Contests can be a great way to accelerate your social media results. However, there are also plenty of ways to get yourself into trouble. In this post, we'll go over some of the considerations to keep in mind before running a social media contest.
The Differences Between a Contest, Sweepstakes, and Lottery
Contest: Winner is chosen based on some form of merit. Contests have defined criteria around entries.
Sweepstakes: Winner is chosen at random and there is no fee to enter. Sweepstakes are luck based. No fee
Lottery: Winner is chosen at random and something of value must be exchanged to enter. Note that I say something of value and not money.
Lotteries and sweepstakes are very similar because in both cases the winners are chosen by chance. The difference between the two is what the law refers to as “consideration.” This is a little bit of a murky area because what is deemed as “valuable” is open to interpretation. Lotteries traditionally require the purchase of a ticket to enter (money entry) but other actions are valuable to businesses. For example, visiting your website can be pretty valuable. Choose an entry action that is perceived as valuable enough and you might have created a lottery. We recommend you research your state's laws and consult your compliance team.
Methods of Entry
Now that we understand how the method of entry impacts the categorization of your promotion, let’s look at some of the common entry methods. Entry types fall into two categories: Actions and UGC.
- Following an account
- Liking content
- Posting a message
- Votes: Let your following vote on a new feature, product, or element of your branding.
- Form submissions: This is useful for growing your newsletter or collecting email addresses to build a custom audience.
UGC (User Generated Content)
- Submitting a caption: Post a photo and ask your audience to caption it. You can pick one at random or have the community determine the winner.
- Posting a photo/video: This could include content like a video on why a consumer loves your institution, a new jingle, or a photo of what the participant would do with the winnings.
- Commenting: Games like fill-in-the-blanks or guessing games can be an easy way to engage your audience.
- Written entries: Think essays, trivia, or recipe submissions.
When you ask participants to make a post or some other form of content (UGC), the participant must make mention that it was created as part of a sweepstakes. You could require the hashtag #MyCUSweepstakes in every submission. The FTC is clear that shortening either the word contest or sweepstakes in the hashtag is NOT sufficient. You must include the full word.
Here are some other entry considerations:
- Do not ask for testimonials as part of your entry. This is essentially paying for a testimonial which violates the terms of most social media platforms. Plus, the inclusion of the entry hashtag will devalue the authenticity of the testimonial.
- If you are collecting UGC and plan to use it as marketing material, make sure you collect a release statement.
- On Facebook, you cannot ask entrants to share your giveaway on their timeline or tag others as part of the entry.
Picking the Right Prize
When picking a prize, consider the level of excitement you want to create, the level of effort to enter the promotion, and the potential legalities surrounding the prize.
Big prizes create a big buzz, which is great for generating awareness and encouraging consumers to create UGC. Small prizes make contests easier to manage and can be a smart way to avoid some of the legal complications of big sweepstakes. However, small prizes should have a smaller barrier to entry. You might want someone to record a 5-minute video, but it will take more than a $5 gift card to convince them it is worth the effort.
Your prize should correspond with the objective of your promotion. If you want to spread awareness, then consider a prize that will appeal to a larger audience. If you want to engage your existing customers, then consider a prize that is more closely related to your services or community (like a gift card to a local business).
The rules around prize value will vary by state. For example, in New York and Florida if the value exceeds $5,000, the sweepstakes sponsor must register and bond the sweepstakes. In Rhode Island, a sweepstake must be registered if the value exceeds just $500. Depending on local tax laws, states might require winners to pay taxes on the Fair Market Value of the prize prior to the collection.
If the value of your prize exceeds $600 then you will need to issue a Form 1099 so the prize can be reported to the IRS.
Picking the Right Platform
Social media platforms differ in the audiences they attract and the content they support. For instance, if you wanted to collect video submissions, Pinterest would be a poor choice. You should ask yourself the following questions when evaluating which social media platform you should run your contest on.
- What types of submissions would I like to accept?
- Who is the audience I want to reach?
- Which platform do I think I can get the most traction on?
- Can I sustain a presence on the channel after the contest?
- Does this platform match my goals? For example, if you are looking to drive email subscriptions, Twitter might not be the best platform.
Ways to Promote Your Contest
It's not enough to just make your contest, you also have to promote it. Here are some ways to promote your social media contest:
- Change your profile header image to promote the contest.
- Make a sticky post/pin the tweet that promotes the contest.
- Run ads or boost the post that announces the contest.
- Make at least one post about the contest per week on all of your social media channels.
- Have a link on your homepage.
- Include a link in your newsletter.
- Include a link in your email signature.
- Ask employees to share the post.
- Use prize and industry related hashtags.
Making Viral Social Media Contests
"Viral" simply means that for every one person you reach, they reach another two. Through virality, your message is carried to an exponentially larger audience. One way to create a viral campaign is by using a third-party app that allows participants to earn extra entries for performing certain viral tasks like commenting on a post or emailing a link to the entry form to friends.
Turning Contests Into Relationships
Contests should be a tactic in a larger strategy. The excitement they generate can accelerate your progress to the desired business outcome, but in order to maintain it, you need to plan for follow-up. If you don't continue to engage those contest entrants and nurture them, then you just wasted your money.
At a minimum, you should maintain your social media presence on the platform where the contest was held. Some other ideas for re-engaging entrants are:
- Send an exclusive follow-up offer.
- Highlight content from the contest on other social media profiles.
- Retarget consumers who visited your contest landing page.
- Send a "thank you" message to all participants.
- Offer a consolation prize.
- Follow participants so you can engage in future conversations.
- Do a blog post on the finalists/contest winner.
No matter how small the prize or contest is, you need to have official rules. These are to protect your institution should a contestant challenge the outcome. The official rules should have a dedicated landing page and a link should be available anywhere the contest is being promoted, including all social media posts.
Some basic official rules you'll always need are:
- “No purchase necessary”
- Participation eligibility (ages, locations, employees)
- Opening and closing dates
- Name and contact information of the sponsor (you)
- Number, description, value, and odds of winning prizes
- Method of winner selection and date when a winner will be announced
- How winner will be notified and where a list of winners can be obtained
- Alternative methods of entry
- Acknowledge that the social media platform is not associated with the contest
Consider this a rough guide to help get you started, but before you start a social media contest, be sure to familiarize yourself with all the rules and consult your compliance team.