Social media contests have been used by brands of all sizes to get more followers, increase engagement and generate buzz. With organic reach becoming increasingly difficult to earn, social media contests offer a great way to get more eyes on your social posts and boost engagement.

The trick is knowing how to use social media contests strategically, rather than blindly deciding you want to do a giveaway. In this post, we’re going to detail everything you need to know about running a social media contest like setting goals, choosing the right platform, how to promote it and everything in between.

Why Create Social Media Contests?

Most companies don’t host social media contests to give things away with nothing to show for it. Although your contestants will be the ones winning prizes, that doesn’t mean you’re not benefiting too. Here are some of the top benefits of social media contests.

Social Media Engagement

With engagement being one of the most critical metrics for social media marketers, contests make a lot of sense. They almost always explicitly ask for users to take some form of action, whether that’s a click, share or submission.

This is important because social networks use algorithms to help determine what content and profiles to suggest to other users. Getting more engagement on your content will signal to these algorithms that your page is worth recommending. Social media contests can give your profile a huge surge in organic engagement to get the ball rolling.

Build Your Email List

In addition to getting more engagement, social media contests are also a great form of lead generation. You can capture the email addresses of all your entrants and add them to your email marketing tool.

A social media contest is hands-down one of the fastest ways to grow your email list.

Go Viral

Every business dreams of having a piece of content that gets thousands of shares, hundreds of comments and picks up media attention. If your social media contest is extremely successful, you have the potential to go viral.

Unfortunately there is no set formula to guarantee your contest will go viral. But here are a few tips to improve your chances:

  • Be creative: Whether it’s having a theme or unique twist, providing something that stands out about your contest will get a lot more attention.
  • User-generated content (UGC): You’ll have a much better chance of going viral if entrants are creating original content as a part of the contest.
  • Ask for shares: Don’t just stop at having one person enter. The only way to go viral is to have other people share your content. Encourage each entrant to share the contest with their friends to expand your reach. We’ll go into detail on how to ask for shares later on in this guide.

Set Goals for Your Contest

Before you start to plan out your contest or choose what you’d like to give away, you need to set a campaign objective. Not only will a goal help you determine the success of your campaign, but it’ll also help you decide what kind of contest you should create.

Here are a few of the most common goals for social media contests:

Increase Social Following

This has long been one of the most important goals for social media managers, and for good reason. Growing your audience gives your brand more exposure so it should be at the forefront of your strategy.

Increase Social Engagement

At Sprout, we classify engagement as the likes, comments, shares, replies, favorites and other interactions your customers make with your posts. Engagement indicates users see and interact with your social posts, and more engagement leads to an further organic reach.

When your social media posts get hundreds or thousands of shares, you’re getting in front of all of those users’ followers in addition to your own.

Increase Social Media Leads

Social media contests pose a great opportunity to drive people to your site in order to fill out personal information for a chance to win a prize. These leads can then be shared with your email marketing or sales teams who can pursue those users as customers.

Make following up with entrants a part of your process for launching your social media contests so you don’t overlook it.

Increase Social Media Business

All of these things will inevitably have a positive impact on your business’s bottom line. Social followers are warm prospects that come to your page and fill out a form. Warm leads are shared with your operations teams to nurture and convert, and those customers that engage with your page are less likely to churn.

Aside from giving you direction, setting goals for your contests allows you to measure how successful they are. Each of the goals above has a metric that you can attach to it:

  • Increase social following: Number of followers.
  • Increase social engagement: Number of Likes, comments and shares.
  • Increase social media leads: Number of new email addresses or contacts.
  • Increase social media business: Revenue generated from the contest.

You can track these metrics in your social media dashboard and analytics tools.

What Type of Contest Should You Run?

Once you figure out what you want to achieve, you can choose which contest type you think will best fit the metrics you’re setting. Here are some of the most popular contest types that we’ve seen work well on social media.

Photo Contests

Photo contests are insanely popular on networks like Instagram and Pinterest. They’re a great way to get your followers to engage and also get some UGC.

There are a few different ways to host a photo contest. Generally participants will have to take a themed photo and post it on the social network of your choice. The winners are either chosen by the host or a fan vote.

Use photo contests if your goals are to increase engagement or get more followers.

Essay Contests

Essay contests aren’t as common as the other types of contests here, but they can still be very effective. These contests work by asking an open-ended question and letting participants submit their answers.

Although most people don’t associate essays with fun, these contests can actually be very entertaining if you get creative. Remember, this is a contest not a survey. Asking self-serving sales questions like “what do you like the most about our brand?” won’t generate the type of engagement it takes for a social media contest to be successful.

Instead of generic questions, ask a question that lets participants get imaginative. For instance, the online supermarket Ocado held an essay contest that asked participants “If you were to open a restaurant, what would you call it and why?”

Think outside the box and make the question about your audience, not your business.

Lastly, don’t require people to write a 500 word answer. The more you ask your audience to do, the fewer entries you’ll have. Keep it simple.

Essay contests are helpful if your goal is to increase your social media leads. Each entrant will have to submit their information, which you can add into your email list or CRM tool.

Video Contest

Video and photo contests both generate the most engagement of any type of social media contest. The advantage of video is you know you’re getting truly engaged participants. It takes more time to setup and record a video entry than it does to snap a picture or enter a sweepstakes.

The downside is you may get fewer participants. But the people that do enter will be more likely to stick with your brand long-term and become advocates, rather than just engage with you for the contest and unfollow you immediately afterward.

Honda Facebook Video Contest

One thing to consider with video contests is how you will choose the winners. For instance, if the winners will be chosen by fan votes you probably won’t want people submitting personal videos since it’ll be visible to the public. Make sure you fully disclose how their submissions will be used and distributed in your contest rules.

Video contests work great if your goals are to increase engagement or get more followers.


This is the simplest type of social media contest to run. It requires the least amount of effort for participants to enter because they’ll generally just be submitting their name and email address or other basic information. They don’t have to take much action outside of that.

ActivPhy Facebook Sweepstakes

As a result, the quality of your entries may be lower than you’d get with a video or photo contest. You can help offset this by making sure your prizes are related to your company. For instance, a gift card, free products or deep discounts for your products and services. That way you’re not just getting a bunch of freebie seekers.

Sweepstakes can be helpful when your goal is to generate more business from social media. They bring people into your site where you have the opportunity to make some new sales.

Choose a Platform For Your Social Media Contest

Which social network do you want to use to host your social media contest? Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or maybe Snapchat? There are two ways to look at it:

  • Pick your profile with the largest and most engaged audience.
  • Pick your profile with the smallest audience so you can grow it quickly.

With the first option, your contest will likely reach more people since you already have an established audience. The contest will help you maintain your current followers plus expand your reach even more.

The second option will generally require more work on your end, but it’s a great way to help grow your profiles on your newest networks. GrubHub was one of the first brands on Snapchat, which used the #SnapHunt contest to grow its audience by 20% and generate over 1.5 million impressions.

Grubhub Snapchat Contest

Also keep in mind that just because a contest is hosted on a certain platform, it doesn’t mean you can’t mention the event on your other profiles. Promoting your contests across your other channels is one of the best ways to help it succeed.

Don’t Forget to Read the Contest Rules & Policies

Many brands aren’t aware, but different social networks have specific rules and guidelines to follow for social media contests. It’s very important to follow these rules to avoid having your contest removed. The guidelines go over what can and cannot be mentioned in your contest, any necessary copy you have to include, prizes and other details you need to be aware of.

Here are links to the social media rules and guidelines for some of the most popular social networks:

Social Media Contest Apps to Use

Wondering how you’re going to collect and track entries for your social media contest? Don’t worry, you don’t have to use spreadsheets and Word documents. Try one of these social media contest apps to manage your promotions:



Votigo is a social media marketing tool that allows you to launch a range of different types of campaigns to engage your audience.

  • Social network integrations: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest and Tumblr.
  • Types of promotions: Sweepstakes, quizzes, photo and video contests, voting contests and polls.
  • Pricing: Starts at $29 per month.

We recently teamed up with Votigo on a webinar on how to engage your audience with contests. Check it out for more tips on how to be successful with social media contests.



Shortstack is a drag and drop tool that lets you setup social media contests on several social networks, as well as embed them into your website.

  • Social network integrations: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.
  • Types of promotions: Sweepstakes, photo and video contests, voting contests and polls.
  • Pricing: Free plan available and paid plans starting at $29 per month.



Woobox is a robust tool that allows you to create contests, landing pages and more with a library of customizable templates.

  • Social network integrations: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube.
  • Types of promotions: Sweepstakes, photo and video contests, quizzes, polls and hashtag contest.
  • Pricing: Starts at $30 per month.



Wishpond is a suite of online marketing tools that allows you to do everything from email marketing to managing social media contests.

  • Social network integrations: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest.
  • Types of promotions: Sweepstakes, photo and video contests, essay contests, photo caption contests and Instagram hashtag contests.
  • Pricing: Starts at $45 per month.

You probably noticed a lack of Snapchat integration in all of these tools. For now, you’ll have to resort to other tactics for managing your Snapchat contests. Luckily, it’s not too difficult.

How to Promote Social Media Contests

Your contest isn’t going to be successful if nobody knows about it. Just because you’re giving away something for free, don’t expect people to come flocking to you–especially if you don’t currently have a large active following.

Here are some tips to promote your social media contests:

Use Your Profile Links

Instead of using your social media profile link for your home page, change it out to the URL of a landing page for your contest. Then you can change it back once the contest is over.

washington trails instagram photo contest

Use UTM parameters or a URL shortening service to track the entries from your different profile links. Here’s a helpful guide on how to use UTM parameters for social media campaigns.

Partner Up

If your brand is still relatively new to social media and you don’t have a big audience, one of the best ways to promote your contest is to partner up. You could either do a joint contest with other companies or recruit an influencer.

Partnering up on social media contests gives each brand more exposure and you have the opportunity to give away even better prizes.

Submit to Contest Directories

Be very careful with this tactic. Contest directories are sites that list various contests from around the web in a central location. While they can give you a lot of exposure, they’ll also bring along a good amount of freebie seekers. Contest directories are made for people looking for free stuff, so you’ll end up getting some lower quality entries.

A quick Google search will pull up plenty of directories. Some of them may be free, while others are paid. Do your research to make sure you’re only submitting your contests to reputable and high quality sites.

Build The Buzz

The first time your audience hears about your contest shouldn’t be the day it launches. Spend at least a week promoting it before the contest starts.

That’ll leave enough time for people to spread the word and generate buzz. In addition to social media, use your website, email list and other platforms to promote your contest before the launch.

Paid Ads

Running a social media advertising campaign is one of the most effective ways to promote your contest. Instead of using ads to get more Likes or traffic to your site, direct your ads to a landing page for your contest.

If you’re running a Facebook contest there are plenty of apps that allow you to host your contest on its own tab.

Reward Social Sharing

Remember what we said earlier about getting other people to share your contest to make it go viral? A good time to ask for the share is immediately after someone enters.

The problem is some people won’t want to share your contest because they feel it’ll decrease their odds of winning if everyone they know enters too.

To avoid this, reward people for sharing your contest. For instance, if you’re having a photo contest you could have the finalists selected by engagement numbers.

The Wood Whisperer held a Facebook giveaway where participants could score extra entries by completing certain tasks. Tweeting about the contest earned you an extra entry.

wood whisperer facebook contest

You could also require people share your contest in order to enter the contest. However, this can turn some people off and stop them from entering.

Make a Video

If you really want your social media contests to stand out, consider recording a video to promote it. It doesn’t have to be a long video. In fact, it should be shorter than a minute. Cheetos shows people it’s easy to enter their contest with a short video of their own. Video contests will certainly spark some creativity with your brand.

Since the video is short, you can repurpose it on Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. End it with a call to action to enter your contest.

Managing Your Contest

Running a social media contest isn’t as simple as choosing a prize and telling people about it. You need to manage entries, respond to questions on social and monitor all the engagement. In order to stay organized, you’ll need to use a social media management tool.

Sprout Social comes with several features to help you manage your contests, but the one you’ll probably use the most in the Smart Inbox.

Smart Inbox

You’re bound to get inbound messages regarding your contest. Trying to monitor these conversations directly from Facebook or Twitter can get extremely messy. Sprout’s Smart Inbox helps you organize and sort through your incoming messages to isolate the conversations about your contest.

sprout social smart inbox

You should have a branded hashtag for your social media contests. That way you can easily filter out unrelated Tweets and Instagram posts inside your inbox.

What to Do After the Contest

So the contest has ended and you have a winner. Now what?

This is where most businesses miss out on a huge opportunity, and why their traffic and engagements drops dramatically once the contest is over. You need to follow up.

A quick way to capitalize on your contest once it’s over is to send an email to all the entrants that didn’t win and offer them some type of consolation prize. It could be a small discount, a free eBook or whatever else you can think of. The point is you don’t want to end the relationship once the contest is over.

Social Media Contest Examples & Ideas

Now that you have an idea of what types of contests you can host and how to run one, let’s take a look at brands that have pulled off successful social media contests and what they’re doing well.


GoPro is one of the best examples of companies seeing success with social media contests. The driving force behind GoPro’s success on Instagram is UGC received through its video and photo of the day contest.

gopro social media contest

If you look through the GoPro Instagram feed you’ll see a ton of photos and videos from customers using a GoPro like the one below.

The visual contest submissions tend to draw more engagement than any other types of posts on GoPro’s page and pull in new followers every time.


Sporting goods brand Salming found an innovative way to use the power of Instagram contests to expand its reach and land a new brand ambassador.

Salming asked contestants to upload a photo to Instagram, tag it with its branded hashtag #salmingambassador and describe why they should be the next Salming ambassador in three words.

salming ambassador instagram contest

This specific contest earned over 300 submissions, and Salming landed a new brand ambassador.

salming instagram contest submissions

Star Wars

In order to promote the upcoming Star Wars movie, Disney and Lucasfilm launched the Go Rogue video contest to get some user-generated content.

Contestants had to record a two-minute video inspired by the Rogue One film for a chance to win a trip to attend a free screening of the new movie. Their unique contest resulted in a lot of organic UGC and helped generate even more buzz for the movie.

Joseph Joseph

In honor of Chocolate Week, UK homeware retailer Joseph Joseph held a Twitter contest giving out a hamper-full of chocolates. To enter, contestants just had to follow the Joseph Joseph Twitter account and Retweet the contest.

The brand received thousands of entries and was even shared by the chocolate company whose product Joseph Joseph was giving away.

Campbell’s Kitchen

Pinterest is a very popular, yet often overlooked platform for social media contests. However, as Campbell’s Kitchen proves, you can use Pin it to Win It contests to boost engagement and expand your audience.

campbells pinterest contest

If you have an active Pinterest audience or want to start building your following on the network, consider hosting a contest to kick things off.

Ready For Your First Social Media Contest?

Whether you’re looking for a way to jump start a new social profile, or you want to start a creative campaign, social media contests could be the perfect strategy. Use the tips, tools and tactics we outlined in this guide and you’ll be well on your way to creating a contest that boosts engagement and builds your audience.