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5 tips for running a social media contest

3 min read


SmartPulse — our weekly nonscientific reader poll in SmartBrief on Social Media — tracks feedback from leading marketers about social media practices and issues.

This week we asked: Have you ever run a contest that you promoted using your social media presence?

  • Yes: 63.87%
  • No, and we’re not considering it: 25.21%
  • No, but we’re considering it: 10.92%

After seeing the results of this week’s poll, I was immediately reminded of an article I read on Eloqua’s blog a couple of months back. It provided four examples of online contests to inspire ideas for digital marketers. This got me thinking: Let me see whether I can get some more advice on social media contests from my friends at Eloqua. So I reached out to Vice President of Content Marketing Joe Chernov, and luckily for us, he had some great advice. In summary, here’s what Chernov had to say on the subject.

Ways to fail at running a social media contest

  • Accidentally put yourself in a position to act as customer support for another company. Here’s what I mean: An insurance company ran a promotion in partnership with “FarmVille.” Although the contest attracted fans to the insurer’s Facebook page, this crowd quickly took over the wall, posting questions and complaints about “FarmVille.” The insurer had created misconception among “fans” that it could somehow support a different company’s product.
  • Disregard the Federal Trade Commission’s disclosure guidelines. Simply put, if contest eligibility hinges on any type of content creation, such as a blog post or tweet, participants must disclose that their action is part of a marketing program. If this doesn’t happen, you could be held accountable.
  • Fail to create and include official rules. Contest rules and guidelines must be drafted and be in accordance with state and federal law.

Ways to succeed at running a social media contest

  • Shift your perspective. Too many companies look at a contest through a self-serving lens. They ask, “What can we get out of a contest?” rather than “What can a participant get out of it?” Reverse engineer your contest off of what your audience engages in naturally.
  • Narrow your audience. Unless you are a global consumer packaged goods company, chances are the audience for your product has its limits. Create a contest that appeals to that finite segment of the population. This might seem obvious, but many companies are so concerned with reach that they overlook relevance.

The bottom line is that the lure of a social media contest should in no way cause you to take the process lightly. Social media contests are serious business; if they are not handled appropriately, they can actually do more harm than good.

This poll analysis was written by SmartBlogs contributor Jeremy Victor. He is the president of business-to-business content-marketing agency Make Good Media and editor-in-chief of For more of his writing, visit and follow him on Twitter and Google+.