How to Optimize Contests in a Social Media Campaign


To be successful in a social media campaign, you need to have a mechanism for audience growth. Most of your tactics, such as posting new content regularly and engaging with your audience on a regular basis, will carry this effect to some degree, but if you’re interested in scaling your strategy up, or if your traditional methods have led you to a plateau, you’ll need something stronger to earn new followers.

One of the best ways to accomplish this are social media contests, which offer up a prize or reward in exchange for some audience participation. Contests are especially powerful because they have a tangible incentive, they include a natural means of engagement, and they’re highly shareable, thus making them highly visible and capable of yielding a strong ROI.

But how can you make sure you’re getting the most out of your social media contests?

How To Optimize Social Media Contests

Step One: Choose the Right Function

Don’t let the generic term “contest” confuse you; there are actually a number of different types of contests you could use to support your brand. Some will work better for you than others, but each have advantages and disadvantages.

These are some of the most popular forms to choose from:

  • Like and share contests. Like and share contests are very simple; every person who likes or shares the post you make will be entered into a drawing to win the prize. This will encourage lots of participation, but at a fleeting level of engagement.
  • Purchase-based or offsite contests. This approach demands some external interaction, such as purchasing a product. It’s hard to motivate people to move past the barrier of a given social platform, but if you can succeed, you’ll earn direct revenue or conversions.
  • Simple user-submitted content. These include things like caption contests or basic trivia — engagement is higher, but still reasonable to encourage lots of participation.
  • Intensive user-submitted content. These include photo and video contests, or anything that demands higher skills or time investments. They’ll generate lower participation, but much more meaningful engagement and probably more visibility as well.

Once you’ve chosen a “shell” form, you can move on to the next step.

Step Two: Choose the Right Incentive

The best social media contests have something truly special to offer their audience. What you choose should depend on your demographics, as well as your company. For example, if you sell consumer products, you could simply offer one of your most popular items for free as a prize. If you sell subscription software, you could offer a few months of free use. If you don’t sell something most consumers would like, or if your products and services are too expensive to give away, you can try offering something like an Amazon gift card, or some other generic prize package. As for the value, that depends on how big you want to make your contest — the bigger the prize, the more engagement you’re liable to receive.

Step Three: Choose the Right Platform

Next, you’ll want to choose the right social media platforms on which to host your contest. You could feasibly opt for multiple platforms here, but try to choose one that specifically fits your contest type. For example, Instagram is a platform custom-made for taking and uploading photos; if you’re trying to run a user-submitted photo contest, Instagram may be a better platform than something like LinkedIn.

Step Four: Start Promoting and Diversify Your Approach

Start promoting your contest with at least one strong visual, and a concise, compelling headline that gets people to participate. You’ll want to promote your material in different ways as well, posting at different times of day and possibly mentioning your contest to your current customers over email or your preferred communication medium. If you’re invested in this contest, you may also consider promoting it with paid advertising for an extra boost.

Step Five: Repeat and Remind

Just as you would syndicate content to increase its visibility, you’ll want to syndicate your contest a handful of times to make sure your entire audience gets the opportunity to see and interact with it. Be sure to change up your visuals and your copy, both to AB test and figure out what approach works best, and to differentiate your material so your audiences won’t get tired of seeing the same thing crop up in their newsfeeds over and over. Try not to do this more than once a day, with more frequent posts as you get closer to your contest deadline.

Step Six: Show Off Your Winner(s)

Eventually, you’ll have a winner (or winners), and you can wrap up the competition. Be sure to publicly recognize the winner, and post a picture of them with your prize (if possible). This will generate some extra visibility for the contest at the last minute, prove that your company followed through on the deal, and will generate more interest in future contests that you choose to hold.

Social media contests aren’t for every brand, and following these steps isn’t a guarantee of success. Contests work best for brands that already have a decent following, or ones with a high propensity for going viral — such as ones that offer popular consumer products. Still, if you have a good angle for visibility and a good idea to support your intentions, there’s nothing stopping you from running fully-optimized, high-ROI social media contests for your brand.

Prizes Photo via Shutterstock

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Timothy Carter


Timothy Carter Timothy Carter is the Director of Business Development for the Seattle-based content marketing & social media agency, AudienceBloom. When Timothy isn't telling the world about the great work his company does, he's planning his next trip to Hawaii while drinking some Kona coffee.

2 Reactions

  1. Contests are a great way to get people moving – you can get them to join a group, like a page or do other things. The best part is that it increases your page’s following.

  2. I think that social media contests are also a great way to collaborate between brands. They can always host a joint giveaway while promoting each other.

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