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Social Media Contests: The Purpose, Their Types + 6 Ideas for Hosting a Successful Contest

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  • Social Media Contests: The Purpose, Their Types + 6 Ideas for Hosting a Successful Contest

Social media contests are a sure-fire way to get attention.

The attention that you can capitalize on if you’re building a brand on social media.

And this is no buzz, as according to a Tailwind study, Instagram accounts that host contests frequently grow 70% faster than the rest.

social media contests


Social media competitions require both creativity and rationality to get tangible results. Results that can help you grow your brand’s audience for the long-term.

If you want to run a contest and you’re not feeling too inspired to come up with unique ideas, then keep reading!

In this post, you’re going to understand the nuances of running social media contests and get some great ideas you can start with.

The Purpose of Social Media Contests

The ROI from social media contests won’t come as directly as paid ads. This is in addition to the fact that they’re pretty hard to measure (depending on the type of contest) and that some people see online contests as scam fest.

“Why invest in a social media contest?” you might ask.

The primary purpose of running creative social media contests is to get immediate media attention to leverage to grow your audience, get some subscriptions, and increase your customer base.

Some benefits of hosting social media contests include:

  • It naturally increases your audience’s engagement with your brand.
  • Your follower count will grow due to the number of shares and retweets you get from your current audience.
  • Allows you to generate more leads from sweepstakes and similar types of contests.
  • Helps you create better social media content with user-generated content.
  • Generates buzz around your industry if you promote your contest well enough.
  • Your audience will grow as a result of new people getting to follow you and consuming your content.

All of these benefits make contests well worth the investment.

Now, the managing and planning behind hosting a social media contest will depend on its type.

What are The Contest Types?

Now that you’re convinced that social media contests ideas are a worthy investment. What kind of contests should you host?

This is a hard question to answer since it depends a lot on your business, your industry, and the audience you’re targeting.

Thankfully, contest types are so many that you can choose whatever fits your brand goals and personal preference.


This is the old randomly-generated contest model where the winner is decided by luck, and people participate because the reward is very valuable (more or less like a lottery).

These days, sweepstakes are still effective to generate leads if you ask them to give you their emails (and are also easy to execute if you have the right email marketing software). So it can be a good option for you if you’re looking to generate some leads quickly.

Photo contest

This one is as simple as asking your audience to submit a pic of their dog, baby, make-up, purchase, etc.

The engagement you can generate from this is incredible, and the reward doesn’t have to be that pricey.

However, the winner is normally decided by your judgment, and that means you’d have to spend time checking all the photos to pick a winner.

Commenting contest

A “caption this” contest isn’t only an engagement machine; it can also be used as a way to research your audience’s thoughts.

Posting your new product in action or your new brand designs will give you a preview of how your audience would react to it (and give you more ideas to improve it) if you just turn it into a quick giveaway.

What’s best, the reward doesn’t have to be expensive. It’s easy to get people to give their opinion on social media.

Submit a video contest

Same as photo contests, but with the bonus of getting a deeper connection with your audience.

The only drawback is that submitting a video is more challenging than taking a pic, so the incentives must be really good for people to participate.

What’s great about video contests is that you can get more creative with the challenges and get some precious UGC you can later use to create video content.


It’s an easy and straightforward way to give some spark to an otherwise dull day. Pushing a like button has no effort, and people will do it for almost any kind of reward.

Don’t expect massive results from some likes; you can just use it as a way to fill a slot in your content calendar.

Essay contest

This one is not very easy to set up, and the incentives should be high enough.

The goal is to ask your audience to submit a story about their experience (relevant to your brand or niche), their favorite memories, or even going through an engaging, interactive quiz. The result of this contest is a gold mine of user-generated content you can use in your marketing.

Even better, you can later reach out to the participants to get relevant offers and personalized content.

6 Creative Contest Ideas

1. Announce the Winner in Clever Ways

Most of the time, participants just give their email or submit their thing and wait for the host to reach out to them if they win.

But if you generate enough interest in the contest (and the reward is well worth it), you might take the luxury of announcing the winner in a way that requires people to stay in tune with your content.

For example, you can announce the winners at the end of a Livestream or require people to check your newsletter.

The goal is to give them a chance to consume your real content and keep engaging with you after the contest.

If you do it correctly, it will make the contest feel more special and particular instead of just a random online gamble.

2. Create a Giveaway Game

Engaging your audience with a game is a tried and tested way to drive attention to your brand.

If your audience is big enough — and your game is entertaining enough — you can take this as an opportunity to host a giveaway and offer a reward that might convince people to participate and invest their time (or their email address).

Chipotle’s 5-day game challenge is an inspiring example, as they went through a series of games where 50k people participated in getting one year of their new product: Queso.

It’s no surprise that The Queso Cup was Chipotle’s most engaging social media campaign of all time.

3. Make People Submit UGC

A great way to farm user-generated content is to host a contest that requires people to submit ideas, pics, or videos that you can later use to improve your marketing.

Something as simple as asking people to record a video of their dogs playing with one of your pet toys can be a powerful trick to get both engagement and new resources for your marketing team.

The rewards can be as crazy as you want.

Take Domino’s as an example. They were willing to spend $10,000 just to encourage people to buy a pizza and take a picture. It’s simple and effective.


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A post shared by Domino’s Pizza (@dominos)

4. Challenge + Branded Hashtag

Social media challenges are known for becoming viral very quickly and generating a lot of buzz.

Businesses also use challenges to expand their brand awareness and build up their audience — with the difference is that they rarely involve people pouring themselves with buckets of ice water.

Better than that, challenges only work with nice rewards so people can take the initiative to participate.

For example, Osmosis knew it right when designing their #OsmosisQuest challenge, rewarding people with a free month of their service to complete their tasks and give the winners a chance of getting six months.


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A post shared by Osmosis (@osmosismed)

They knew that people would do it all to get that guaranteed free month.

5. The Millionth Follower Reward

It’s common among influencers to host special giveaways when reaching a certain number of followers.

As a brand, you can get more followers in many ways, and also engage in this kind of game to set a reward for your millionth follower.

Generating buzz around such rewards will make you get to your goals faster and probably make your brand more popular.

There are two ways of doing this:

  1. You can reward the person who gets you to the desired number.
  2. Or you can host a special giveaway to celebrate after you’ve reached it.

How you do it depends on what you think is fairer (and easier to track). The point is to get to your desired goal faster.

What’s more, you don’t even need to reach 1m nor 100k followers to “justify” a giveaway. Just take your closest goal and do it.

@artisanlabs is an excellent example of that. He celebrated his 7K followers with a giveaway that requires people to tag three friends (and getting near to 8k shortly after posting it):


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Artisan Labs (@artisanlabs)

6. Seasonal Events

Suppose you need to justify a new contest. Then make it seasonal and use holidays as an excuse to promote it.

First, come up with a special reward that fits both your audience and the holiday. And second, just post about it!

Here’s a list of the most popular holidays to spark you some ideas:

  • Easter
  • Christmas
  • St. Patrick’s Day
  • New Years
  • Father’s Day
  • Mother’s Day
  • Valentine’s Day
  • Thanksgiving
  • Halloween

You can get as creative as you want, like asking people to write about what they’re thankful for in Thanksgiving or to share a pic with their father on Father’s Day.

Or you can keep it plain and simple like @thewellnessrefinery and its typical Mother’s Day giveaway.

Make Social Media Contests Worth It

Contest ideas for social media must be relevant to your audience.

B2B brands might have difficulty getting their audience to submit a video of themselves playing football. And a skates brand will find it tough to get edgy teenagers to write an essay.

Hence the importance of choosing a contest type that fits your business goals and that’s feasible for your target audience to participate in.

So, as a rule: Make the cost of participating worth the chances of getting the reward.

If you follow this — while knowing your audience — you’ll never struggle with social media contests again.

Make it worth it.

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