Like any of your marketing efforts, the impact of a social media contest depends on what you want to achieve. From building a more loyal following on your social media networks to seeing an immediate shift in your bottom line, contests can have a drastic and almost instantaneous effect on your business. Best of all, virtually anyone can take advantage of contests as part of their marketing strategy by following some fairly simple guidelines.

Contests 101

Promotions and contests usually follow a consumer engagement model of marketing, often under the guise of an enter-to-win format. Whether you have a hundred Facebook fans or a hundred thousand, these types of contests are a foolproof way to get users to like and share your page. While this may seem like a relatively untargeted or even absurdly broad approach to gathering followers on your page, it’s possible to direct your efforts towards specific demographics by taking care in choosing what your prize will be.

Since the intended incentive is what will drive people to participate, picking that incentive carefully is what sets the scope of who your participants will be, and there are three types of contest participants that you should be concerned with. Once you’re armed with an understanding of the different types of participants that you’ll commonly encounter, it takes only a few minutes to figure out how to optimally design a contest to appeal to the right groups.

Types of Contestants

The first type of contestant is the passive spectator that has found your contest either through a friend or through your website. While most of the people that fall into this category will remain passive and the only gains you’ll make from them is an extension of brand awareness, on occasion they can be converted into an active role. This conversion only occurs when your contest offers them a clear and enticing message commonly known as a call to action.

The second type is the follower, a group that is likely to participate in your contest only provided that there’s a low barrier for entry, such as “liking” your Facebook page. This group is apt to be only minimally engaged with your content, but is also likely to make up the majority of contest entries whenever their participation is encouraged. The higher you raise the bar for entry, whether it is a matter of time, creativity, or money, the more followers you’ll lose as a consequence. The best examples of contests which have low barriers for entry include those which ask participants to provide a few details about themselves in addition to their e-mail address to contact them should they win. Not only is this an excellent way to collect information about your contestants, it’s also one of the most effective ways to build up mailing lists overnight.

Last but certainly not least, the final type worth considering is the content creator. Creators are the primary group of interest for anyone that wants to collect user generated content. While most people agree that content creation among users is on the rise, requiring created content is a relatively high bar for participation and recognizing this is the first step to working to alleviate that problem. Some of the most prominent examples of content creating contests include YouTube’s Comedy Week where YouTube members are encouraged to post original video content to win their chance at fame and fortune. YouTube is an ideal place for content creation contests because the YouTube community by its very nature has an extensive population of content creators.

Utilizing the Types

Depending on what you want to achieve, be it brand awareness, an increase in traffic to your site, or simply a bump in your next sales report, designing your contest to cater to the right groups is crucial. While spectators are an excellent way to spread your brand awareness, the best returns come from users who have the highest levels of engagement. Keeping your contestants engaged is relatively easy to do on social media sites. Being personable and reachable is important to successfully using contests as a marketing tool. You can certainly get more “likes” on your Facebook page or retweets from your Twitter account with a contest, but don’t forget to make a serious attempt to reach out to people through these platforms as well. Encouraging communication with potential customers, and replying to questions and concerns, can do wonders for your social media marketing plan. Lastly, keep in mind that while raising the bar for participation drives participants to increase their engagement, it also sends away those who do not have the resources available to take a more active role in your event.

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