Running an Online Contest

  1. Optimizing and Maintaining Your SEO
  2. Search Engine Marketing
  3. Social Media Ad Campaigns
  4. Content Marketing
  5. Social Media
  6. Marketing Technology for Small Businesses
  7. Running an Online Contest

Running an online contest is a great way to increase traffic to your website, grow your followers, and increase engagement with your audience. Today’s consumers are bombarded with promotional content, offers and advertisements, so well-designed contests are a clever way to delight and provide value to your audience.

Online contests are also a great way to encourage user-generated content (UGC), which is arguably the holy grail of content marketing. UGC is content that is created by end users or consumers. When your customers are creating their own content about your product or service, they are doing your marketing and promotion for you. This builds credibility and boosts sales. In fact, a recent study shows that 70% of people trust images taken from ‘people like them’ over brand-created images.

With the right amount of planning and careful execution, you can use contests to encourage UGC, reach more potential customers, and ultimately, drive revenue. Use the following steps to grow your business by running a successful online contest.

Step 1: Document your goals

Don’t make the mistake of skipping this step! Goal-setting is a crucial part of any successful marketing strategy, and running an online contest is no exception.

There are a lot of goal-setting techniques out there, but ultimately there is no one-size-fits-all formula. The key is that your goals are clear and make sense for your business. Don’t set goals around numbers that might feel nice but don’t affect your bottom line — for example, don’t set goals around increasing Instagram followers if your ideal customer doesn’t spend much time on Instagram.

Start by considering which types of results will benefit your business the most. Will your company benefit more from increased website visits, shares on Facebook, or a bigger email list? Make sure you take the time to set goals that will drive growth for your business.

Step 2: Plan

Make sure to spend ample time planning your online contest in order to get the best results. There are a lot of different ways to run a contest but your success will depend on using the methods that are right for your goals. Here are four things to consider in the planning process:


Start by determining how your contest will add value to your audience. Don’t bother running a contest that isn’t interesting to your ideal customer and doesn’t offer a reward that they find valuable.

Depending on your business, you could give away some of the product or service you offer, but only do that if your product provides immediate perceived value. Sometimes it’s better to give away a gift card or some other prize that is easy to associate value with, while taking the opportunity to provide more information about your product or service after the contest.


Next, consider what type of content will resonate with your audience the most. Again, don’t jump too quickly into putting your product or service at the center of the content. While it is important to make sure the content relates to your business in order to attract potential customers, don’t make it all about you. Instead, consider the problem your business solves for your customers and try to build your contest around the problem or felt need.

In addition, you’ll need to determine which type of content you want to encourage your audience to generate. While UGC can come in the form of written content, visual content is often the most effective. Visuals are processed 60,000 times faster than text, meaning you are more likely to capture the attention of more people with visual content.


Setting a budget is an important part of the planning process. While you don’t need to spend a fortune promoting your contest, setting aside a small budget for PPC (pay-per-click advertising) can be very effective.

Investing in a contest platform like Woobox or Gleam can help you create and promote your contest, as well as help you organize and analyze your results.

On a tight budget? Never fear — you can still see great results through organic promotion (more on that in a few).

Online Contest Rules

Make sure you are clear about the online contest guidelines and rules. Depending on the complexity of the contest, it can be helpful to create a landing page where your users can find the information on how to enter. If you do this, try using a landing page platform like Landing Lion that allows you to include a countdown timer and provides insights into user behavior.

It’s also important to be aware of the guidelines that each social network has set around promotions. Take a look at Social Media Examiner’s overview of those legalities to make sure your contest is compliant.


Make sure to plan the start and end dates of your contest. It’s important to run your contest long enough that your audience has time to complete the requirements and share it with their network, but don’t let it drag out too long.

Shorter timeframes create a sense of urgency which can move people to participate. As a general rule, 2-4 weeks is a good timeframe for most UGC focused contests.

Step 3: Launch & Promotion

Now you’re ready to launch and get the word out about your online contest! Here are a few ways to successfully promote your contest:

  • Email your subscribers — make sure to let them know first and mention the prize in the subject line of your email.
  • Write a blog post announcing your contest.
  • Share the contest on your social media accounts — make sure to post about your contest regularly throughout the duration of the contest. Showcase entries as they come in and ask your followers to share the contest with their friends.
  • Reach out to influencers or bloggers in your industry and ask them to participate.
  • Post about your contest on contest directories and websites — find a list of suggested sites here.
  • Use appropriate hashtags to reach a wider audience — this technique is especially useful on Instagram where posts with hashtags are likely to get more engagement than posts without hashtags.

Step 4. Pick winners and analyze results

When the contest is over, make sure to randomly pick the winner and notify them in a timely manner. Use this part of the process as another content opportunity by writing a blog post about the winner and highlighting the winning entry on your social media channels.

Next, take a look at the results and whether or not you achieved your goals. Consider which parts of your promotion strategy worked best and determine whether or not the contest seemed to resonate with your audience. Take the time to learn from the process and use that knowledge to improve your results next time around.