A beginner’s guide to running social media competitions

If you’ve not thought about running a social media contest before, it can be a fun and quick way of adding some new fans. Competitions on Twitter, Facebook and the like can also help you build up your email list and driving relevant and interested traffic to your site.

We’ve recently been planning the social media strategy competition for a client and because some social networks – Facebook in particular – have changed their stance on contests in recent weeks, it seemed a useful subject to share thoughts and experiences.

There can also be some unexpected potential pitfalls, so it’s worth doing a bit of research and not blithely sallying forth onto Facebook or Pinterest with your crafty plan to grab a few thousand new customers.

Rules of social media engagement

First thing is, be aware of the rules. The internet is no longer a Wild West, and newly corporate Facebook and Twitter (and their head legal adviser Mr Buzz Killington) have got a bit stricter and lain down a few new laws on all forms of ‘promotion’.

For instance, Facebook long ago outlawed the use of personal timelines to administer promotions – so you cannot say “share this on your timeline to enter the competition” or “share on your friend’s timeline to get additional entries”.

Mark Zuckerberg’s crew had previously said promotions on Facebook could only be administered through apps and could not use likes as a voting or contest entry mechanism – but in August they removed that requirement. So now, businesses can run competitions on their page timelines as well as Facebook apps and can use likes as a voting mechanism.

You can also now collect entries by having users post, comment and like on the page or a page post, together with asking for contest entries by having users message the page.

There were plenty of changes from Facebook as they updated their page terms in order to make it easier to administer competitions so it’s worth having a read of those before you get started. (Here’s a good post reacting to the changes Facebook made.)

But in case you can’t be bothered to go to those links it’s worth stressing that one of the key terms is that competitions must imply a “complete release of Facebook by each entrant or participant” and “acknowledgement that the promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Facebook”.

Facebook supplies the people, as the social network, but doesn’t want to take any of the legal risks of you buggering everything up.

Twitter have a similar stance. Here’s their ‘Guidelines for contests on Twitter‘.

And here’s a good example of a tweet with a #win hashtag to help people search for the compo and a link to the rules on their website.

Twitter teedrobe

Aims and targets

The reason our client ran the competition was to increase their site’s social media following and to engage with the users on the site, together with the added possibility of trying to reward some loyal followers if possible too.

Setting out what you want to achieve is useful, as you might discover colleagues have other aims for the contest that require different social media or different competition structure.

A mini strategy scribbled somewhere might later help to refocus you if and when you become distracted or drawn off course down the line. I’m sure there’s some other reason but I’ve forgotten what that is .

Pick an appropriate prize

Clearly the more awesome the prize, the more people are likely to take part. Flights overseas and electronic gadgetry have been particularly successful prizes in competitions I’ve been in involved with before.

But the prize depends on what results you want from your competition.

Do you just want the numbers of new likes/followers? Or do you want people who are genuinely interested and likely to use or buy or even just recommend your product?

You can have both, though. Phew, eh?

A financially focused website offering an ipad is probably going to get some people entering the competition who have no interest in reading articles about investment or opening a foreign exchange dealing account, they will put up with a few ‘boring’ Facebook posts for the chance to win a nice shiny Apple fondleslab.

They are not really relevant customers however.

As one financial services marketer tells me:

“We do a monthly competition which we’ve been doing for over three years now – it continues to be very popular and actually drives customer acquisition. The prize is free currency trading credit on our site so we get traders or those interested in trading that compete for it.

She says when the company first set up its Facebook four years ago they ran competitions such as fantasy football to win a TV to draw fans to the page but this is no longer appropriate.

“It was successful at the time though I don’t do that kind of promotion any more as I’m looking for people to join our page that are truly interested in our products and what we have to say.”

Is it a one-off or a regular social competition?

Turning the camera back to us – “Back to me, Clive!” as Keith Floyd used to bark – TIW’s client had a prize fund of 20 copies of a best-selling book to give away and we felt there was a decision to make in the frequency of the competition.

One option is to have one big competition where they gave all the books away to 20 people.

An alternative option they could choose was to have regular competitions: say one prize given away per week over an extended period. I saw this option as being a good way to keep people enthused and returning regularly.

Or, in between the two alternatives was an idea to run four competitions, one every few months, and give away 5 books to 5 people each time.

The offer of a book, in this instance, is not necessarily an amazing prize but is something of some intellectual value that most people who use the site would enjoy.

The low value of the prize meant that before the competition was launched it was reassuring for the client to have no real risk, but the small concern was whether the prize would be attractive enough to create interest in non-regulars.

Twists and turns of Twitter

If you’re using various social networks, make sure you know their ins and out before launching something like a competition.

Most marketers are familiar with Facebook, but although Twitter claims more than 200 million users worldwide, it remains a bit more challenging for the technophobe and using it as your competition medium offers its own potential pitfalls due to the peculiarities and restrictions of the network.

tiw twitter blog pic1

tiw twitter blog pic2

The 140 character limit is just one of them.

TWITTER IS A FAST-MOVING SOCIAL MEDIUM: Marketers run competitions on Twitter as you can very quickly tap into a huge audience. The best way to do this is by skilfully using hashtags.

Thousands of people search for the hashtags #competition or #win (win has more searches, as the graphs from hashtags.org show) each day to see what they can win, so if you’re not too fussy and want to get a big uptake, make sure you include #competition in your competition tweets (or #contest if you want to appeal to a US audience).

competition hashtagwin hashtag

DON’T MAKE A HASH OF YOUR HASHTAG: However, while creating hashtags in Twitter or Facebook is the best way to link your competition entries together and help them go viral, mut make sure they don’t give rise to unfortunate new word combinations.

One of the most infamous foul-ups was when Susan Boyle’s management team promoted the shy Scottish songstress’s new album launch party with the hashtag #susanalbumparty. Su’s anal bum party was the unfortunate phrase on everyone’s lips for a while – and there’s been plenty more mirthful hashtag idiocy on Twitter.

BEWARE THE RETWEET-TO-WIN or RT2W: Using ‘retweet-this-to-win’ as a contest entry mechanism is that not only there is often not enough space in Twitter’s 140 character limit to explain everything, but also an entrant does not agree by any rules before retweeting or specifically agree to enter the contest and be bound by their terms.

This can have many legal implications, but luckily there are people who know more about the law and social media elsewhere on the web.

Fine print etc

A solution to the above, and an important safety net generally, is to have a link from your Tweet or Facebook update to a page on your site where you have the space to explain everything in full and include all the legal thingumies.

You might include sections like What can I win? How can I enter? How will I know if I have won? When is the next contest?

Plus fine print such as restrictions are necessary for your competition, such as restrictions to residents of any specific nations, age groups, number of winners and in what time period, how winners will be selected and when, where and how winners will be notified and what they must do to collect their prize.

Under your How To Enter it is a useful opportunity to flag up all the social media that you are running the competition on, if it’s more than just one. For example you might explain “to enter the competition you can do one or all of the following: 1. Like us on Facebook and sign up to our site, 2. Like and comment on our Facebook competition posts, 3. Follow us on Twitter and retweet our competition tweets, 4. Follow us on Tumblr and reblog our competition posts”. Go into as much detail as you like.

You also want legalese phrases to state the obvious, in case of trouble. You might do well to include such things as: “Please note that only Likes, Comments, reblogs and retweets made on posts/tweets published during a given competition period will be counted toward entry into that competition. Likes, Comments, reblogs and retweets made on posts/tweets from previous months will not count.”

“No purchase necessary. No cash alternative is available. Void where prohibited. The winner is responsible for paying any taxes due. By entering the competition you agree that, should you win, we may identify you as the winner using your username on Twitter, Facebook or Tumblr as applicable.”

“We reserve the right to change the terms and conditions of our contests at any time, however the terms and conditions will only be changed at the start of a new competition period. Please check back here to see current details at any time.”

Examples of such pages here and here.

Further reading

OK. That’s easily enough from me. Marathon readers or knowledge completists who want even more might give the following links a try.

How To Run A Successful Social Media Competition, by Kiera Pedley on Ask Aaron Lee.

The subtly different How To Run A Successful Social Media Contest, by Lilach Bloch.

The amusing epic fails of Five social media competitions that ended badly: EE, Durex, Pepsi and more on The Drum. And on the other side of the coin, if you want more ideas, here are some successful Facebook contests.

Everything You Need to Run a Successful Social Media Contest, by Brittany Leaning.

8 Social Media Marketing Mistakes to Avoid, by someone else.

Further infographic action

And you’ve got to have an infographic on a blog these days don’t you?

Here’s an excellent one I found earlier, from the shrewd people at Kontest. Click on the graphic to view it properly.


Anyone make it this far

Persistent blighter aren’t you? Your reward is a reminder that the Internet Works offers a host of social media management services, from social strategy to ghost tweeting, together with plenty of related skills in content marketing including blogging and copywriting.


Written by

TIW's head of content. He writes things, mostly content for clients but also TIW blogs. Client content ranges from bespoke web copywriting to business and sports journalism for the likes of ITV, Digital Look, Reuters and the Olympic News Agency.

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