How to run an online contest

Online contests

“Are you feeling lucky, punk?” This question may pop into your mind when you hand over the money for that Lotto ticket. But taking your chances with the National Lottery is not the only way you can further your position in life. More and more companies are organizing online contests as a means of raising brand awareness and gaining customers. Most of these are done through social media but it is not as easy as you might have been led to believe.

Let’s get the nitty-gritty stuff out of the way first. Running a contest on any type of platform requires you to adhere to the rules and regulations of the platform you are using as well as that of the country you are operating in. When it comes to social media platforms, each one will have their own rules that you have to follow. For example, many people don’t know that it is against Facebook’s policies to have contestants “like” your page to then automatically gain entry into a contest. One must make use of a separate application on Facebook (there are ones specifically for sweepstakes and so forth) with which you run the contest. You can also ask people to “like” your page and then provide a link to your site from which they will then be able to enter. Of course, these rules differ from each social network to the next so make an effort to read them to avoid being shut down or given a warning.

The Consumer Protection Act is the go-to place when you are organizing a contest of any kind in South Africa, whether it is online or otherwise. One of the basic things you have to do before even considering a contest is to prepare the rules, supply a copy to the National Consumer Commission (at no cost to them) and keep that copy for a period of time. In these rules clearly state what winning the contest will provide the entrant, the steps you require for successful entry, how a winning entry will be determined, the closing date, the medium through which results will be made known (i.e. via e-mail) and how a winning entrant can receive their prize. The Consumer Protection Act is readily available online for anyone thinking of organising a contest.

There are many types of online contests that you can use to increase your brand awareness. Sweepstakes or lucky draws may be the one that most people are familiar with. It is also one of the most simple since you only have to keep track of the amounts of entrants and then make use of a program to electronically choose the winner. These contests tend to be impersonal and will not invite active participation. They focus on people who already know and love the brand, without gaining new customers. When new customers decide to participate, they tend to linger only long enough to see if they have won but no further interest in the brand is generated.

Invite your fans to upload pictures or videos of them using your product in various situations. Audience participation is high in this instance and it provides the opportunity for you to showcase the full potential of your product, sometimes in ways that you may not have been aware of. For example, during the 2012 Social Media Week the “Instagram Your City” contest was unveiled where users had to upload an image from one of 14 selected cities, add a filter, tag it and then tweet their contribution with the appropriate hashtag. The winner received a trip to one of the 14 cities mentioned. Of course, in contrast to lucky draws, there is a greater barrier to participation as uploading photos requires effort on the contestant’s part. Yet, it is a great way of seeing who your loyal fans are and gaining new support through a fun experience.

In the case of photo or video contests not being a viable option, focus on creative text input. Innocent Smoothies, one of the sponsors of the 2012 London Olympics, asked their fans to tweet for a seat. Fans were invited to tweet who they would take with them to the Olympics and why, and the most creative or humorous answer would win a ticket to watch any one of various events. Campaigns such as these provide entertainment for their users and create a buzz surrounding their brand while using a major event as a catalyst for grabbing attention. Some other examples include asking users what questions they would ask a particular celebrity and then have that person answer the most original ones.

Making use of an old-fashioned scavenger hunt is another fun way of garnering attention from customers through making the brand interactive. Take Google Earth’s Treasure Hunt as an illustration of what you can do. With the help of an elaborate back-story and eccentric puzzle master, you have to work your way through a set of clues and coordinates in order to find particular locations on Google Earth. The catch, though, is that you need to have access to Google Earth’s application and buy a book online which will give you the hints you need. The motivation is a huge cash prize for all your troubles. This is a clever way of getting people to use your product for an extended period of time (which will give them time to grow fond of it) and at the same time garner profits.

There is no guarantee that an online contest will work for you but at the very least it will give your loyal fans something to look forward to. Make an effort to include everyone when running a contest. This includes both voters or spectators and those participating actively. Always adhere to the rules and regulations to spare you any future worries or run the risk of looking unprofessional, thus chasing potential customers away. Last, but not least, take a lesson from every contest you run, no matter how successful (or not). Start small, take note of your customer’s reactions and then improve on your formula in the future.


Maxxor offers online marketing and social media development services to help brands to communicate with and to interact with their consumers on social networks and other platforms. Contact us for assistance in creating entertaining and engaging online marketing campaigns.