Branding Beat - Cut Through the Noise

Everything Marketers Need to Know About Social Media Contests

Can you believe it’s already been over ten years since Twitter invented the hashtag? It seems like just yesterday we were relying on message boards and Myspace bulletins to send our thoughts to the world. Who would have thought it would ever evolve to become one of the top means of advertising in the world?

One of the most common ways brands get their name out there is by hosting social media contests. These promotions encourage engagement, help spread the word about the brand, and offer a chance for someone to win something nifty. What’s not to love?

Social media promotions are a lot of fun, but they also come with a lot of responsibility. Contests aren’t as simple as posting a picture on Instagram and randomly selecting one of your followers as a winner. Each promotion needs to adhere to state and federal laws while simultaneously being creative, fun, and worth talking about. It’s a balancing act, but we’re here to break it all down for you and make you the branding guru you were meant to be!

What are the different types of social media giveaways?

So, you want to be the next social media superstar? Don’t we all! Before diving in, let’s brush up on some of the promotion basics. First, you’ll want to determine what type of giveaway you want to promote. Don’t know if you’re hosting a contest or a sweepstakes? You’ve come to the right place!

The three types of social media promotions are:

Contest Definition

Sweepstakes Definition

Lottery Definition

It’s also important to note that, legally speaking, any one promotion cannot include the three elements of gambling: price, chance, and consideration. Definitely keep this in mind when planning your next giveaway!

Social Media Contest Rules and Regulations

In 2017, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released a public reminder for brands and influencers to accurately disclose their relationship with advertisers. This was a breath of fresh air after what seemed like an epidemic of paid Instagram influencers being shady about their sponsored content. Any social media user can attest to the overwhelming number of sponsored posts taking over their feed. Anyone remember the Scott Disick fiasco?

According to the FTC, if there is a “material connection” between an endorser and the marketer, that should be clearly disclosed. This means if you’ve partnered with a brand or influencer and are receiving compensation for your social media contest, you’re required by law to disclose that to your followers.

Each social media platform also has its own set of rules and regulations you must follow. Brush up on these before you plan too far ahead!

Social Media Giveaway Ideas

So, you know you want to host a digital giveaway but you’re not sure what your prize should be. In a nutshell, it’s always best to stick to your industry. If you’re the PR manager for a cosmetics company, you’ll probably generate a lot of interest by offering some free cosmetics to your followers. Similarly, if you work at a software company, try offering a free one-year subscription to your service. You might be surprised at the amount of buzz that ensues! There are a lot of unique ideas out there, but as long as you choose a relevant and appropriate option for your brand, you won’t go wrong.

Be sure to keep in mind how many winners you want to select. Your audience is smart, and they know that the more winners you are selecting, their chances of winning your prize are a lot higher. People are more likely to apply for a giveaway when they know they have a reasonable shot at winning!

How to Run a Social Media Contest

Now that you know the ins and outs of social media contests, you’re almost ready to roll! Here are some of the next steps to running a social media contest.

  1. Decide what type of contest you’re running. Is it a sweepstakes, contest, or lottery? Make sure you can answer this question before moving forward.
  2. Check your state law. Make sure your promotion is 100% legal from both the state and federal level. The last thing you want is to get slapped on the hand when you’re trying to grow your brand.
  3. Check the rules of the platform you’re using. If you’re promoting your contest on several different social platforms, investigate all of them. The laws around promotional contests are always changing and doing a quick Google search can get you further than you think. It also never hurts to consult a lawyer, especially if you’re planning a big contest.
  4. Decide how long you want the contest to run. Usually, the shorter the contest, the better. Running a promotion too long can result in a lack of engagement and reduce the sense of urgency. You don’t want it too short, either. Find the right sweet spot for your brand.
  5. Draft your terms and conditions. We’d be lying if we said we knew it all when it comes to FTC guidelines and laws, but there are plenty of templates out there to help you get started. Also, don’t be afraid to ask your lawyer about this, too. Often times you can even use the same outline for future contests, making your lawyer fees 100% worth it in the end.
  6. Measure your responses. If you’re using software like Rafflecopter or Gleam, there might be built-in analytics for your contest. If not, Facebook/Instagram Insights and Twitter Analytics will become your best friend. You’ll want to know which platform results in the most signups for future marketing opportunities.
  7. Be timely in delivering the prize. If you promised your winner a free copy of your book, mail it out the same day you receive their address. They’ll be eagerly awaiting their prize, and the sooner you can get it to them the better. After all, leaving them hanging won’t do your brand any favors.
  8. Have a backup plan. You want your contest to go swimmingly and are crossing your fingers that this is the extra push your brand needs to get noticed. The reality is that sometimes these contests don’t go as hoped, and the responsible thing is to always have a social media crisis plan in place. What will you do if something goes awry? The Boy Scouts got it right with this one: Be Prepared.

Whether you’re offering a trip to Punta Cana or a brand-new computer, social media giveaways can be powerful marketing tools to help grow your audience. If done correctly, they can legitimize your brand and show you care about your followers. Just remember to tread lightly and make sure you’re following both local and federal laws. The last thing you want is a PR nightmare on your hands!

Kelsey Brown

Kelsey LOVES to write and she'll always make sure you're using the correct form of "your." But when she isn’t writing, she can usually be found chasing around her two rabbits, hanging at local wineries or watching an episode of Friends for the 574th time.


  1. Mandy Kilinskis

    I retweet a lot of brands’ tweets if they are giving away goods and/or services, but they’re never contests that generate a lot of publicity or continue conversation. However, if I ever stumbled over a contest like the ones you listed, I would absolutely participate. Engaging with brands is fun — especially when they want to give you stuff!

    • Jenna Markowski

      Good point, Mandy! The contests that are simply a giveaway may spark some engagement for a brief moment, but once the contest is over that company’s site can turn right back into a ghost town. The fun contests get a lot more press coverage, so the contest’s legacy lives on long after the winners are chosen! 🙂

  2. Rachel

    I had never heard of these promotions before, but they sound awesome! I visit Twitter maybe once a month (useless, I know) and don’t follow many companies on Facebook, so I guess I’m never going to see these kinds of promotions unless I actively look for them. For customers who do use Twitter and Facebook regularly, though, I think these types of promotions can indeed be successful–that 6000% increase for Corona is crazy, wow!

    • Jenna Markowski

      I’m in the same boat as you — I hardly ever log in to Twitter and I’m not really into following brands on Facebook. But if I heard about one of these promotions going on I would probably follow or like the brand for the chance to win, so I can totally see how these campaigns work!

  3. Jill Tooley

    That Burger King promotion is pretty funny, even though they violated Facebook’s policies with it. You have to admit, getting a message that informs you someone sacrificed your friendship for a hamburger would get attention!

    I also like Jet Blue’s promo. Free plane tickets would inspire people to participate, especially with the cost of them lately. Too bad they don’t have anything cool like this around here…it seems like all of the creative stuff is done on one of the coasts! 🙁 Come on, brands, the Chicago area is important, too!

    You mentioned this in one of your other blogs, I think, but Oreo had a pretty cool campaign going as well. They ask participants to submit pictures of themselves eating Oreos, and the hand-selected winners get their pic featured as Oreo’s profile picture for an entire week. Anything for those 15 minutes of fame, right? 😉

    • Jenna Markowski

      I agree! It’s too bad that Facebook made them take the promotion down, they probably could have generated even more publicity. I think that promotion was hilarious — Facebook needs to get a sense of humor!

      I like the Jet Blue one as well, and the Tony Hawk one. I guess I just really like the idea of a Twitter scavenger hunt, even though I hardly ever use Twitter! It just sounds like such a fun contest!

      Good point! The Oreo one is especially significant because it points out a way that a brand can host a promotion/giveaway with absolutely no cost to them. It is completely free to change your default photo to a picture of one of your customers, but people still eat up that contest just for their 15 minutes of fame! 🙂

  4. Bret Bonnet

    Don’t forget about QLP

    • Jenna Markowski

      Never! 😀

  5. Eric

    Neat stuff! The IKEA contest/free-for-all especially so.

    Kind of curious as to who called dibs on what. You know there had to be some guy out there itching to win a sofa and he wound up with a pendant lamp shaped like a dragon. Then again, I wouldn’t complain about scoring either of those for the reasonable price of, well, absolutely free. And it wouldn’t require me to lose 10 Facebook friends in the process. Go IKEA.

    • Jenna Markowski

      Thanks, Eric! I really like the IKEA promotion as well. It shows how many ways there are to be innovative with the features that Facebook already has.

      Haha, that probably did happen. I hope he was happy about his free swag no matter what he won! I know I would be! 🙂

  6. amy

    These are great examples! My favorite one has to be the Burger King promotion, it has a great tie-in with the product and offers something to consumers if they participate. I’m surprised it lasted a whole week before Facebook took it down, that seems like a long time in social media time.

    • Jenna Markowski

      Thanks, Amy! I think that one is my favorite, too! BK really pushed the envelope, and that promotion really catered to their target audience of males aged 18-25. Good point — a week is like an eternity in the world of social media!

  7. Joseph Giorgi

    Very cool post! This is the first I’ve heard about these promotions.

    Kudos to BK for such a unique Facebook campaign. “Deleting” friends for a Whopper? Genius!

    And I wish I’d known about Ikea’s campaign when they were running it. I could always use some freebie furnishings. Especially now — I hate my current couch. 🙁

    • Tony Promo

      Yo I delete friends all the time and NEVER get free burgers. WTF?!?

      • Amanda

        hahaha. Same here Tony Promo. It’s a funny idea for sure =)

  8. Jen

    Cool post! I hope more companies catch onto this marketing, so I can get free stuff!

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