Running a Social Contest in 2016: What’s Changed

Here are a few things you need to change about your social contests in 2016, plus a few things that should stay the same.

I did a search recently to find some good information about running a social contest. The latest post I found through Google search was an article from July 2014, and most of the articles I found were from 2011 or 2012. That’s about 30 years ago in internet years. But seriously, digital marketing has evolved a great deal in the past five years, with social media changing at an especially rapid pace.

I see thousands of social contests run every year here at Heyo, and it’s time for some updates. Here are a few things you need to change about your social contests in 2016, plus a few things that should stay the same.

Why run a social contest?

I’m one of those crazy people who like to ask, “Why,” so let’s go there first. Why should a business run a social contest? What business value do they provide? I’ve got two answers for you.

First, running a social contest will help you gather new email leads. I’ve been doing online marketing for years now, and I still haven’t found a better way to gather a large volume of new leads in a short amount of time. Here’s a good example.

Trind, a small Dutch cosmetics company, recently ran a giveaway and gathered 930 new email leads in a little over two weeks. For a company with fewer than 6,000 Facebook fans and a small email list, this was a huge success. Passive lead collection like a free download or newsletter sign-up form won’t give you these concentrated results.


Second, a social contest will help you drive more engagement on social media. A contest tends to be a nice event that gets people excited and willing to share. Check out the tweets that Marie Scholl, owner of Inspired Endurance, received on a social contest she ran recently:

Running a social contest can get your audience liking, commenting and sharing a lot more. This is a great way to both deepen relationships with your fans and build awareness with others.

What hasn’t changed

Good design continues to be important. According to Kinesis, once your page loads, the viewer will form an opinion about your content in 0.05 seconds. If you don’t believe that stat, consider the ever-shortening attention span of consumers. Then couple that with the fact that better tools and greater access to design expertise has raised expectation of those same consumers. Creating a contest page that is well-designed and easy to read will ensure that you capture viewers’ attention and drive better results. Make sure that the landing page for your social contest feels clean and modern. Think about the details like colors, typeface (fonts) and imagery.

Social contests also still provide a great opportunity to share. Take advantage of that. Embed smart sharing options into your contest page to make it easy and compelling to share. I’d recommend including options for at least Facebook and Twitter. You’ll also want to ensure that the page metadata is set up and optimized. Good social contest platforms will help you optimize page metadata. That way when people share your contest page URL it looks great in the social feed, like this:


If not, your status update might look like this:


Finally, it’s still important to promote your social contest well. If a tree falls in the forest … you know the rest. You can’t assume that if you build it (a social contest), they will come (your audience and their friends). Promote the heck out of it. I always recommend that you leverage every free, organic channel available to you. This includes social media, your website or blog and even your email list (remember, you may already have their email, but they’re going to share your contest with their friends, as well). At that point you should consider smart, well-targeted ad strategies.

What has changed: Mobile takes the lead

Mobile has become the most important device platform. According to Mary Meeker‘s 2015 internet trends report, U.S. adults are now spending more time every day browsing the internet from mobile phones than they are from computers. But does that weight hold true for entries on social contests? We had the same question and recently ran our own analysis here at Heyo. When we looked across all Heyo customers running social contests, entrants coming from mobile and tablet ranged from 45 percent to 80 percent, depending on the customer, with an overall average of roughly 60 percent. In 2016 it’s imperative that your social contest page is mobile-optimized. This means that it’s responsive, not just viewable, on mobile devices.


Consumers want brands to communicate with them in a more tailored way. According to NewsCred, 90 percent of consumers want custom content. Consumers also want more control, with 91 percent of people stating that they have unsubscribed from company emails they previously opted into. No one wants to be at the receiving end of an “email blast.”

When assembling your promotion strategy, segment and target as best you can. Targeting based on demographics (age, gender, location, etc.) is good. Targeting based on psychographics (what your audience cares about) is even better. Targeting on both is best. If you’re looking for some paid advertising options, try Facebook ads. The Facebook ads platform has a wealth of targeting criteria that you can use to put your contest post right in front of the perfect audience.

PRO TIP: Are you a B2B company? Look for LinkedIn groups that align with your industry to reach a concentrated audience in your target market.

You now have many more social platforms at your disposal. Five years ago, Facebook was pretty much the only game in town. Not so in 2016. Come up with creative ways to leverage other platforms like Instagram, Pinterest or LinkedIn. The simple way to do this is to promote your social contest across as many of these platforms as possible.

PRO TIP: Run a photo contest that allows entrants to sync with Instagram and attach a photo from their feed.


Running a social contest is a smart strategy for 2016. The fundamental rules still hold true, but you also need to adapt with the times to ensure that your contest feels modern and relevant to your audience.

Christopher Riegger is an expert on list building and growth for small businesses and the founder of online marketing strategy outfit Growth Fruit.

“Contest” image courtesy of Shutterstock.