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by Sarah Gardener

How to Plan & Execute a Successful Social Media Contest

Illustration of a winner trophy with stars

Running a social media contest can be a great way to keep your followers engaged with your brand. Who doesn’t love winning free stuff?!

But it’s not as easy as just posting “who wants to win…”. Successful social media contests require planning and execution.

Here’s a checklist to bookmark before you launch your next social media contest

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Outline Your Goals

Having a prize to give away isn’t enough of a reason to have a contest. Ensure you get the most out of your online contest by answering the question, “what do you hope to accomplish?”.

Are you looking to raise awareness of your brand, increase the number of followers to your page, get newsletter subscriptions, or gain exposure for certain products?

Knowing what your goals are will help guide the process (and will help determine if the contest was successful when all is said and done).

Set up the Contest

Once the goals have been outlined, it’s time to set up the contest. This is the most time consuming step, but taking the time to set up the contest properly will help avoid problems down the road. Here are a few things to think about:

Choose Your Platform

Determine whether the contest will run on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Choose one platform and stick to it, while using your other social networks to cross-promote the contest. Hosting your contest on one platform helps avoid confusion and eliminates having to tailor the contest to fit the different rules on each platform. It also makes it easier to select a winner and analyze the results.

Using a third party app can help you execute a contest, and many have free trial plans or versions that are free up to a certain amount of entries. Popular options include Woobox, Wishpond, Shortstack, and Rafflecopter.

Decide the Type of Contest You Want to Have

How will contestants enter the contest? Do they have to like your page, share a photo, tag some friends, use a #hashtag? There are many different types of contests (most popular include Sweepstakes, Photo/Video Creation, Share, Like, Vote), and each one comes with its own pros and cons. For example — a sweepstakes contest, one that asks users to provide their name and email to enter, is the easiest for users to enter but has a low engagement rate. A photo or video contest has the most potential to go viral but requires a lot of effort from contestants.

The easier your contest it is to enter, the more likely it is that people will enter! Making the contest too complicated (ie. too many steps, having a long form to fill out, etc.) will deter people from entering.

When collecting contestant information, only collect information you really need. Asking for more fields than necessary leads to lower participation. When asking for email addresses be sure to include CASL information.

Illustration of pieces of paper that have Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter rules.

Know the Rules

Every social media platform has their own rules for running a contest. Make sure you know the rules. You don’t want to get banned from the site you are trying to use!

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Determine the Prize

What will the winners receive? The contests that work best have a prize that is directly related to your company. You want to market your brand and attract people who are genuinely interested in what your business has to offer, not “contest hunters” who only want to win something.

Prize Ideas

  • Use your own products
  • Gift card/voucher
  • A unique experience that can’t be purchased (a great example of this is Dove’s “Real Beauty Should Be Shared” contest, where the winners became the next faces of Dove)

Ensure that your prize is worth the effort it takes to win! If it takes a long time to enter the contest and the prize is small, like a water bottle, don’t expect a lot of entries.

Contest Length

Don’t miss out on contest entries by running your contest for too short of a time. On the flip side, don’t have people lose interest by running your contest too long. Keep in mind what contestants will have to do to enter the contest. If more effort is required, you want to ensure that people have enough time to enter. Also keep in mind if your prize needs to be used by a certain day (such as event tickets), you want to make sure your winner has enough time to pick up the prize and use it.

Clarify Any Rules

Make your contest very clear and easy to understand. Include dates for entry, the steps contestants need to take, and outline how the winner will be chosen and contacted. Be sure to specify any other conditions or “fine print”. Give your followers the total picture up-front.

Create Graphics for Your Contest

Add an eye-catching graphic to support your contest! This could include changing your cover or profile photo, landing page imagery, or creative for promoted posts. Ensure your design team has the specific dimensions for each image. For Facebook contests, it’s important to remember Facebook’s 20% rule when creating graphics.

Here’s a tool that you can use to test your image to see if it will pass Facebook’s 20% rule.

Illustration of three mega phones.

Promote, Promote, Promote

Just because you build it doesn’t necessarily mean they will come. Make sure your followers know all about the contest. Use all the free resources you have: cross-promote the contest on all your social media channels and on your website. If you have a newsletter or a store-front, include the contest information there. Paid options for promoting could include Facebook ads or promoted posts, Twitter’s promoted tweets, or ad opportunities on Instagram.

Ask your followers to share the contest with their social network. You can reward them with extra entries if they share or encourage friends to enter. Using a third party app can make executing and tracking these extra entries easy. Contestants are given a link to share with friends after they submit their entry. Without this platform, users with private profiles may not receive credit when they share the contest.


Once the contest is up and running, check regularly to make sure everything is going according to plan. Conduct daily test entries and answer any posts or messages your followers may have about the contest.

Announce the Winners

Once the winner has been selected, publicize it! Seeing is believing, and showing off your winner proves the prize was won and the contest was real. Profile the winner on your social media channels, on your website, or in your newsletter.

Illustration of a magnifying glass looking at a checklist on a clipboard.


Your contest is over, the winner has been selected… but was it worth it? Did you accomplish the goals you outlined before launching the contest? Review what worked and what you want to do different next time. How can you make your next contest even better? Depending on the tools you use, metrics that can be reviewed include entry and share rate, new followers gained, social media referral traffic to your website, and click-through rate on links.

Those are our tips for running a social media contest! What are yours? Do you have any contest success stories (or failures) you’d like to share? Please share below in the comments!


Beverley Theresas profile picture Beverley Theresa says:

Great post, Sarah! Thanks for touching on the “contest hunters” bit! Those peeps ruin everything haha!

Sarah Gardeners profile picture Sarah Gardener says:

Thanks Beverley! Glad you enjoyed the post.

Ter Yas profile picture Ter Ya says:

Great post! We were thinking about running a contest in the coming year. This provides some pretty good guidelines, especially the bit about the rules from the different social platforms. Thanks for explaining!

Sarah Gardeners profile picture Sarah Gardener says:

Thanks Ter Ya! Best of luck in your upcoming contest. Let us know how it goes!

kims profile picture kim says:

Great post, Sarah Gardener. This article has help me to draft my first social media contest plan.

Sarah Gardeners profile picture Sarah Gardener says:

Thanks for reading Kim! So glad the post helped you out!!

Ike Luvais profile picture Ike Luvai says:

This is a really great article. My boss just asked
me to create a social media contest plan and i could not find any better article than this. Thanks alot!

Sarah Gardeners profile picture Sarah Gardener says:

Thank you Ike! Good luck with your upcoming contest!

Alexs profile picture Alex says:

You made my day today…very accurate information for my pressing need. Thanks Sarah

Sarah Gardeners profile picture Sarah Gardener says:

Hey Alex – Glad this post helped you out. Thank you for reading!

shaolin kung fus profile picture shaolin kung fu says:

Great post! We were thinking about running a contest in the coming year.

Sarah Gardeners profile picture Sarah Gardener says:

Fantastic! Let us know how it goes!

Karen Googes profile picture Karen Googe says:

Great info and exactly what I needed to get started! Thanks!

Sarah Gardeners profile picture Sarah Gardener says:

Glad we could help, Karen! Let us know how your contest goes

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