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The Ultimate Guide to Social Media Competitions for Startups

Social media competitions have been an effective tool in the startup world for years, for the veterans as much as the new kids on the block. If handled correctly, they can have a huge impact on traffic, engagement, awareness; whatever your KPI may be.

They can also be very difficult to put together effectively, so we wrote this ultimate guide to help you with everything from the inception of the contest to the aftermath.

Establish a goal for your social media competition

It may seem great of Company X to give away Product Y for seemingly no reason at all, but competitions always have an ulterior motive; it just isn’t consistently clear what you’re giving in return. This is why defining a goal for your competition is very important.

If a company wants more followers on Twitter, their competition may be entered by following their account and retweeting a post of theirs. If a startup wants photos of people enjoying their products for a new commercial, their competition could be entered by sending in a photo of consumers with said product. It’s important to establish what it is you want early on, especially if there are multiple people working on a project, so the rest of the campaign is built on a solid base.

Related: A Minimalist Guide to Social Media for Your Brand

Find your prize

This part is arguably the most important element of a competition, because who cares about a competition when they don’t care about the prize?

You ideally want a balance of brand identity and maximum appeal, which can be hard to achieve. We wouldn’t recommend a washing machine company give away car tires, because that does nothing to enforce the brand; you’ll just associate them with car tires from then on. Sometimes budget might dictate the prize, but in an ideal scenario, your branding will influence your prize slightly.

It’s down to you to consider your budget, your audience, your brand, current affairs, everything you can think of; although Amazon gift cards are always a solid Plan B if you’re struggling.

Define the competition

It’s best to keep entry as simple as possible, as the more complex, the less likely people will be inclined to enter. The best contest idea changes case-by-case, and you’ll want to choose based on your current assets and following. Below are a few examples that should help get your ideas flowing:

Follower landmark giveaway

  • A popular one on social media, where you encourage people to follow you to reach a certain number of followers and then promise a giveaway when you reach said number.

Trivia contest

  • Trivia contests are great for their simplicity and can be rather ego-stroking too; if someone knows something others might not, then it’ll make them look good when they respond with the right answer.

Suggest a new product

  • This type of competition is a perfect example of letting your customers do some work for you. Why spend loads of time and money on research and analysis to see what people want, when you can just convince them to tell you?

Caption contest

  • Simple, fun and has the potential to go viral if you get a particularly funny response.

Cross promotion

  • If you know of a company that has a similar audience to yours, then you could collaborate with them on a competition to help crack a pre-established target audience and possibly give the contest more legs than it would have without their involvement.

“Share for a chance to win…”

  • The easy way out, but effective nonetheless.

Be safe

You might always skip the terms and conditions when you sign up for something, but elements like that are essential if you’re the one organizing a contest. Your communications need to be completely bulletproof; otherwise you could risk legal action.

That same caution should be taken throughout the entire campaign. For example, in 1992, Pepsi held a competition in the Philippines which promised anyone that found a bottle cap with “349” printed on it one million pesos. The 500,000 bottle caps they accidentally printed and sent out with that number on meant Pepsi got only negative press and a lot of law suits in return; not to mention the fact they paid out close to 200 times what they originally planned to.

A company like Pepsi can bounce back from disasters like that, but a lax approach to a potential legal-minefield like a competition could devastate smaller businesses. However, there are certain companies that specialize in promotional risk management that can relieve you of this potential headache.

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Promoting the competition

With the contest good to go, the promotion process can now begin. You want as many people as possible to enter the contest, so you should promote across all platforms. Below are a few ways to do so:

  • Contact your email list
  • Contact the public directly. For example, you could search online for people talking fondly about the product you’re giving away and then tell them they have a chance to win one
  • Write about it on your blog or website
  • Convince other companies to share the competition
  • Promote the competition on social media (sponsored tweets, Facebook ads, etc.)


Make sure you are fair when picking a winner, and then deliver the established prize. Asking the winner to send an image of them with the prize can help for future competitions, and the promise of more competitions in the future will help console the people that didn’t win. Hopefully, though, you’ll be the real winners!

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