8 Must Haves For Your Twitter Contest

Spend ten minutes on Twitter and you’re likely to find someone giving away an iPad, iPhone or iSomething. Contest marketing is everywhere on social media and it hasn’t escaped SMB owners looking for new ways to gain followers or build awareness. And it hasn’t for one important reason – it works!

Contests are a great way to build awareness and excitement over your brand because they provide something everyone can behind – free stuff! However, just because it doesn’t cost anything (other than a great prize) to set up a Twitter contest, it doesn’t mean they don’t require some careful planning and foresight.

Here are 8 Must Haves to keep in mind when running a Twitter contest to help you get the most from your efforts.

A Concept

Your first step is to nail down the concept for your contest. Are you going to run the whole thing through Twitter or are you going to direct people back to your site, as well? What’s your initial contest plan or idea? This is going to be strongly influenced by what you hope to get from the content. For example, are you looking for increased brand awareness, Twitter followers, blog subscribers, user-generated content? You want to target what you’re doing to match the desire effect.

Don’t forget to give some consideration to who your audience is and to think outside of the box. Just because you sell wedding dresses, doesn’t mean you can’t create a contest asking people to send you videos of someone destroying their couture wedding dress ala MyExWife’sWeddingDress. The idea is to associate your brand with something fun, engaging and creative.

Great Prizes

The first rule of contest marketing is never skimp in prizes! The prize is why people will (or will not) enter your contest. I’ve found it’s often better to give away smaller prizes more frequently than one giant prize at the end. The more chances someone has to win, the more interested they’re going to be and the longer you’ll be able to hold their interest.

Try to make your prize something someone would actually want. For example, while you may like your green environmental tote bag or logo T-shirt, it may not be enough to get people excited over a week-long span. Educational opportunities, gadgets, and cash tend to be crowd pleasers. If you’re a small business owner without too much money to throw around, you may want to look into finding sponsors to help you.

Active Sponsors

The more people you can get involved in your contest the better. Finding sponsors to support your contest will help you offer more lucrative prizes, will increase your promotional army (they’ll promote your contest for you!), and will naturally expose your content to a new audience. When looking for sponsors, consider teaming up with related bloggers, local organizations and nearby businesses. Find ways to cross-promote that will benefit everyone.

A Plan to Create Buzz

Creating the idea for the contest is great, but how are you going to promote it? Ideally, you want to have this figured out BEFORE the contest starts. That may mean creating a list of bloggers you’ll reach out to for coverage, knowing the Twitter users you’ll ask for mentions, featuring the contest in your company newsletter, knowing which sites to submit your contest page to, creating badges for people to put on their site, creating a contest widget, etc. There are tons of great ways to get the word out or promote good content, make sure you have a plan for how you’ll do it before you need to.

An Official Hashtag

Hashtags are the preferred way for most Twitter users to spread and track information. A hashtag is a hyperlinked keyword that starts with a # sign. For example, if you’ve ever been on Twitter on a Friday, you’re probably familiar with the #followfriday tag. By clicking on the hashtag, you’re directed to a search page that shows you everyone else using the same hashtag. It lets people track information around a topic or event.

You need to create a hashtag for your contest and promote it as the official tag for the event. Try to keep it short so it’s easy to retweet and use something that’s relevant to the contest or your brand. You’ll want to keep a close eye on this hashtag as the contest is going on.

An Easy Way To Participate

Okay, so how are people going to enter your contest? Will they have to retweet something, send you an @ message, use a specific hashtag, send you a twitpic, do something on your actual site (leave a comment, create a video), etc? Obviously the lower the barrier to entry, the more submissions (and spam) you’ll receive, so choose wisely.

Some of the most popular Twitter contest rely on users retweeting something with the suggested hashtag or @’ing you on Twitter. This gives users an easy way to participate and also increases your brand awareness and follower count since people constantly see your name. Be careful to read up on the guidelines for contests on Twitter, however, which discourage contests asking users to retweet the same message over and over. Instead, have users retweet a unique phrase or answer a question using a specific hashtag.

A Fun Way To Announce The Winner

Don’t forget this part! You need to come up with a clever (or at least manageable) way for you to pick a winner in your contest. Naturally, this will depend on whatever concept you came up with earlier. If you had people submit user-generated content, then maybe your sponsors can act as your panel of judges and help you pick a winner. If people entered your contest by retweeting something, maybe you’re using a service like Random.org to pick a random number. Whatever you choose, make sure users know how it’s going to be done early on and that it makes sense for the type of content you’re looking at.

A Plan For After The Contest

This is super important. One of the most common mistakes I see SMB owners making with contests is that they don’t think about the after effect. You’re running this contest to build brand awareness, get followers and get people back to your sitehow are you going to keep them there once the contest ends? Have you created a contest landing page that will encourage these users to subscribe to your blog, Fan you on Facebook or lead to other social media ROI touch points? Are you creating your best content while the contest is happening to capitalize on the attention? If not, you may lose all the attention and eyeballs you worked so hard to create. Make sure you create a plan for how you’re going to bridge the contest to get people back to your site. Let them go and you’ll never get back those eyeballs.

Some are some best practices for running contests on Twitter. Anything I’ve missed or experiences you’d like to share?


Lisa Barone Lisa Barone is Vice President of Strategy at Overit, an Albany Web design and development firm where she serves on the senior staff overseeing the company’s marketing consulting, social media, and content divisions.

14 Reactions
  1. Promotions like you described Lisa have been used by consumer product companies for decades. Although people need to click through to a site promotions can also be used for more than awareness such as a way of rewarding current users or gaining trial of a service or product in the range.

    The only other point is to measure the results to see if it works.

  2. What a great set of tips! Thanks for the heads-up on Random.org – I had no idea about that site.

    What about rules? The unfortunate part of running contests via Twitter is many times you have to come up with rules containing all the legalese of the contest. Plus, as I’ve learned from prior experience, there is a legal difference between a “contest” and a “sweepstakes” – the former involves participants demonstrating some sort of skill and the winner is chosen based on that, and the latter involves choosing a winner completely at random.

  3. Excellent article, we are in the middle of a twitter contest at the moment, we hope it goes well, a chance to win 1000 dollars by going to http://www.twitter.com/reviewanygame and follow and retweet.

  4. Does Twitter allow the contest host to ask contestants to not only follow them on Twitter but also become blog subscribers i.e. sign up for the mailing list?

  5. “What about rules? The unfortunate part of running contests via Twitter is many times you have to come up with rules containing all the legalese of the contest.”

    @ Kari: Why not consider outsourcing the job? You can get fantastic rates with workers/writers on sites such as Odesk, Freelancer or my personal favorite for outsourcing, Vworker. As a site owner, contester, freelancer and more… I have had great experiences as a worker and employer with these sites and others like them. There are many to choose from.

    If you’re the kind of person who enjoys running and coming up with concepts for your contests, you can just hire a writer. On the other hand, if you don’t want to have to deal with it, but you still want to reap the benefits, you can even hire someone to manage, plan and run your contest promotion for you!

    As to pricing, it’s usually a bidding process although you can set an hourly rate with Vworker if you’d prefer. The last “legalese” doc I did I only charged $20 for so it’s not expensive at all and if you hate writing or just aren’t sure what to write…it’s a perfect solution! Also, you can reuse the doc. for many contests because as the employer you will retain all the copyrights to the writing.

    Hope that helps!
    Baja Creative Solutions