How to Build a Winning Social Competition

By Lindsay Macdonald - September 11, 2019
4 mins read time
A  A  A

Brands often come to us looking for advice on the best ways to engage their communities on social, and one of our go-to tips remains a top method for fostering audience participation: build a social competition.

Creating a social competition is simple, effective and engaging, both for your audience and your internal teams. Plus, a successful social contest can up your follower count, boost your brand’s social clout and ultimately increase sales. With over 88 percent of businesses active on social media today, a social competition can help your brand to stand out.

Here are a few steps to building a winning social competition:

1. What to do, what to say?

First things first: why is your brand looking to run a competition? Are you looking to source content from your community? Hear what your customers have to say? Increase engagement on your brand’s social channels?

It’s an essential first step to determine the goal of your social competition; from there, you can decide exactly what type of competition will provide the results that best align with your intended outcomes.

If you’re looking to source user-generated content created by your audiences, a sweepstakes might be the right competition for your brand. By encouraging the audience to submit their own content in response to a question or hashtag, your brand can aggregate authentic content from your organic fans.

Check out this sweepstakes contest from RACQ. Through their 2019 Pet Search competition, participants could submit their favorite photo of their furry best friend across social channels or via a direct upload. The winner would be featured on their website, in their calendar and on the cover of RACQ’s magazine, The Road Ahead. Now, the top twelve pet photos are featured, along with the colorful winner above, Hugo!

Pro tip: If your brand is looking to leverage the user-generated content your audience submits through a sweepstakes across your brand’s channels, it’s essential to make sure you’re properly gaining the rights to that content. See Tip #2 for a deeper dive.

If sourcing visual content isn’t the main goal of your social competition, maybe a caption contest is the right move. Or, if you’re looking to focus on social engagement, encourage audience members to like and comment on your own social content to enter to win a giveaway, prize or experience.

Partner with other brands to expand awareness of the competition! With a low barrier to entry, your audience is more likely to participate and engage.

2. Establish rules — and legal rights

What platform will you use for your competition? Will participants be able to access the contest via all social networks, or will you reserve the playing field to include only tweets? Only Instagram content?

Whatever you choose, ensure the ground rules are clearly laid out and easy to follow. Participants need to be clear on how to enter, what to do and what they’ll win. As consumers have grown more social-savvy, they’ve also become more skeptical, and they’ll only participate if they’re confident in their understanding of the use of their content submission in and beyond the competition.

Gaining the rights to content submitted by your audience is easy if you establish clear guidelines at the outset.


By placing rights requests in the Terms & Conditions you create for the contest, consumers can easily grant rights in one fell swoop, and your brand can seamlessly leverage that authentic content across your other marketing channels during (and after) the competition.

3. Promote, engage, promote

Whether you’ve centered your social competition around a hashtag, a photo, a question or any other prompt, it’s essential to build out a calendar of promotional materials to engage each and every member of your audience.

Promote your contest across all of your channels, not just social. Encourage participation via emails, website copy, ads and print materials. For example, Focaccia, an SF-based sandwich joint popular amongst our San Francisco team, hosted an Instagram competition (an event that garnered a lot of attention around the office!). They promoted the competition with succinct posters throughout the store, so even hurried customers popping in for a quick bite were aware of the contest.

Then, once you’ve obtained the rights to the user-generated content that participants are submitting, post your favorite photos across your own brand channels! For example, Klondike asked its loyal fanbase to share via video submissions what they’d really be willing to do for a Klondike bar. As the content came rolling in, the brand hosted some of their favorites, below, on the website.

Brands that engage with submitted content as it comes in will foster more engagement and encourage more participation. Even if a submission isn’t a winner, any sort of feature from a brand account will feel like a win. In fact, 51 percent of consumers said they’d be more likely to continue engaging with and/or purchasing from a brand if it shared their photo, video or social post across its marketing.

4. What will I win?

We’ve discussed building a winning competition, managing the rights to the content your competition aggregates and the promotion required to bring it to life, but now it’s time to discuss the most important part of any competition: the prizes!

Today, many consumers want more than just a free product in return for participating. In fact, 72 percent of Millennials prefer experience-related purchases. For travel, tourism and hospitality brands especially, the opportunity to kick your social competition stakes up a notch with a prize centered on a getaway or an exclusive holiday will resonate deeply with your audiences — and increase their chances of getting involved.

In 2015, Atlantis Resort held a social competition with a grand prize of two free tickets to the resort to see a popular boy band, Emblem3, perform. Followers simply had to retweet Atlantis’ tweet to enter the competition, establishing a low barrier to entry for a highly sought-after prize.

In only 48 hours of running the competition, Atlantis’ social following skyrocketed by 2,000 followers. With an experiential prize like this, Atlantic garnered social awareness that sticks; new followers are more likely to stick around if there’s potential of another contest for a prize that interests them.

Expedia’s #EyeWanderWin contest also offered an experiential travel prize — but they kept the destination a surprise. At the end of their three-week competition, after over 4,350 user-generated travel images were submitted, Expedia chose three winners and, only then, revealed the destinations they’d won free trips to.

5. Get social!

You’re prepared! With these building blocks, go forth and build a social competition that will garner customer attention, engagement and loyalty.

You may be interested in:

See how you can start getting better content with less effort.

We respect and value your privacy, read our Privacy Policy here.