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Running a contest for your business offers several key advantages, from capturing your target audience’s attention to driving engagement with your brand. Contests also help companies source a lot of user-generated and authentic content that can be used in ongoing communications, such as ads, collateral, or future contests. Check out the best practices for planning and running a contest to improve your results!

How to Plan and Run a Contest

With a well-honed contest, you’ll be able to generate new leads that can then be turned into customers. Contests encourage prospects to get personally involved with your business by seeing other customers’ authentic images or testimonials, as well as creating more excitement around your brand.

Before launching your own contest, there are a few things that you’ll need to remember when creating one. Below are 12 steps to creating an awesome contest for your business that appeals to your audience and generates engagement.

1. Create the contest goal

You must first decide what you will want to achieve with this contest. Is the goal to generate new photos, drive engagement, gain leads, grow brand awareness, expand your audience, acquire testimonials, etc.? With a well-defined goal, it’s easier to decide the rest of how the contest will be distributed, the rules you will create, as well as who you will target to participate.

For instance, a photo contest will obviously help you expand your marketing assets if your business lacks photos. But if you have a contest that’s simply “Submit your photo to win” and the winner is selected by your team, this gives no incentive for users to spread awareness of the contest for you. In the user’s mind, the more entrants, the more likely they won’t win.

Instead, you should have a voting contest, such as “Submit your photo, and the photo with the most votes wins!” Users must enter their email in order to vote for their favorite photo. This encourages users to spread the word of the contest for you as well as bring in new leads.

2. Choose a desirable prize

When selecting the prize, you’ll want to give away something that is related to your product or service. Sure, giving away an iPad or GoPro will probably get engagement from users who have likely never heard of you, but if your goal is to turn those leads into customers, you’ll want to qualify them a bit before they enter.

For example, an RV resort and campground could give away a free two-night stay to the winner. A two-night stay is perfect because the cost is relatively inexpensive for the benefits that you gain from running the contest. The users will then qualify themselves and dream about winning a stay at your RV resort instead of users who have no interest but would like to win the GoPro or iPad. Plus, always specify if there are any blackout dates or redemption stipulations when creating the prize.

The more you include in the prize, the more likely you’ll receive more engagement and have the chance to make a bigger splash about the winner. Going back to the RV resort example, you could offer a large prize package that includes two nights, local attraction tickets, branded t-shirt and hat, meal vouchers, and a guided tour. Who wouldn’t want to win all of that? As a marketer, wouldn’t that be great content for all of your channels?

3. Determine the contest length

The length of the contest is crucial. A contest that is too long will leave users disinterested or they could completely forget that the contest happened at all. Alternatively, a contest that is too short won’t have enough time to build the audience or the hype necessary to make the contest a success. We recommend a contest length of two weeks to a month.

4. Create the contest rules

Be extremely clear about how to enter the contest, as well as how to win the contest. Rules typically sound like you’re putting limitations on users, but your users will thank you for this. The rules will also specify how you will select the winner based on your goals. For instance, if user-generated content is the goal, require contest participants to enter a minimum of five photos, but use one email per entry and each user could vote for one photo per day.

This allows users to enter multiple times (i.e. multiple chances to win) but the users will have their votes be more particular when selecting a photo to vote for since they only have one per day. You’ll also want to specify that if there are any inappropriate or malicious images, they’ll be disqualified.

When running a photo contest where users vote for the winner, also include in the rules that you will have a “Team Pick” winner that receives a second-place price. This allows users to feel that they could also win even though their photo doesn’t have a lot of votes.

5. Use a third-party app

You may be saying to yourself at this point, this is all nice, but how does it work? Where will the contest live and how do I run it? Have no fear! We have a few inexpensive recommendations for third-party apps that will help you in hosting the contest:


This is an off-the-shelf product that allows you to run multiple types of contests from an Instagram hashtag contest to an essay contest, and even a photo contest, all housed on their platform or embedded on your business’s website.


Create contests, hashtag giveaways, lead generation forms, landing pages, and more with ShortStack. Build tailored marketing campaigns and easily embed content on your website without a developer. The software offers a variety of features and plans to fit your company’s needs.


Create and manage campaigns on Woobox’s comprehensive marketing platform. Engage your audience with interactive content that’s mobile-friendly and embeddable in pop-ups, websites, and social channels. Plus, you can get started for free!

Facebook Instant Forms

This platform seamlessly integrates with your Facebook Ads Manager account and requires little setup. Since Facebook already has user information, the form can be very short — making the friction to enter very low. Leading us to our next step…

6. Make it easy to enter

Keep it short. When creating your entry process, the less friction to enter the better. Make sure that the user doesn’t have to fill out a long and arduous form in order to enter the contest as you’ll see a steep drop off of entries just by adding an additional form field for a phone number instead of simply a name and email field.

Make sure that you have the least amount of information necessary in order to enter the contest. We recommend a first name, last name, and email as this is enough information to announce the winner, contact the winner, and place leads in an email campaign to move them along the customer journey.

7. Be transparent on user content

If user-generated content is the goal of your contest, make sure to explain how you will use their content. Being clear about the use of the images, testimonials, etc., will help you later down the road if a user decides that the image that they submitted wasn’t intended to be used for marketing purposes, such as online ads or store signage.

8. Select the distribution channels

Now you must decide where your users will find your contest. We recommend distributing your contest on all social media channels (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.), as well as to your email marketing lists. Social media is a great place for contests since it’s easy to share and reach your audiences.

You can also target users who are familiar with your business or local competitors if you’re doing a city-specific contest. Be sure to let your departments know that you’re running a contest and explain to them the rules. You don’t want sales or customer service reps to get blindsided when prospects ask them questions about the contest.

9. Don’t go overboard with contests

With the success of the contest, you’ll be tempted to run them every month, but this can cause contest fatigue. We’ve done seasonal contests, such as Gameday Contest, Beach Contest, Best Parts of the City Contest, Your Favorite Memory at [Business Name], etc.

Focus on three to five contests per year, giving them full effort and attention. These will be more meaningful than monthly contests. Once you’ve decided on how many you will run per year, look to making them consistent. This will create anticipation around recurring contests and will give your social fans a reason for returning.

10. Partner with a sponsor

The great thing about sponsors and partners is that they help you spread the awareness of the contest for you. Partnering with another business or organization is a great way to increase your reach and engagement with the contest, as well as add products to your giveaway.

This can typically be done for free as most partners enjoy the publicity to your audience about their product. And depending on your contest rules for entering the contest, your local visitors’ bureau could share on their channels, promoting your company over other businesses in the area.

11. Announce the winner

After the user has won the contest, you’ll want to email them congratulations for winning the contest. You can then gather more information from them and give them the prize. This also allows you to confirm that they’re eligible to win the contest like age, location, etc.

Next, you’ll need to announce on all channels who has won the contest and encourage everyone else to congratulate them on winning. When other users give praise to the winner (further amplifying their enjoyment for winning), it makes those who didn’t win aspire to win the next one.

Consider having a “Team Pick Winner” where you announce that users should stay tuned for the “Team Pick Winner that will be announced on [Date]”. This continues the engagement and allows other users to continue participating and talking about the contest for another day or two. You don’t want to announce the “Vote” and “Team Pick” winners at the same time as this takes away from the excitement of the “Vote” winner.

12. Make the winner feel like a celebrity

Now the fun part! After the winner has been announced and the details sorted, you should treat the winner with the warmest hospitality that your business has to offer. The winner of a free two-night hotel stay could meet the GM, receive free t-shirts and hats, and have a photo op. The room should include a handwritten card from the staff, as well as an itinerary of things to do in the area.

Get these interactions and the winners on video to use on your digital channels. This makes the contest real to those that would enter in the future and give you more content to make the next contest even better.

Bonus tip: give a consolation prize

So those that didn’t win are a little sad, but they’re also happy for the person that did win. It’s not often that we see contests deliver on their promise of winning. A great way to turn the contest entrants into advocates for your business and build goodwill is to giveaway a consolation prize for everyone that enters the contest.

This could be a discount, free sample, branded t-shirt, etc. Something that shows that you appreciate them entering your contest even though they didn’t win this time. It’s also effective for turning the entrants into fans. Not many businesses implement this highly underrated tactic enough.

Enhance Your Marketing with Contests

Incorporating contests into your marketing strategy is a fun, effective approach to generate leads and boost engagement across your channels. However, hastily putting together a contest won’t yield the results you want. It’s vital that you plan ahead to ensure the contest appeals to your audience and achieves your goal.

Connect with Mavericks Marketing to schedule a marketing consultation and discover what contests will do for your business!