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Who doesn’t love free stuff? Promotional giveaways and contests are a great way to expand your audience or keep your current one engaged. These contests are also a great way to advertise your products or services affordably. But you should do your research before launching this type of promotion – contests may cost less than some kinds of promotions, but they do require an investment of time.

Consider the rules

First, consider what laws and regulations might apply to your contest. We’ll discuss a few of the most common here — however, laws and regulations vary by state. “No purchase necessary” laws mean that if the contest winner is chosen randomly, the contest host may not require some sort of purchase or any other sort of investment towards their business from the contestant, thus ensuring that an organization cannot favor a paying contestant vs. one who did not pay.

Many work around these laws by choosing a specific winner at the end of their contest in some type of judging, rather than choosing a winner randomly. Some examples of this type of contest include a submission of a photo, video, piece of artwork, or a written response. Photography competitions have been gaining popularity, especially because photo-sharing social media platforms are so popular.

Other factors to consider:

  • You must determine and announce how and where someone can enter or submit their work into the contest.
  • You must clearly define who is eligible to win, and if there are any specific groups who are not eligible (commonly, employees of the sponsoring organization).
  • You must determine and announce dates for the beginning and end of the contest.
  • You must determine and announce how you will choose the winner.
  • You must determine and announce a date for choosing the winner, and a date the prize becomes available.

Consider your contest goals

Your goals will guide you in structuring your contest. Common goals include one or more of the following:

  • Increase social media reach and engagement
  • Get user-generated content (for example, in photo, caption, video, essay contests)
  • Promote a specific product or service
  • Improve general brand awareness
  • Customer research (if, for example, people have to fill out a survey to win)
  • Generate leads and sales (by increasing your e-newsletter mailing list, distributing coupons, etc.)
  • Increase traffic to your website

You’ll often see a business advertising a contest that instructs its participants to “like” a specific social media post, “follow” their main account, and/or share the submission with the business’s main account “tagged”. These steps are fairly simple for the participant and extremely beneficial to the business. Bringing your competition to different social media platforms is a great way to spread the word, but keep in mind that each platform has its own set of guidelines regarding giveaways and contests.

Choose a type of contest

When creating a design and choosing a prize, you should consider your business’s branding, values, and services. These things should stay relevant to you and your business – after all, you’re trying to provide insight into who you are and what you do. Ideally, all of the participants would be potential customers, so it’s important to be sure that you are reaching out to the proper audience. Offering one of your business’s products or services is a great way to assure your contestants are potential customers. You should be sure your prize is attractive enough that people will want to enter. At the very least, your prize should at least be worth the amount of effort your contestants must put in.

Yes, you may be hosting a competition and handing out a prize, but that doesn’t mean your audience is going to automatically jump on the opportunity you are providing. You may want to consider how to make your contest more entertaining or more engaging than just a simple entry. Provide your audience a reason to enter or participate in your competition beyond the opportunity to win a prize.

Another important thing to consider is the difficulty level of your contest, if you’re doing something more than just a straight raffle. You want to make your competition challenging enough to make your audience feel as though there is no “random winner,” and easy enough so they won’t get scared off.

Common types of contests include:

  • Photo or video contests
  • Caption or essay contests
  • Raffles
  • “Like, Share and Reply” contests
  • Take a survey or vote to win

Consider how to promote the contest

Social media engagement is one of the key benefits to holding a contest, and one of the best ways to promote it. Don’t be afraid to make social media commenting, sharing, and reposting a requirement. Having multiple winners is another way to drive up engagement – someone who feels as though they have a good chance of winning might be more inclined to participate. Providing a coupon to each participant will help increase the number of participants as well as create more potential customers. Keeping up with your insights throughout your contest will help you know where and who you need to push your promotion. So, for example, if you’re gathering most of your participants through social media, you may want to create more content there.

Incorporating your community, another business, or an influencer is a great way to increase your audience. Giving back to the community in which you are located will benefit everyone – making a positive impact will help your business thrive. For example, you could find a local charity with a similar audience to advertise the contest for something along the lines of a donation from your business. Working with another business will not only create a broader audience, but it also provides the potential for a better prize. You could consider choosing one of your partner’s products or services as the prize or you could merge your prizes into a bigger one, ultimately making the prize more desirable. Social media influencers with a similar audience could help bring in more participants and potential customers. An influencer could advertise the competition as well as your business as a whole.

Contest services

There are a variety of services available that simplify the creation and administration of a contest – Woobox, Gleam, Wishpond, Rafflecopter, and Strutta are examples. These services vary somewhat in the features they provide and the cost involved, but you can expect that they will provide design elements and interfaces for your business to push your contest on multiple platforms and a way for your participants to submit their work/entries. Other features may include access to insights, emails reaching out to your current audience about the competition, custom-made pop-up ads for your website, and more. Using this type of service reduces the time you have to spend administering your contest, but typically involve cost, and you have a little less control over how your contest works.