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How to leverage social contests to reach your goals

John Entwistle
Feb, 2018
6 mins


Several of our clients are looking for any and all solutions to overcome the algorithm changes implemented by many of the big social networks in recent months. When you have exhausted all standard options, and are looking for that magic bullet to upgrade your social strategy, turning towards a contest can often be the answer. These days, there seems to be no shortage of contests on social media with many brands jumping on the bandwagon - our feeds are filled with more “follow us to win”, “tag your friends and get hooked up”, and “share your favourite picture to be featured” than you can shake a stick at!

The equivalent of the door prize at a banquet dinner: designed to keep your audience engaged past the point where many of them would begin to leave, social contests encourage your audience to engage with your brand above and beyond what you would expect with something that we can all relate to: free stuff.



Contests held through social media can be very valuable when done properly. With some proper planning and thought, a contest can achieve many different goals from driving engagement, to converting prospects into customers.

This article will not dive deep into the regional or legal restrictions of holding contests through social media, as these can vary widely from country to country or even state to state/province to province and it is nearly impossible to make general recommendations within these parameters.  We will focus instead on some key strategy aspects that should be considered as you plan a contest.

Before you begin offering free lift tickets, t-shirts, and goggles to your faithful followers, here are a few things you should consider:

Think about your goals :  

  • Do you want to grow your social following?

  • Do you want to convert your social following to join your email list?

  • Do you want to generate engagement that is otherwise lacking?

  • Do you want to generate user generated content that you can re-purpose?

Having clear, measurable goals for your contest is critical. On top of having goals to measure the success of the specific contest, it’s important to tie these contest specific goals into your greater social or business KPI’s. Determining your overall goals for your contest can also be helpful in determining the amount of budget to allocate.

Determine what budget you want to allocate to running your contest

There can be several hidden costs associated with running contests on social media. Prizing is the most obvious, and can often be fairly insignificant if you are using your own product as prizing. Items but once you start adding on extras such as gift cards and/or transportation you can start to see the cost add up quickly.

Any contest that is run on social should have some form of budget for promoted media. Our recommendation would be to put a minimum of $50 paid promotion behind boosting any post related to your contest. Without this paid push, there is a high chance that not many of your own followers, let alone the larger audience you are trying to reach will see it. In order to see a solid return on investment on your contest, a general rule of thumb is to put 10-15% of your total contest budget behind paid media. 

Another hidden cost associated with contest can be the admin time required to coordinate and run it.. Setting up contest logistics, acquiring and planning prizing, selecting winners, and sending prizes can all be pieces that can take up significant amounts of time.

For larger contests and sweepstakes, there may also be legal costs associated with setting up contest terms.

How big should I go?

If you are simply looking for quick actions to boost your social results, contests can be a very fast and effective way to hit your goals. There is no harm in starting small and working your way up to the big leagues. Small prizes can be hugely valuable to your already loyal following and create a sense of goodwill within the community, even if they don’t move you significantly closer to your end goal.

Two things to watch when starting out your contest strategy:

  1. Ensure that you have at least some exclusivity to the contest. There are many social contests these days where multiple brands join forces to create larger prizes in hopes of higher engagement. Although this can often yield higher results, the direct benefit to your company might not be as great. If you are one of six brands involved in a contest, how can you be sure that your brand is going to receive proper exposure to get appropriate return on your investment?

  2. Do not become a brand that constantly spams social media with frequent contests. Contests are something that you can over-do, and when you hit that point (generally, more than one per month), you will start to drive many quality followers away and develop an audience full of contest junkies.

How should my contests be managed?

Again, the main goal of your contest should point you to the answer of how to best manage your contest. If you are simply looking to drive engagement on your page, a small prize with some community management combined with some budget behind boosted post ($50-$300) should do the trick. If you are looking for a more robust contest where you are looking to collect data or content, there are many services such as Woobox have the ability to manage end to end campaigns for your brand.