicating about the winner in a public post (image, story, video, live…) and let all your community know a winner has been picked.

The previously mentioned Random Comment Picker Tool generates a template with the name of the participant who won the contest.

Meanwhile, you can also quickly create one yourself — Canva is a great go-to tool for this.

During the winner announcement, use the opportunity to thank all participants and let them know about your next contest, so that they would be encouraged to take part next time and have something to look forward to. At this point, encourage them to subscribe to your newsletter or like your Page and account so they can stay on top of your updates and future announcements.

At this same stage, mark the competition as “over” in the original post to avoid any possible confusion. Alternatively, you can also completely delete your post if you’d want.

Here is an example of a way to announce your winner via Instagram and closing up a competition with @mummymeagz ‘s Instagram post:

Announce the winner of your social media giveaway

3.3. Monitor your social media contest results

Evaluating your results starts with monitoring and analyzing your performance metrics —  remember we talked about setting them in the beginning?

Choosing the correct KPIs is crucial in order to have a clear, quantified and in-depth vision of whether your contest has been a success or not in relation to your goal. A good basis to start with would be collecting the following data:

  • The total number of participants
  • Your post’s Engagement Rate
  • Number of product trials generated
  • Purchases made
  • Website traffic

Don’t forget that not every KPI is created equal: they all depend on what your overall objective was. So, for different goals in different business areas, you’d have different KPIs —  and that’s normal.

It’s useful to track KPIs not just at the end of the contest, but during the entire time of its running, since you’d be able to see how successful your promotion efforts have been, too.

On top of this, a great tactic to optimize your efforts overtime is to compare your results from one contest to another. Your experience will benefit your understanding of what your community is responsive to and help you create more successful contests in the future.

So, to sum up:

Find the tools that will help you collect the data you are looking for and learn from your previous efforts to adjust and improve your future contest strategies!

After all, practice makes perfect, doesn’t it?


Over to you! Have you ever tried to launch a giveaway contest on your social media channels?

About the author
Romane Regad

Romane Regad

Romane is a 360 Marketer sharing her best Instagram tips and tricks with both our English- and French-speaking audiences. When not busy with all things marketing, you can find her trying out new flavors of the world, surfing, doing yoga, and experimenting with all sorts of vegan recipes. A true life enthusiast is who she is!

More posts by Romane Regad

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