8 Do's & Don'ts That Can Make or Break Social Media Contests

By Tinuiti Team

Whether on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, or Snapchat–there’s no doubt that social media contests are a big deal for online retailers.

If you’ve run successful social media contests in the past, you know it’s not easy.

There are many factors that go into the contest from start to finish, and some of them may take even the savviest marketer by surprise.

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social media contestSo what are the best practices, and how can they help you succeed with your next social contest?

We consulted Derric Haynie, co-founder of Vulpine Interactive, a social media marketing agency in San Diego, to find out what strategies make for a successful social contest.


1. Don’t: Make Your Social Media Tough to Enter

The #1 most important part of your social contest is also the most simple: make it easy to enter.

Provide your email, address, name, and occupation. Take a picture of yourself with #thishashtag. Post on Instagram. Almost done–now just share this link with 5 of your friends for more chances to win!

Does that sound familiar?

Here’s a real-life example of an Instagram contest that requires three whole steps to enter: 2017-01-20 10-51-53

It’s a little tough to scroll through your feed, see this, and actually stop what you’re doing and enter the contest. The barrier to entry is too high, meaning you could be letting valuable leads slip away.

2. Do: Make Your Social Media Contest On-Brand

“One company I worked with asked contestants to create a video of a person singing, post it, and tag that person in the video,” says Haynie. “The worst part is that doesn’t even really relate to their company–they are a bicycle company.”

If you’re a music company, do a music contest, and if you’re a bike company, it better be something related to bicycles. Apply this to whatever industry you’re in.

T-Mobile does a great job of staying on-brand with their social media contests.

In their current #FeeFace contest, contestants are invited to share a picture or short video of “the look on their face when they open their wireless bill and see all the surprise fees.”


social media contest tmobile


It’s simple to enter, fun, and most importantly, on-brand. They are taking something boring–reading your phone bill–and turning it into a differentiating factor of why you should do business with them. It’s brilliant.

3. Do: Gain Emails, Not Just Awareness

Although a lot of social media contests seem to be for gathering followers or gaining brand awareness, there’s an even more valuable end goal for brands, according to Haynie: Email collection.

“Even if you have your contestants take other steps, have them enter the email right up front,” says Haynie. Email is the most valuable piece of information you can get from potential customers.” (Click to Tweet)

One bonus “Do”: Disclose your plans to use their email up front, whether that’s via an entertaining promotional video or just on your basic rules and requirements page.

4. Don’t: Give Irrelevant Prizes

This goes hand-in-hand with point #2.

The more unrelated your prize is to your brand, the less valuable each email address you capture will be.

Let’s say you sell spatulas and other kitchen supplies, and you decide to give out an iPad as part of a promotion.

Not a great idea, according to Haynie.

“You’ll attract people who want an iPad, but probably doesn’t want your product,” Haynie says. “So basically, you’re just going out there and collecting junk emails. They’re not going to be loyal brand advocates.”

What if your product’s value isn’t high enough to stand alone as a product giveaway?

“If your product is too niche, then give away related products that strengthen your brand,” says Haynie. “Look to partner with companies in your industry that serve the same audience, but don’t sell a competing product, and grow your following off of their following.”

5. Do: Focus on Shareability

Retailers should start the contest and push it initially, but the contest should have virality built in–meaning contestants should spread the word to some extent.

“Contests consist of people who are competing to win something from you,” explains Haynie.

“If your social accounts, your email, your ads are the only things converting on your contest, that’s not a contest. That’s an email collection strategy.” (Click to Tweet)

According to Haynie, you should expect to see at least a 1:1 return on contestants bringing in new contestants. And if you’re not reaching that ratio, it’s important to rethink your strategy and find new ways to incentivize entrants to share.

“For brand new products, it’s really a larger battle to bring people in because no matter what, there’s going to be a layer of education,” says Haynie. “You should expect to pay more and spend more time explaining who you are.”

Pro-tip: Segment out a list of “power players”, frequent buyers, or brand advocates, and email them separately with additional incentives to promote your brand. Focus on that segment of your audience first, before moving to your entire list and social community.

6. Do: Make Social Ads a Part of Your Strategy

You’ve done most of the hard work. Now, it’s time to amplify your efforts with ads on social networks like Facebook.

According to Hubspot (based on data by Kontest), ads enable you to get 10x the number of entrants than you would organically.

“Social advertising has to be a part of the strategy–with Facebook especially, but also Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest,” says Haynie. “You can advertise by boosting a video and a couple of related posts such as user-generated content. Your budget doesn’t have to be a lot, it just has to be well targeted.”

Haynie especially emphasizes the use of videos for promoting social contests:

“A great video should be one of your core promotional pieces. It should have words on the screen [(word overlay)] and should be amping people up about the contest. If it’s a good video, you can promote it fairly cheaply on Facebook and get a good return.”

Why video?

Well there are a few obvious reasons. Video is engaging, it conveys more information in less time, and it can stop social media scrollers in their tracks. High quality well-targeted videos can drive great conversions.

Then there’s one other benefit you may not even be aware of:

“Video is favored in Facebook algorithm, so you’ll almost certainly get lower CPC and CPV than you would on a link ad,” explains Haynie.

7. Don’t: Cut Corners on a Social Media Contest Platform

One of the most important decisions you need to make is what platform to use–and there’s a lot of good and bad platforms for social media contests out there.

“My favorite is Queue, which was designed by Joe Sanchis, who literally has a degree in virality,” says Haynie. “They have an amazing dashboard that shows you the impact of your efforts, and they help create a good contest structure that essentially forces entrants to compete to win, and share the contest on your behalf.

social media contest platforms


On average, their platform helps their users get a 300% virality rate, meaning every entrant will share the contest with an additional three people.

8. Do: Make Adjustments and Analyze Your Entrants

As with every marketing effort, you should make adjustments based on actual data.

To start, examine the actual profiles of the entrants. Do they fit your target audience, or are they way off?

“If you see an  18-year-old kid entering a contest geared towards 40-year-old women, then you may have an audience targeting issue,” says Haynie.

And the most important analysis of all: How much money or new customers did you acquire from your social media contest?

“Look at sales on the backend, and compare that to your ROI goal,” says Haynie. “If you gave away 20 products, did you make 150, or whatever your goal was? This has to come after a post analysis, and it can help you adjust for future contests.”

For more on social media contests, email [email protected]

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