The seven dos and don’ts of running a competition

Want to promote your business or boost your social media following by running a competition? Here are seven dos and don’ts to follow.

It’s practically impossible to scroll through your social media newsfeed these days without coming across a competition. Indeed, a quick search on ‘#giveaway’, shows just how crowded the market already is.

There are even websites dedicated to locating online promotions online and spreading the word to competition hopefuls. And over 100 are added every single day.

The seven dos and don’ts of running a competition

So if you want to run a competition for your business, how can you make sure it stands out? And more importantly – delivers the results you want. To help you, here are the seven dos and don’ts of running a promotional competition.

1) Do define your aims before launching

What do you want your competition to achieve? And what type of contest will deliver it?

For example, if you want to improve your SEO rank, there’s little point running a ‘Follow & RT’ competition. Instead, you might consider launching an interesting, topical competition that other websites in your community would want to cover.

If you simply want to boost your social media numbers a ‘Follow & RT’ contest may work. But if you want more engaged followers, you may decide to invest in targeted advertising to attract the kind of people who would have an interest in your product or service – and keep your entry requirements simple.

So think carefully before you decide how your competition is going to work, and ensure that it is likely to deliver on your aims.

2) Don’t break the rules

It’s essential that you follow the rules of social media platforms when running a competition. So check their T&Cs before launching – if not you could be penalised. (Facebook has specific guidelines for when you are running a competition on it, for example.)

Also make sure that you follow the rules that you set for yourself. Don’t cheat the competition so that your friends or family win the prize, for example.

And make sure you follow through on your promises, including what your prize includes, postage expectations and exactly when entries will close. If not, you’ll irritate your entrants, and find that future competitions don’t perform as well.

3) Don’t be generic

A simple ‘Follow and RT’ style competition can be successful, especially for small or common prizes. After all, it delivers what it asks for: an increase in social following and a wide circulation.

However, the problem with generic competitions like this is that they attract ‘compers’ and people who have absolutely no interest in your brand besides the fact it is offering them something for free. And yes, you may manage to boost your social following by 500, but how can you be sure that the majority of these people are potential customers?

Some of your new followers may even be duplicate accounts set up just to enter the same competition several times.

A generic campaign can also be boring. A quick scroll through the #giveaway hashtag reveals just how many competitions are running every single day, so it’s important to stand out.

For example, Del Mar Fans and Lighting ran a competition to give away a pendant lamp shade, with a timely Super Bowl 50 twist. The mechanic was simple, but the creative was fun and relevant.

Digital DNA talks about the benefit of being creative with your competitions, as we have done by giving away a billboard placement to a graduate or student trying to find a job. You not only have free user generated content, but your creative story is much more likely to be picked up by journalists and external websites than a run-of-the-mill giveaway.

4) Don’t complicate it

When it comes to deciding on our mechanism, keep it simple – and don’t ask too much of people to enter.

For example, if you require entrants to join your mailing list, follow you on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and then post a photo of themselves with a poster they made for your company, and you’re only offering 50% off their next purchase, it won’t be much surprise if your competition flops.

However, if you’re offering a higher value value prize you can afford to be a little more creative. But you should still try to keep your requirements relatively broad to maximise the amount of people able to enter.

You can use these opportunities to ask for higher user engagement, like when personal budgeting app Mint asked users to submit pictures of their financial successes for their #MyMintMoment competition. Users posted their pictures with the hashtag with the hopes of winning $1000, generating over 3,000 posts on Instagram alone.

5) Do use your results to your advantage

Your competition may be over, but that doesn’t mean you can no longer benefit from it. To maximise the value of your competition, you can craft a story from your results.

Are you able to showcase the incredible artwork submitted to your painting competition, for example? Or create a video of all of the clips that your entrants sent in? Maybe your winner has an interesting story of how or why they entered, or their life has changed somewhat since they won?

Shoeboxed, a digital archive service, asked people to send in pictures of their messy desks in the hopes of winning an iPad mini. Not only did the competition get them publicity, but they were able to create evergreen content for their website from the 200 photographs they received. That content later ranked on the first Google search page for the term “Messy desk”.

Shopify writer Tucker Schreiber says that it’s also important to use your results appropriately to thank your winner for participating and helping you get promotion, and to act as social proof and encourage more engagement for future competitions.

Remember this content can be repurposed later, to leverage further publicity and traffic.

6) Do look for help from others

It’s common sense to alert your followers and mailing list when you’re running a competition, but don’t forget to contact other websites and social influencers too.

Simply giving journalists and social media managers a heads up to your competition and why it’s of interest to them over email could secure you a social post or article to further promote your giveaway. Even a simple tweet from a particularly well respected social influencer can have a big impact on your competition’s success.

Sometimes the best boost for your competition is to have the help of another website or social influencer. If they have a larger following, obviously your giveaway will reach more new customers. And an external website may give your own business a new authority and place in the community.

You might ask them to run the competition for you, with a mechanic that leads entrants back to you, or to simply share it with their followers. For example, UK wedding venue Finnebrogue Woods teamed up with wedding photographers Simple Tapestry to give away an engagement shoot, held at their venue.

However, being a small, relatively unknown venue which didn’t yet have a sizeable social following, Finnebrogue sought the help of a larger website, Quirky Weddings, to host the competition. Not only were the results beautiful, but their social following on Facebook grew to over 2,000.

7) Don’t panic

While it’s unusual to get complaints about a giveaway, it’s good to be prepared. So, if at any point your competition is accused of being unfair, stay calm. Listen to the complaint and evaluate if you have in fact run your competition poorly.

If you are at fault, apologise and promise to make changes to future competitions. But if you haven’t made a mistake, respond politely and professionally. Tell them that you appreciate their feedback but that your competition is being run fairly, and leave it at that.

To avoid trouble like this, think carefully about your T&Cs, and the mechanic you’ll use to choose the winner.

Make sure YOU are a winner too

Competitions can be a great way to win extra publicity for your company. But to really make them work, they require some thought and care.

A successful campaign will help you reach specific business goals. So don’t just get carried away in the fun and creativity of planning a competition; instead keep in mind what business outcomes you want to achieve and ensure your contest delivers – so you’re the winner too. are an online trade printing company based in Northern Ireland. They operate a 24-hour factory with five-colour printing that produces high quality, quick turnaround products for small entrepreneurs to big corporations across the UK and Ireland.