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Leveraging Social Media Contests to Grow and Engage Your Audience

David Bosley

One of the best ways to grow your audience and get them to actively engage with you is by running contests. You see them all the time – a local business is running a sweepstake or some sort of competition with a small prize to the winner. They always seem to pop up into your feed and for good reason. A recent report found that 35% of people become fans of a specific Facebook page solely in order to enter these contests. If you’re not taking the time to put contests of your own together, it’s a huge opportunity missed.

Like any other promotion or marketing campaign, you can’t simply toss a contest up on your Facebook page and expect it to perform exceptionally well. You need to be strategic about it. To help you get started, here’s everything you need to know about running a social media contest:

1. Choosing the Giveaway

The prizes you offer for your contest must fit two important criteria: they need to appeal to your audience to the point that it will generate a reasonable buzz and it must fit reasonably into your budget. For example, if you’re a sports bar, a single free drink or appetizer won’t generate that much of a buzz. Giving away tickets to the big game might be a bit too pricey, though. Try to think of something unique, ideally an experience or product that somebody couldn’t otherwise get. In this example, you might be able to give the winner a party or happy hour for them and their friends, which is something they’ll be sure to remember.

Not following your social media platform’s rules is a quick way to get your contest shutdown and have egg on your brand’s face.

2. Understanding the Policies

Each social media platform has specific rules and procedures in place for what you can and cannot do. Before you design a specific contest, you’ll need to take the time to review these rules thoroughly. Let’s briefly discuss two of the most popular platforms, Facebook and Twitter:


  • A Facebook promotion must include a complete release of Facebook by each entrant and also a clear acknowledgment that Facebook is not endorsing or sponsoring the contest.
  • You cannot require users to leverage their friends or connection. Meaning you cannot ask them to share a promotion or post it to a friend in order to enter. You cannot even ask them to tag friends in a specific post.


  • Twitter asks that you specifically prohibit multiple entries by discouraging duplicate Tweets regarding your contest and the creation of multiple accounts.
  • You are allowed to ask users to send a Tweet to their friends in order to enter. However, you need to ask entrants to mention you in their post so that you can easily see all the entries.

Of course, both platforms require you to follow their standard rules and regulations throughout the implementation of any contest or promotion. Try to keep in mind your other social media platforms, too, like still-growing Instagram.

3. Running the Social Media Contest

Running a social media contest isn’t quite as simple as throwing a prize up and watching the engagement flow. First, you need to determine what type of contest you want. Sweepstakes are simple and will likely have great results. Questionnaires or requiring a newsletter subscription are good examples of requiring a little more information and engagement while keeping it simple at the same time. You may lose a handful of entries but the value gained could be worth it. Finally, you could consider a contest, like the best photograph or slogan. Those who do enter will be especially engaged and they’ll likely promote their work to their friends and family to garner additional votes.

You’ll also want to select the length of your contest strategically. If it’s too short, you won’t get enough bang for your giveaway buck and word of mouth won’t have time to spread. If it’s too long, people may not bother entering since it seems far away and unattainable. Leaving a contest open for a week or two gives you sufficient time to promote it while still giving a valid sense of urgency.