It seems like everyone is hosting contests on social media these days, but some of them are surprisingly ineffective. You’d think users would pounce on any opportunity to get free stuff or recognition, but sometimes, contests fizzle out shortly after their initial announcement.

Since running contests takes a lot of time, effort, resources, and attention to social media platforms’ policies (such as Instagram’s extensive promotion policies), you want to avoid creating a dud as much as possible. With a valuable prize, carefully-crafted campaign, and consistent promotion however, you could create a lot of buzz around your brand.

One of the biggest advantages of running a contest on your social channels is generating lots of buzz and hype around your brand, a new product, or even a new partnership. If you have a boring or worthless prize, then social users aren’t likely to engage with your content. However, a truly valuable prize (worth at least $20 with free shipping to the winner) could drive traffic to your accounts and website.

To create a buzz-worthy contest, you should:

  • Give users enough time to enter but not too much time (otherwise they’ll forget they entered at all)
  • Offer a valuable prize to one or multiple entrants (e.g., gift card, free product/service, cool gadget, 3-month membership, etc.)
  • Require more than a simple click to enter

In regards to the last one, you’ll want to use contests as opportunities to create leads or bring in new followers. For instance, you might ask for a person’s name and email on a separate landing page to qualify for entry or ask users to comment on your post and tag their friends (one entry per friend tagged in the post). Offer different levels, such as one entry for liking or commenting on your post, five entries for sharing the post on their own page, and ten entries for referring others to like your page. As mentioned previously, be sure that your entry requirements fulfill the guidelines set by the social platform to avoid negative consequences.

It’s not enough to simply generate buzz around your brand; you also want some tangible benefits from your contest, such as racking up more followers. However, you don’t want bots or low-activity accounts artificially boosting your follower counts, so be sure to include a requirement about commenting, liking or sharing your post(s) to ensure your pages are attracting legitimate followers who could later convert into paying customers.

The best contests go above and beyond simply asking users to “like” their contest post. Sure, it’s easier to track entries when you use this method, but you’re unlikely to see long-term benefits from a contest based on entry likes. Instead, you should focus on user engagement above all else, which could include: counting entries based on whoever uses your branded hashtag for the campaign, hosting photo contests and letting your followers vote for the winning entries (PetSmart does annual Halloween pet costume contests this way and they’re popular on social media), and asking users to submit photos of them using your product or service for the chance to be featured on your page.

Recognizing and engaging with your followers is one of the most successful strategies for social media marketing, so don’t miss out on a potential opportunity to truly engage your audience with your next contest.