8 Types of Social Media Contests That Can Boost Your Strategy

Social media marketing is appealing for a number of reasons. It’s relatively approachable, it’s cost-efficient, and it has the potential to attract thousands of new followers to your brand. But earning a large following and getting actual value from your customers isn’t a cakewalk. You have to give people a reason to follow you, and one of the best ways to do that is by using a contest to attract attention.

The Advantages of Contests

Executing a social media contest has a number of potential advantages for your brand’s reputation and following:

  • Cost-efficiency. Many contests will cost you something upfront, such as the cost of a giveaway item. However, when compared to the costs of traditional advertising, it’s a highly affordable marketing strategy.
  • Self-perpetuation. One of the most rewarding events in social media marketing is getting one of your posts to circulate virally, but it’s not easy to achieve. Because contests give people feelings of excitement, they’re likely to share that material, leading to increased attention and a greater likelihood that the contest will “go viral.”
  • User participation. Most contests require that users participate in some way—whether that’s by clicking “like” or submitting a photo. Participation increases visibility and loyalty for the participant.
  • Standout nature. Because of their attractive, colorful nature, contests tend to stand out in user’s newsfeeds, making them more visible and shareable.

Types of Contests to Leverage

There are a few main goals you could pursue with a contest:

  • Earning more followers. These contests revolve around getting more people to follow your brand.
  • Cultivating more content. These types encourage more user submission of content for added visibility and engagement.
  • Getting more people to your site. You could also use contests to attract traffic to your site.

There are no right or wrong answers here, but you’ll need to figure out what your priorities are before you get started. From there, you can choose among a number of different contest types:

  1. Referral-based promotions. In this straightforward model, you could offer users a reward for referring other users to the brand. Typically used as a way to generate site traffic and brand engagement, you could reward referrals with a discount, a free gift, or some other benefit. For example, Jay Suites recently offered up an iPad Mini to successful referrers.
  2. Giveaways. Giveaways aren’t really contests because they don’t demand any competition. However, they offer the same advantages as contests, so they’re worth mentioning here. The idea is to give away a product or series of products to a select group of followers. This is especially effective if you’re promoting a prototype of a new product or a new line of items from your brand.
  3. Sweepstakes. Sweepstakes are like giveaways, but with a caveat. To participate, users must take some action; users who take the action are pooled together, and from them are randomly selected a number to win the prize. For example, shirt company Qwertee recently ran a sweepstakes contest encouraging users to “like” the brand in exchange for a chance to win a shirt.
  4. Photo contests. Photo contests encourage users to take certain types of photos—perhaps of a given subject or a given location. Usually, a brand declares a hashtag to be used for this purpose. Then, the “best” photo (or randomly selected participants) are chosen to win the prize. Get creative here! For example, Om Nom Nom Cookies encouraged users to take selfies of themselves eating the product.
  5. Caption contests. Caption contests take a piece of content that already exists—usually a photo—and encourages users to come up with clever or humorous captions to accompany that image. You can choose the winner yourself or ask your users to vote among themselves.
  6. Essay contests. Essay contests are more intensive, and are generally more serious in nature. If you sponsor an essay contest, know this will require significant effort from your users and offer a prize that rewards that effort. Have your users submit a written essay on the subject of your choice.
  7. Video contests. Video contests work much in the same way as photo contests. You’ll encourage users to submit a certain type of video—from a review of your products to a monologue on why they deserve to win—and select a winner from there.
  8. Discount and small-reward contests for participation. You could also shrink the scale of your efforts by offering smaller rewards for smaller levels of participation. For example, you could give a 10 percent discount to anyone who “likes” your brand within a certain period.

Over the course of your social media strategy, we highly encourage you to try out multiple types of contests—especially if you don’t know your social media audience that well. Each of these possible contests has advantages and disadvantages, so you’ll need to experiment to see which one works best for your brand. From there, you can tinker with the specifics until you have a fully optimized contest to draw power from.