Social Media Strategy, Social Media Marketing

13 Ingredients in the Perfect Social Media Contest

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Social media contests 13 ingredients

Original image from

Jay Baer Blog Post

With the competition for attention within social media at an all-time high, the struggle to keep “fans” and “followers” engaged with your company’s social outposts is real, and ongoing. In addition to smart use of visuals (see our “Social Media Image of the Week” blog series for inspiration), businesses often turn to social media contests and promotions to stir passion and activity within their online audience.

But it’s not as easy as just tweeting “who wants to win an ipad!?” Excellent social media contests require substantial planning and nimble execution, and have many moving parts and potential points of failure.

Here’s a checklist of 13 ingredients you’ll need before launching the perfect social media contest:


Where will this contest take place? Facebook? Instagram? Twitter? Or will it be present in multiple venues, like a photo contest where participants can enter on Facebook or Instagram? Remember, that each time you add a venue for participation, your oversight responsibilities grow geometrically.

Entry Mechanism

How do people qualify to enter your social media contest? There are hundreds of variations, but there are six main categories of participation mechanism. They are: Sweepstakes (nothing required – most common on Twitter); Connect (like/follow the company’s social account to enter); Like (like a particular piece of content to enter); Share (share a piece of content to enter); Vote (state preference from among multiple pieces of content to enter); Create (develop user-generated content and upload to enter). Remember, the more you ask your audience to do, the fewer will do it. Remember too, that the younger your audience, the more comfortable they will be creating content for your contest.


Is this contest seasonal? Does it tie into a particular product or service? Remember, the theme/name will guide the rest of the creative, so take some time to come up with something that resonates. Also, try to keep your contest name short, as long names eat up valuable characters in tweets and social media ads.


This is where you coordinate the major elements of the social media contest. The best approach here is to work backward from the date that you want to announce winners. From there, figure out when judging starts/ends (if applicable), when entries close, when entries open, when promotion starts, and other key milestones.


Unless you are planning a very simple Twitter promotion, you’ll need graphics to support your contest. These may include cover and profile images, logos, headers, landing pages, emails, promoted posts and other forms of native advertising. To make sure your design team doesn’t mutiny, use your timeline from step 4 and give them ONE list of everything you need, including specific pixel dimensions and required language. For Facebook, remember the 20% rule when creating graphics for promoted posts.


What will winners receive? This is a place for you to be creative, and most social media contests are far too obvious here (see “win an ipad” above).

Remember, the prize itself can be the theme for the contest, as with the legendary “best job in the world” campaign from Tourism Queensland. The best contests have prizes that tie directly back to the company itself, and this becomes particularly important when you consider the downstream results of this effort. You want to activate and attract people who are genuinely interested in your business, not just “contest hunters” who enter everything they can find. So, if you sell fishing gear give away fishing gear as a prize, not an ipad.

Editorial Calendar

Here’s where you map out (via Excel, a special Google calendar and/or your social media management software) all the social media messages, email messages and other communications about your promotion. You don’t necessarily have to write all of the messages in advance – although it’s not a bad idea, and your legal team may require it. Remember that your social media contest (and corresponding communications) has five phases: pre-launch; launch; last chance; completion; winners. You need to plan multiple messages in multiple platforms for each phase.

Seeding Strategy

This applies to the pre-launch and launch phases of your social media contest, and is where you figure out how to give your promotion the best chance of lift-0ff in the critical early days of the promotion. What you’re trying to do here is make sure that the people who already love you, and the people who have disproportionate number of social connections are fully aware of the contest and are ready to participate and spread the word the minute the promotion begins. This could include special “shhhh, coming soon” emails to key customers and social influencers, making sure all employees are aware of the event and other opportunities. You do not want to “soft launch” a contest, especially on Facebook where the algorithm dictates that slow starters get buried.

Amplification Strategy

With the exception of simple Twitter contests and basic Facebook contests that are managed within your timeline, you will probably need some sort of amplification to ensure that your contest has the reach (and garners the attention) you desire. This may include Facebook ads (think about custom audiences ads shown only to your email subscribers), Facebook promoted posts, Twitter promoted tweets, ad opportunities on Instagram and Pinterest, amplification networks like Outbrain, Taboola and Stumble, and other options. Remember that even if your social media contest is taking place on one platform, you can use multiple platforms to amplify it.


I purposefully put rules and legal advice 10th on this list because I have found it is much easier to have legal weigh in on the entirety of the program (including seeding, editorial, amplification) all at once, instead of having them look at the mechanism and prizes first, and then going back to them later with a second round of inquiries about the other elements. As with the design team, make legal’s job easier by giving them the total picture up-front. Nice post here on the new rules governing Facebook contests, specifically.

Community Management

Participants and prospective entrants will have questions and comments about your contest. Some will be easy to address. Others may not be so simple. It is absolutely critical (even for simple contests) that you have a defined plan for who is moderating and overseeing your social outposts (and not just the one(s) where the contest is located), and when. What is your plan for nights and weekends coverage? Your day-to-day community management realities will likely be modest compared to what you need to accomplish during a contest. Plan for this.

Crisis Plan

You should have a social media crisis plan anyway, but if you’ve never created one the launch of your new contest is an excellent fulcrum to get it finished. Will something go massively awry with your contest, causing you to need to activate your crisis plan? Probably not. But if it does, and you don’t have that crisis plan to turn to in that critical moment, the chances you’ll ever get to do another contest are just about zero. Consider this to be the “I’m not about to get fired because of a contest” ingredient of this recipe. (see my popular “8 steps to manage a social media crisis” post and slides here)

Software (sometimes)

As with amplification, you may not need software if your social media contest is very straightforward. But for any sort of contest that requires data collection as part of the entry mechanism you’ll need software to help build and manage the affair. There are literally dozens of software packages that help you do this, either as their sole function or as part of a larger suite of social media management capabilities. Here at Convince & Convert we’re familiar with most of them but haven’t used them all first-hand.

But, software I can personally recommend (please feel free to nominate others in the comments) includes:

  • Agorapulse (for small/mid-sized companies on Facebook. Their founder Emeric Ernoult is my favorite frenchman, and has written several great posts here)
  • OfferPop (for mid-sized companies on Facebook and beyond. Great guys, and they’ve done some nice promotion of my new book, Youtility)
  • ExactTarget Marketing Cloud (for large companies on Facebook and beyond these folks – also terrific clients of mine – can do it all (formerly Buddy Media))
  • Google Wildfire (for medium/large companies on Facebook and beyond, these nice people may be the market leader and have also done some cool stuff with me on Youtility)
  • Statigram (for medium/large companies on Instagram and Facebook. Outstanding for serious Instagram contests)
  • Piqora (for medium/large companies on Pinterest. The leaders in Pinterest-specific contest oversight – and metrics)

Those are the 13 ingredients of the perfect social media contest. What did I miss?

Facebook Comments


  1. says

    Great tips! One thing that we did at Citrix to streamline our efforts was to agree to a sweepstakes/contest template with our Legal team. This allows us to fill in a few fields and then we just send it by them as an FYI rather than taking up time to await legal review.

  2. Mike says

    I am adding about a 1,000 subscribers to my list through Facebook sweepstakes. You should differentiate between sweepstakes and contests. Sweepstakes is when you enter into a drawing. Normally contests involve some sort of judging.

    I recommend ViralSweep. Really easy to use, reasonably priced and integrates with MailChimp and Aweber. One thing I am finding is that I get more spam complaints on my list from the sweepstakes subscribers. I think it tends to be a lower class of lead.

  3. says

    Good list Jay, thanks for sharing. I’m about do another campaign and this one will be on AgoraPulse. I’ll be following your suggestions from this post. I was having trouble coming up with a prize so your ideas about this really helped. I know people want to give away something that is really awesome, like the iPad, but you made a great point about it not linking back to the company- smart!

  4. says

    As far as tools go — I’ve been using Shortstack for small-to-mid sized businesses for about two years. They’ve always been mobile-friendly (through smart codes) and their support team is top notch.

    And for ingredients, I’d also throw in “goal/objective.” A contest designed solely for Facebook page likes should be constructed quite differently from one that is meant to crowdsource information, for example.

  5. says

    Nice roundup, Jay! Although I’d disagree with you slightly about waiting to rope in Legal until the end of the process. At a minimum, you may want to give this team a heads up about the prizes ahead of time, particularly if your promotions are nationwide. If prize values surpass a certain ($) threshold, you’ll be faced with registration and bonding requirements in certain states (NY, FL, sometimes RI). This administration can often take an extra week or two to satisfy, and potentially either push your launch date back or cause you to incur fines if the promotion moves forward without compliance.

    The 14th item I would add to your list is this: a tie back to your marketing strategy, complete with metrics for success. It’s tempting to quickly green light a promotion that would be fun for customers to participate in (and that is exciting for your marketing team to develop). But in order to achieve meaningful results, the objectives need to be defined up front and align with your brand’s overarching goals. It sounds like simple check on the list, but it’s not unusual for brands to skip this phase amidst all of the creative excitement, and then regret it later when Management asks them how their program performed.

    Ok, while I’m at it 😉 – the 15th item would be: a game plan for post mortem. Your giveaway probably earned you new Facebook likes or Twitter mentions – now what? After you’ve completed the sweepstakes/contest/etc., what insights do you need that will help you to execute your next promotion better, faster, and in a more relevant way? What does the data tell you about your participants, your customers, or their affinity for your business? I like to look at it this way: “What are the top 3 things we learned that would be most valuable for our business? What metrics/insights/data will help to tell the story?”

  6. says

    Incredibly comprehensive guide for running a contest, Jay. Thanks for sharing The Best Job in the World case study. It’s inspirational for thinking beyond a run-of-the-mill prize that any other type of company might give away. I think the most important takeaway regarding that though, is the natural tie in for the Australian Tourism Bureau. A cool prize will catch attention, but if it doesn’t align with your brand, you’ll come off as phony.

  7. Fatemeh Fakhraie says

    Great article with a lot of helpful points. The idea of working backward from announcing contest winners is really helpful. Thanks for writing this!

  8. Josh Light says

    Great article Jay. How inclined are youth at being willing to produce content? It would be interesting to see some data behind this.

    Do you have any research on slow starters getting buried on Facebook? Would be nice to check that out.

    Nice points @carla_bourque:disqus

    Have you thought about pulling in Snapchat in the contest mix?

  9. nbliberman says

    Jay, this posting provides a great, basic framework for
    those considering contests and promotions as part of their marketing mix.
    I might add that one of the key steps overlooked here is setting goals, such as KPIs or measurements, from the outset of promo planning. If one objective is building your list of names, a sweepstakes where consumers enter a name and contact info then leave without engaging further is one approach. If your endgame is to build a list of actionable leads, you’ll want to include brand content and make the experience informative, engaging and immersive. The strategy outlined here strikes me as one-off in nature.

    In full candor, I work for Dailybreak Media, and we too offer tools with which to build contests, promotions and the like. Our experience, counter to your observation that younger audiences are comfortable creating content, has shown that moms are also extremely active and participatory in these types of contests, especially those that involve any sort of UGC where they can upload pictures of their kids, pets and home

  10. says

    Organising an efficient contest in your content plan can be a good, hard thing to do. But you have to be clear on what is it you want to accomplish and who you are targeting. Then every detail, including the prizes as you mentioned, has to be something that brings your audience closer to your goal.

  11. says

    awesome post jay! I’m in the process of making a wordpress plugin/theme giveaway so I wanted to find some good information on how to do that. In the past, my issue has always been the amplification and I don’t know for, some reason I never thought to purchase ads for my giveaway. To me it almost seemed counterintuitive. However, that is something that I will try in this next giveaway thanks!