How to Run an Effective Contest

/How to Run an Effective Contest

How to Run an Effective Contest

Use Contests to attract more customers

Contests have always been an effective marketing tool, and with the rise of social media platforms almost any company can host a simple competition to build consumer engagement. The psychology behind it is fairly straightforward – we all have a desire to win. Failing that, we all have a greater desire to get something for nothing. A simple contest can address these tendencies in the human psyche, which leads to a lot of opportunities for a business.

In order to be truly effective, though, a contest has to provide more than a prize for a consumer. If you keep giving without getting anything back, the entire endeavor is nothing more than a waste of time and money. You may, for example, see a huge boost in your social followings – more likes, follows, pins, etc. – but if that doesn’t translate into new customers, the effort is wasted.

How meaningful is a “like” on a social platform? Will your contestants do business with you even if they didn’t win? Will you be able to turn them into brand advocates through your efforts? These are important questions to ask before running your first contest. When you can sufficiently answer these questions, it’s time to move on to the nuts and bolts of the contest.

What Do You Give Away?

The actual prize for your contest doesn’t have to be big. You don’t have to give away huge amounts of cash, a brand new car, or a year of free service. In these types of contests, “winning” is enough motivation to get involved. Even if they’re only winning a free dinner, early access to a product, or a free download, for most people, it’s enough to be able to say they won something.

What Do You Get Back?

Always remember that in order for a contest to be truly effective, you should only ask for something that is in line with what you are giving away. For those small prizes (no matter how new and cool), the most you can expect is a “like” or a retweet. If, on the other hand, you are giving away six months of your product for free, you would be completely justified in required a completed form.

While some contests do require payment in order to participate, the most effective ones are centered on gathering data. Consider the number of contests that once involved scratching off silver paint or pealing a sticker off a 32 oz. plastic cup that once immediately told you if you won or not. Now, they say no such thing. Instead, they provide a number to text or a QR code to scan.

Contests aren’t just about the participants. You have to get something out of it, so while they are getting a win, you should be getting plenty of data, brand awareness, subscriptions, engagements, and more.


When a “like” just isn’t enough, you need to implement a plan that will increase engagement. Asking customers to do something online can be tricky, though, so you have to incentivize a little and make the contest as intuitive as possible.

One of the best ways to increase engagement is by creating a challenge. This is seen a lot in contests that involve user generated content, i.e. video contests, image contests, essay contests, etc. You simply set the rules and let your participants’ creativity do the rest.

This can then be tied into another type of contest engagement: the vote. Once the content is online, you can get other people to participate by simply casting their vote and expressing their opinions. These contestants may not be willing to make a video, but they might be enthusiastic enough to make sure all their friends and family get involved to increase the number of votes for their preferred option.

Social Media Contest Options

The lower the barrier to entry, the more likely you will increase participation. This is why social contests have taken off. Nearly every platform offers a way for you to conduct a contest, and your consumers can usually participate with a single click of a button.

Keep in mind, though, that some platforms, like Facebook, have a number of requirements for hosting a contest. Be sure you check their terms and conditions before you run a contest so you won’t have to worry about it getting pulled before it’s completed.

Following Through

Don’t assume your work is done because the contest is over. If everything has gone well, you have a winner, you have some new followers, and you have a lot of data. Now is the time to follow through and start sifting through all that new information and tracking the benefits. Did you create any new customers? Do you think the contest led to better engagement with your customers? Did you learn something new about your target demographic?

The most effective contests are the ones that benefit both the host and the participant. Once you have awarded the winner, document your own returns, track your website metrics, and start planning how your next contest can be even better.