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An Actionable Guide To Running A Social Media Contest

an actionable guide to running a social media contest

Social media contests are more than just a fun excuse to hand out free swag to your followers.

A well-organized contest excites and engages your audience. It can also inspire a ton of awesome user-generated content (UGC) for your destination.

We created this step-by-step guide to help DMOs and travel brands maximize the benefits of running a social media contest. So no matter which of your followers takes the title, your organization can host a winning contest!

Immediate benefits of social media contests

In the short term, contests generate a lot of buzz and catapult your brand into the social spotlight.

The engagement boost from a successful contest allows you to:

  • Increase exposure for your branded hashtag
  • Encourage travelers to share visual UGC on social media
  • Generate hype around your destination
  • Grow your following and gain momentum on different social media channels

Big-picture benefits of social media contests

While social media contests are short-lived events, in the long term, they can help:

  • Build long-term relationships with your audience. A successful contest hashtag can encourage travelers to share photos long after a winner has been named.
  • Create a steady stream of visual UGC around your brand. The more amazing visuals that exist in your destination, the more likely potential visitors will see them and get motivated to book a trip of their own, especially during travel micro-moments.
  • Establish you as a visual influencer. You are the catalyst for all the photos people are sharing, and the curator for the best.

A step-by-step guide to running a social media contest

Let’s take a look at what goes into a winning social media contest. The guide below is illustrated by incredible photos and real-life tips used in a contest by Visit Albuquerque.

Step 1 | Set a unique hashtag

When coming up with a hashtag for your contest, choose something that travelers and locals will still want to use once the contest is over.

An ideal hashtag is 10-15 characters, easy to remember, and clearly associated with your destination. Ask yourself, would a local come up with this on their own and use it instinctively?

Here are some hashtag formulas to borrow inspiration from:

  • #(airport code)+now. Example: #PDXnow
  • #thisis+(your destination). Example: #thisisCLE
  • #picture+(abbreviation of your town). Example: #PictureABQ
  • #my+(your destination). Example: #myhouston

Step 2 | Define a clear goal

Make it easier to visualize your desired outcome by setting a goal.

Pick one or two of the following suggestions as your main objective:

  • Successfully introduce a new hashtag
  • Increase hashtag use by X%
  • Attract X more followers
  • Boost engagement (comments, likes, etc.) by X%

If you choose too many goals, it might be difficult to measure, and report the success of your campaign.

Step 3 | Brand your social contest

Branding is a critical to promoting your contest. Use images to spread the word by creating a banner that can be placed on your website, social media profiles, and in your destination newsletter.

Here are some easy ways to brand your contest:

  • Design a set of visual assets for your contest (I.e. a banner for your website and social media, shareable social photos, etc.)
  • Include details on how and when to enter, and add a CTA like “Share now with #hashtag!”
  • Publish your banner to your website. Switch out your Twitter and Facebook cover photos to your contest banner
  • Make your announcements on social media, and pin them to the top of your social feeds
  • Continue to post visuals with contest information leading up to and during the contest

Step 4 | Post your contest rules online

Share the rules of your contest on your profile pages along with your announcement. It’s important to check with your legal team to make sure the guidelines are foolproof, but don’t forget to keep it easy for your followers to understand.

Step 5 | Set a timeline

Figure out your timeline so you can start building interest well in advance of the start date. Communicate when the contest will begin and end – as well as when you will announce the winner!

A few days before the contest closes, use callouts like, “Only 2 days left to enter! Don’t miss your chance to win!” Reminding your followers that the clock is ticking might even lead to a spike in entries as the deadline approaches.

Step 6 | Announce and promote your contest

Now that you’ve hammered out the details, it’s time to officially announced your social media contest!

Post about it on your blog, social channels, and website, and with your contest’s visual assets.

And whenever you post about the contest on social media, link back to the original announcement on your website. This makes it easier for visitors to find all the details, guidelines, and launch date.

[Pro Tip] Tap into the power of local Instagram influencers. CrowdRiff can help you discover popular UGC and surface the most influential Instagram users in your area!

Step 7 | Engage with contestants and the community

Schedule posts to spark engagement and keep the conversation going throughout the contest duration. You can write out scripts to make it easier to communicate with contestants at every stage of the campaign.

Try to come up with conversation starters designed to target:

  • Followers who you want to enter your contest
  • Current participants
  • Contestants from last year or followers who attended previous events (if your contest is centered around an event.)
  • Travelers using hashtags related to your destination so you can invite them to enter your contest

Step 8 | And the winner is…

Now for the fun part: choosing a winner!

Make sure you decide ahead of time how to select the winner. We recommend sorting entries by the number of likes and comments received. Plus, filtering photos by popularity makes it easy to find high-quality UGC that you can use to inspire potential customers to book a trip.

Don’t feel pressured to pick a winner based on the numbers alone. If a particular image catches your eye but didn’t get a lot of engagement, it can still be your winning photo.  


A post shared by Maddy Minnis (@mongobbq) on

This stunning image was the winner for #PictureABQ’s contest in 2015. Want to see what it was up against? Check out the top ten photos from the contest on Visit Albuquerque’s blog.

Ready to hold a winning social media contest?

Coming up with the rules and timeline for your social media contest is the easy part. Monitoring, promoting, and managing your contest can be a bit more tricky. Find out how a tool like CrowdRiff can make this a breeze for you! Let’s chat.

First published January 21, 2016. Header photo creds: @absolut_lee

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