How to plan a successful social media contest

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Running successful social marketing campaigns online takes POP: Planning, Organization and, perhaps the most important component, Practice.

I have worked with many organizations that spend so much time in strategy meetings and brainstorming sessions trying to complete the first two components that they never even get the chance to actually practice what they plan. While every company should have a social media strategy, there should also come a point where you put the plan into action, begin to measure results and use that data for future deployments.

To show you how this works for any social marketing campaign, we’ll use an example of a contest.

Drive participation

Let’s say you have a blog associated with your company’s website and you want to use a blog post to communicate a contest. Why use a blog post rather than a web page? Blogs are very much aligned with social media behavior. Like Facebook and Twitter, blogs are where consumers congregate and communicate through comments. Blogs also offer built-in devices such as RSS feeds to help scale content promotion and get your voice projected across the web more effectively than a single web page.

You decide this contest will feature a giveaway of your products to one winner. You decide the best way to do this (so you can maximize the return on your free-product-giveaway investment) is to ask people to share your giveaway through e-mail, their social networks and/or their own websites in exchange for an entry into the contest.

Here are tactics to consider for asking people to share the contest information:

  1. The user has to tweet about the contest to their followers with a particular hashtag and/or through a Twitter button that you have associated with the blog post. You would use a similar concept for Facebook.Advantages: This language can be included directly on the blog post. There is no problem with telling your users the direct action to take. Besides, if the prize is really something great, your users will be looking specifically for this sharing information anyway.
  2. You tell users, “To be entered into this giveaway, please link to this contest through your blog/website/social profile”—using linking code you supply—complete with optimized anchor text, of course.Advantages: There are obvious SEO benefits for directing users to do something like this, but be careful. Sometimes the Linkerati doesn’t want you to exploit their abilities. If you are promoting to people who have links to give, and they know it—this might offend them. Use your best judgment. You should know how your core audience is going to react.

    To confirm they have created the link to your site, and for even more interaction, ask them to comment this location on your blog post

  3. If you know it’s likely that return customers are going to enter into this contest, you ask for a product review on something they’ve purchased before—preferably on that particular product detail page in exchange for an entry into the contest.Advantages: There are so many fantastic benefits for incorporating customer reviews on your website … increases in conversions and organic search rankings are just a couple examples. It is truly an invaluable investment. If you don’t already have a system for adding user-generated content in the form of customer reviews on your product(s) detail pages, than you’ll want to get that sorted immediately
  4. One of my favorite techniques is to create an email campaign letting all of your subscribers know they have already been entered to win “the prize” and if they want an additional chance to win, they need to:
    1. share a particular tweet you create (provide them the language and link)
    2. visit your Facebook fan page and “like” you (or other form of Facebook communication) or
    3. click a call-to-action link that will create an email to send to their friends.

Remember, you can use one of the techniques above, or combine them in any way you want to run your contest. Make sure the actions are as simple as possible for your users to complete.

One more important tip: If it matters, try to promote your offer during a time of the year when people are searching for your product the most. For example, it’s currently tax season and if you wanted to promote “free tax software for life” to one lucky winner, now would be the best time to act. If you are unsure about your offer’s timing, use Insights for Search to understand generally what people are searching for throughout the year. Also, offering giveaways on important dates or company milestones is a great way to show users you appreciate them, as well as compel them to promote your brand and help grow your network.

Set objectives for success

Be aware of what you consider “success.” Discussing your objectives for any social campaign is a critical part of the planning phase. If you don’t know what the objectives are, how will you measure success?

Common sense says a $20 product giveaway is going to generate a completely different buzz than a $1,000 product giveaway, so have your expectations in check. Not to say you have to give away the highest monetary value, but use your best judgment. How awesome is this contest really going to be to your core audience? What is the perceived value to your users?

Remember, you want to at least “break even” in terms of the value of the prize, the work you are putting into this and what you expect to get back. Go ahead and write your objectives and hypothesis down. Share these with your team upfront, too, so everyone knows what to expect.

Measure and analyze results

Now, you may figure, “I’ve come up with this plan, included it in the marketing mix and everything’s set into motion, now I can just sit back and reap the benefits of the increased traffic, links and buzz to my website.” But to this point only half the work has been completed. Soon you (or your clients) will be asking questions like these:

  • What are the results really saying?
  • How many unique visitors did this draw?
  • How valuable are these newly generated in-bound links?
  • We’ve gained an additional 5,000 Facebook fans . . . what does this really mean?
  • Did we make any new sales from this traffic?
  • Are the results substantial enough to pursue future contests?

This is where Raven Tools can be a tremendous asset. Here are a few of the tools you can use to help analyze your social media contest results:

Facebook Monitor

Use the Facebook Monitor to benchmark important Facebook metrics before you start the contest, then measure the same metrics at the halfway point and after the contest. Why at the halfway point? You shouldn’t wait until the campaign is over to find out how the contest is doing! You might need to promote it more, in different places.

Using the Facebook Monitor is most helpful if you’re also using Raven’s Event Manager and Google Analytics integration (see below).

Here are some of the metrics you can track with the Facebook Monitor:

  • Active users
  • New Likes
  • Total Likes (Fans)
  • Page views
  • Unique Page Views
  • Likes on Page Content
  • Comments on Page Content
  • Visits from Facebook back to the website (requires Google Analytics integration)

But specifically, if part of your contest is to get new Facebook Page Likes (also known as Fans), then you’ll especially want to pay attention to those. Let’s say you launched your contest at the end of the day on March 30, and by the morning of March 31 you had 4 new Facebook fans.


That’s great! Until you look at the next two days, when the buzz was gone. Is it time to promote the contest again?

Twitter Monitor

The Twitter Monitor is very similar to the Facebook Monitor, and you should use it the same way when measuring results of your contest. For some interesting insight, the Twitter Monitor shows you your Replies and Retweet Reach. So let’s say you send out one Twitter message about your contest from one Twitter account on one day, and you want to know how many people could have seen the message that day. Change your view in the Twitter Monitor to report on that one date, and evaluate the metrics for Reach.


And of course, you’ll want to monitor visits from Twitter back to your website, which you can do with the Twitter Monitor if you have integrated Google Analytics.

Event Manager

Enter your start date, end date and any contest highlights into the Event Manager. Because Raven can overlay the Event Manager information on its Facebook and Twitter monitors, you can see exactly how the contest affected growth of your social media accounts, and possibly even traffic to your website.


Google Analytics

Raven also integrates Google Analytics information with its Facebook and Twitter monitors. This way, you can pay attention to before-and-after metrics for GA traffic, goals, conversions, etc. for your contest. Just click on the “traffic from to []” link in the Facebook or Twitter monitor for that insight.


Do you have more tips for measuring the success of social media contests using Raven or other tools? Please share your ideas in the comments below.

7 Responses to “How to plan a successful social media contest”

  1. Everett Sizemore

    Nate this is a fantastic article. As social signals begin to have more and more sway it will be important again for SEOs to get back to it. I know a lot of us gave over our social media campaigns to social media managers once SMM came into its own; now might be a good time to start taking back some of the reigns. Again, awesome post!

  2. You really should define the difference between a sweepstakes and a contest. Not all giveaways are contests. Some states also have very specific laws for companies doing sweepstakes and contests.

    You gave great info from one side, I’m just suggesting at least a blurb about the other stuff so that brands are aware there is more they may want to look into.

  3. That a very good point Robyn. There are often specifics that are overlooked by marketers. If there’s access to a legal team, or legal advice in general, get their input. We all know there’s a lot of misinformation online and every business’s situation is different. But hopefully what I’ve posted helps get the creative juices flowing.