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Step-by-Step Guide on How to Run an Effective Social Media Contest

Social media can be a powerful marketing tool, but only if you have an audience that’s reading what you’re sharing. One of the most cost-effective ways to build your following is to run a giveaway. People love the idea of getting something for free, and you will undoubtedly love driving more traffic to your website and gathering more leads, so it’s a win-win situation.

However, there are some general rules that you need to think about before you throw together an online raffle or contest. You have to know what kind of prize your target audience would be interested in, and you have to promote your giveaway in a way that isn’t overly intrusive or obnoxious. Here are the steps you should take to ensure that your social media contest goes as well as possible.

Step 1: Research your target audience.

Different prizes will attract different consumers, so the first step is to understand who specifically you want to follow your social media accounts.

  • Geographic Location: Businesses that are not limited by a specific location usually see the best results from social media contests. Why? Because they have a wider audience to reach and more people who can possibly share their message.That doesn’t mean you can’t have success as a geographically-based business, but you do need to ensure you’re not just gathering “likes” from people who can’t convert into paying customers. For instance, if you deliver pizza in Austin, TX, then it’s not helpful to connect to someone who lives in China. Since it’s hard to truly verify where users who enter the contest are coming from, instead you have to ensure that you’re offering a geographically-limited prize.
  • Income and Lifestyle: A builder of high-end homes is obviously going to target a very different demographic than a record store in a college town. Make sure your prize fits the needs and desires of your target customer.If your product is already tied to something the customer enjoys, such as a hobby or entertainment, then finding the right prize might be easy, but if you offer something less exciting, like roof repair or dentistry, then you need to learn more about what your customers want. Here are a few sources for information:
    • Google Analytics
      Under Audience, you can turn on the demographics reports to learn more about your users, including their interests. You can use this information to determine what category is best to choose your prize from.
      Fanelli_Analytics Interests
    • Quantcast
      This site also offers analytics about your visitors, including age, gender, and lifestyle information. You’ll find information on other sites that your visitors tend to frequent.
    • Fanelli_Quantcase Audience Likes
    • Zip Code Analysis
      Yes, it can help you learn about the geographic limitations of your customer base, but it’s also a valuable tool to learning more about their income and lifestyle.  Nielsen has a lifestyle segmentation system that tells you what type of customer lives in each zip code.  The site provides a free tool that allows you to look up individual zip codes this way.

Fanelli_Lifestyle Segments

  • Gender: If you offer beauty products for women, then having men share your page isn’t effective. So if you offer a gender-specific product or service (or if your target decision maker tends to skew heavily one way or the other), you need to offer a gender-specific prize as well.Again, tools like Google Analytics and Quantcast can be eye-opening if you’re not sure about who’s purchasing your products.

Step 2: Select your prize.

Now that you’re armed with data, you can find the right prize for your social media contest.

  • Give away what you offer. If you have an exciting, fun product or service, sometimes the most cost-effective solution is to offer a gift certificate or product, but the data you collected will still be valuable for determine what value your gift will need to be in order to attract your target audience. It may not seem like a large investment of time and energy to share an image and like a page, but the higher income your target audience has, the higher value your prize must have to motivate them to take action.The other positive of this approach is that you’ll be connecting to people who are actively interested specifically in what you’re offering. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have bothered entering the giveaway, right?
  • Choose a gift card. The monetary value is clear and upfront, and it provides the winner with flexibility in how it’s used. If you have a wide consumer base, then the more general the gift card, the better. For example, giveaways of gift cards for major retailers like Target or Home Depot typically do very well, even in more modest sums like $25 or $50. It’s useful to just about anyone, so you’ll have a wide range of people liking and sharing.
  • Offer something from a nearby business. Unfortunately, for businesses that are limited geographically, it’s not as useful to hit up a wider audience. You want to target only people in your local area. A great way to do this is to offer a gift card or free product from a local business. Popular restaurants are a great option.When selecting a business, take into consideration the success of their social networks. Do they have a healthy following? Contact the business to find out if they would be willing to allow you to promote the giveaway on their social networks. After all, it’s a win-win for you both. And it’s very little effort and no cost on their part, since you’re paying for the prize, designing the giveaway images, and promoting the giveaway. If they aren’t willing to let you promote on their social media, then find someone who will. It’s a powerful tool for generating new followers if you find the right match for your business.
  • Avoid discounts. It’s hard to motivate people to sign up for a discount since taking advantage of it means that they’ll have to spend money. The exception is if you offer a very high value product or service, and the discount will make it more accessible to your audience. However, the thing to consider is if that’s the audience you really want anyway. If they’re not willing or able to purchase what you offer without a discount, then they’re less likely to be as valuable as connections.

Step 3: Select the target social network.

You can run your giveaway on multiple social networks at a time, but it’s a good idea to research where your target audience actually frequents so you can focus there.

Fanelli_Social Media Demographics

  • Facebook: The most popular social network, 71% of adults who are online use this social network. Most brands should have a strong presence here.
  • LinkedIn: More men use this social network. Since it’s primarily used for business purposes, it’s a good match for B2B promotions. It’s a good match for those targeting white-collar, highly educated professionals.
  • Twitter: This social network is popular with African-Americans and 18 to 29-year-olds. It’s popular in urban and suburban areas, but hasn’t really taken hold in rural areas.
  • Pinterest: This fast-growing social network skews heavily females– women are 4 times more likely to use the social network.  It’s a good match for beauty, fashion, home, and design brands as well as tablet users.
  • Google+: The most male-oriented – 70%. Male-dominated brands, such as those related to cars, sports, gaming, and technology, are a good fit.
  • Instagram: This social network attracts the youngest audience, over 90% of users are under the age of 35, and it also boasts high engagement from its users.

Of course, this is just a slice of the data available. You can learn more about the demographics of the top social networks here:

Step 4: Determine the Social Media Contest Details

  •  How to Enter: Make it as simple as possible. Generally, you want them to do two things:1. Share, repost, or pin your image
    2. Follow your brand’s page.Giveaways that ask too much more of their users often flounder, though requiring them to comment on the initial post can help make it easier for you to select the winner.
  • Restrictions. Typically, you want to limit your giveaway to those 18 and older in the United States. There are additional laws that must be followed for minors, so it’s important to exclude them. The same is true if you open the giveaway up to other countries.If you’d like to restrict it to a more specific geographic area, consider making it a little broader than your actual target. If you’re aiming at a few specific cities, make the offer available to the entire state instead, so you can take advantage of a slightly larger audience to spread the word to your target customers.
  • Contest End. It’s important to let people know when they have to enter by – and don’t stop at the date, include a time, too. You want to make the rules as clear as possible. Generally, you want to run a social media contest for between 3 and 4 weeks to get the best possible response.

You can learn more about the specific legal requirements of running a giveaway here.

Step 5: Create the Graphics

How clear and attractive your giveaway image is plays an important role in the success of your promotion. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Optimize it for the social network you are targeting. Take advantage of the full real estate that the dimensions allow.
    • Facebook: 403 x 648
    • Instagram: 612 x 612
    • Google+: 497 x 373
    • Pinterest: 735 x Anything
  • Include all relevant information. You don’t want the image to get cluttered, but make sure you include all the basics.
    • The prize
    • An image of the prize
    • Your brand name and logo
    • Your social media account name (whether that’s @username or the full Facebook business page name)
    • Steps to enter
    • Any eligibility restrictions
    • End date
  • Put the prize front and center. You shouldn’t have to hunt in the image to figure out what you’re trying to win. Use a large and clear image to make it immediately obvious, and then place your logo in a more discrete (but still noticeable) spot. You want to get people excited about the offer first and foremost; they’ll have to notice and connect with your brand to complete their entry.

Step 6: Promote the Giveaway.

Now you’re ready to start! The first step, of course, is simply to post on your social networks, but don’t stop there. Here are other ways to get the word out:

  • Your Blog or Newsletter: Use any method of online marketing you’ve already developed to get the word out. It just takes a moment to put together a blog post or blurb for your next newsletter.
  • Facebook Groups: These users are already on the social network, so it just takes them an extra few steps to enter. Below are a few, and you can find more groups by searching Facebook for: Groups named “giveaways” or “contests”.
  • Giveaway Sites: These sites promote your giveaway on their website and sometimes through newsletters and their own social media networks.
  • Press Release: Don’t waste your money submitting it to PRWeb or PRNewswire, since your goal isn’t to get picked up by news media. Instead, you can send it to blogs related to your industry to see if they will help promote the giveaway. Many enjoy promoting giveaways since it’s useful and interesting to their readers. Be sure to include the giveaway image to make it even easier for them.

Step 7: Announce the Winner and Analyze Your Results

Make a formal announcement of the social media contest winner. It doesn’t need to be an elaborate post, but let people know that you followed through and selected a winner.

Take note of your follower growth. Here are a few tools you can use to see the growth to your social media accounts:

  • Facebook Page Insights: Visit your business’s Facebook page, and the click “Insights” at the top. Here you’ll gain access to a wide range of analytics.
  • Fanelli_Facebook Insights
  • Iconosquare: This Instagram tool provides you with stats on follows, likes, and comments as well as tips for optimization including recommending times to post and hashtags to use.


  • HootSuite: Another tool you can use to track growth on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn. Under Analytics, you can run a wealth of reports:

Fanelli_HootSuite Reports

  • Follow your engagement over the next month or so. Did you attract new followers who are interacting with your brand? Or have they largely tuned out?
  • Try a different prize for your next giveaway. And track the results. Over time, you’ll have a good sense of what prizes work best and which attract the most engaged followers.

15 thoughts on “Step-by-Step Guide on How to Run an Effective Social Media Contest”

  1. Thanks for the nice Article. It was very useful for me. Keep Such sharing ideas in the Future. Thanks for sharing your thoughts 🙂

  2. 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.

  3. Hey, thanks for such a nice guide. Your writeup changes the entire way i think of social media. I never knew we can promote our website/business with social media on such scale. Thanks for such a nice share. I am gonna bookmark you and will expect more relevant guides. Thanks 🙂

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