Building large, engaged social media audiences in today’s busy social landscape can be tough. Trust us, we know. However, one strategy that has repeatedly produced exceptional results for us is social media contests and sweepstakes. Done correctly, these promotions can quickly and easily generate large followings of your desired audience without spending a ton of money.

I originally wrote about this topic a few years ago for Entrepreneur Magazine. I still think the original article holds up, but I’ve updated it and expanded on it below.

    1. Define your objectives. Start by determining what you want to achieve. Do you want to grow your email list or your social media followers on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, or another social channel? Or maybe you want to encourage engagement or user-generated content (UGC), such as photos or video, or some combination of the above. Either way, start with a specific goal.

    2. Build a strategy. Once you’ve identified your desired results, you can develop a strategy to achieve them, keeping in mind timing, budget, and partners.

    3. Target your audience. For the promotion to produce more than just vanity numbers, it’s imperative that it correctly targets your audience. After all, an extra 50,000 Instagram followers are meaningless if they’re not interested in your brand or products. By far the quickest and easiest way to do this is to incentivize your current audience and partners to help you get the word out, but you can also target look-a-like audiences on Facebook and other ad networks.

    4. Find a partner or three. Partners can supersize your promotion. A good partner can promote your contest to their audience, increasing participation and exposing your brand or product to a new audience. They could also subsidize the cost of the promotion or put up prizes. A great partner might do all of the above. Partners can be especially valuable to young companies who don’t have a big audience to help them spread the word or who can benefit from the partner’s credibility.


    5. Use a social promotion app. There are several companies such as Sideqik and Gleam that make it easy to run a contest across multiple social sites while encouraging social actions (follows, likes, etc.), incentivizing virality, capturing emails, and providing reporting.


    6. Reduce the friction. Fan photo and video contests can be fun and sometimes produce amazing content, but the level of effort required lowers participation. So if your goal is growth and/or engagement, then keep it simple. Start with a simple enter-to-win sweepstakes and add additional opportunities to win for additional actions. For example, a participant could simply follow you on Instagram to be entered, then they could share with friends for additional entries and share a Tweet for even more entries.


    7. Offer desirable prizes. High-value, hard-to-obtain prizes generate buzz and encourage fans to enter a contest that they might not enter otherwise. Look for prizes that uniquely appeal to your target audience as they will help drive the right audience and filter out professional “sweepstakers.”


    8. Follow the rules. In today’s litigious world, it makes sense to ensure you’ve dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s. You should have written rules for your contest and be transparent.


    9. Build the relationship. Once your contest is up and running, your attention should turn toward welcoming and engaging your new audience. For contests that capture emails, an easy way to do this is by including brand messaging and a special offer for contest participants in confirmation emails. Or you might devise a strategy to engage participants on your social channels. Either way, the objective is to engage them, welcome them, and start turning them from participants into fans.

Have questions about your social media strategy or how to run successful promotions? Let’s talk.