Getting followers and engagement on social media platforms is one of the biggest challenges for marketers today.

With unpredictable algorithms that might stifle even the best content strategies (users don’t see up to 70% of content in their feed), immense competition for users’ attention, and ever-shifting trends, it’s hard to keep up.

Stunning photography, sharp copy, pivot to video, Facebook Live, Twitter chat, IG TV, manually liking and subscribing and responding, trying every up-and-coming app (remember Periscope?) – many marketers may feel they’ve tried every trick in the book.

However, there’s one powerful strategy that many businesses don’t consider right for their audience, to their detriment: running contests on social media.

If you have a presence on social media platforms, are ready to offer something to your followers (whether that’s a product, a discount, or a feature), and are prepared to strategize how to launch and run a winning social media contest, then read on.

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The ROI of a Social Media Contest

Social media contests take many forms: on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram; vote-to-win, caption contests, tag-a-friend, sweepstakes, number of likes.

The number of ways a social media contest can pay dividends is as varied as the number of formats a contest can take.

It’s important to remember, contests aren’t just good for the prize winner: you win, your fans win and (of course), the winner wins. Here’s an overview of the many ways contests pay off.

  • User Generated Content

We put this first because it is so valuable.

As a marketer, content creation is one of our jobs, and we need to be in charge of producing blogs, photos, posts, videos and copy that’s relevant and authentic.

User generated content does the work of great content creation for you, and a contest goes a step further and curates it.

Take the example one of Wishpond’s clients Honua Kai Resort, which ran a photo contest for former visitors.

Before even choosing the winner, the resort now had a gallery of photos of friends splashing in the pool, striking orange skies over their beach, and babies grinning in the Hawaiian sun, with captions emphasizing how fun everyone’s stay was.

What’s more, the vote-to-win construction of the contest ensured each user was funneling views to the gallery to boost their entry’s votes.

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  • New leads and brand awareness

If you don’t believe in the power of a contest to bring your company new levels of exposure, just ask Sunny Co.

Sunny Co’s famous red swimsuit promotion, where they offered to send a free red swimsuit to anyone who shared or retweeted their photo, it went viral and won them tens of thousands of retweets, followers, and coverage in the media.

(It also caused some heavy backlash when customers realized that the offer was only valid in the US, and winners were still responsible for paying shipping and handling.)

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Even so, the company fulfilled enough orders and found it so successful that they ran the promotion again the following year – this time, without capping the number of orders.

  • Heightened engagement with your customers 

A contest offers visitors – new and loyal – to interact with your brand and feel part of decisions. Check out the New Yorker’s iconic caption contest.

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The landing page alone offers three ways to get involved: enter the current week’s caption contest, vote for the last week’s finalists, or pick among the finalists for the winner for the week prior.

This reader-oriented approach has paid off in spades over the years.

Search ‘New Yorker Caption Contest’ on Google, and you’ll not only see lists of articles offering advice on how to win the competition, but articles about what it’s like to win the competition, satire on people obsessed with winning the competition, and analysis of past winners.

Content and social proof. New leads. Engagement and likes. Why isn’t everyone running contests?

Common worries about running contests are:

“Is it worth the expense?”

A contest demands an investment upfront for both the prize and the promotion, which would give anybody cold feet, even more so if you’ve never done one.

However, neither has to break your budget.

Your contest doesn’t have to be an iPad or a free trip to Paris (in fact, it might be better if you stay away from expensive prizes if the prize is not related to your brand).

It can be as simple as an appearance your website, a $20 gift card, a chance to be the first to try new products.

Similarly, promoting a successful contest doesn’t necessarily have to be an expensive venture, and doesn’t mean pouring money into ads or influencer campaigns.

Rather, it’s strategic.

The success of a contest hinges on figuring out at the outset what you want to gain from it: whether that’s more followers, more awareness, more sales, more traffic – and design your contest from there.

“How do we get people to sign up?”

A contest’s success does largely lie in its strategy and promotion, but the good thing is that an audience is more ripe for engaging in a well-launched contest than you think they are.

With an entire community of avid ‘sweepers’, who actively search for contests to enter, loyal followers of your brand who will be excited to interact and be rewarded, interested customers who have wanted to try your product and now have a free opportunity to interact with your brand meaningfully, there’s an audience awaiting your contest.

Additionally, influencer marketing combined with a contest is a powerful combination.

You don’t need an A-lister to advocate your contest to hit a home run.

Recruiting a micro-influencer who is closely aligned with your brand (e.g. if you run a restaurant, running a co-promotion with a locally known foodie, or if you’re a beauty brand, align with a popular makeup artist or product reviewer).

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“We’ve never done it before.”

It’s true that if you haven’t run a contest before, the idea can seem daunting. The good news is, it’s well trodden territory.

There are numerous guides to help you design, launch and run a successful contest.

As with anything, the more often you do it, the better you get at it.

How contests fit into any marketer’s playbook

Once you know how to run contests, they can be pegged to the season for increased traffic (summer and Christmas being two popular ones) or popular commemorative days (for example, Valentine’s Day, Father’s Day or Mother’s Day).

Contests are versatile, depending on the audience.

Got a witty audience? A fun caption contest can get their attention, and their likes and subscribes.

Followers who are photographers?

Photo competitions pay their dividends in user-generated content. Want a catch-all in a local area? Run a sweepstakes to appeal to everyone.

In today’s hyper-competitive market, it is increasingly difficult to stay visible and innovative.

Contests are a brilliant way to do that: they can vary in size, budget and form, keep your customers engaged and feeling recognized and rewarded. What’s even better, they get easier and more effective each time you do them.

The only question left is, what’s stopping you from launching your first contest?

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Farahnaz Mohammed (you can call her Farah) is a content marketer at Wishpond, with a background in journalism and a love for digital marketing, travel and dogs. You can find her on twitter @FarahColette.

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