Contests are not only fun for you and your employees, but they can be powerful tools for generating sales and marketing. And while the concept of using them as a business opportunity is nothing new, the proliferation of social networks means that there have never been more ways to hold your contest than there are today.

So where should you hold your contest? And what should it look like? There's no one-size-fits-all answer: each venue (virtual or physical) holds its own distinct advantage, and each contest type serves its own distinct ends. Before considering what or where your contest should be, think about the goals. Are you trying to…

  • Advertise a specific promotion or sale?
  • Build general brand awareness?
  • Acquire valuable customer data (email addresses, gender, age, etc.)?

Also consider where your brand is strongest already: do you have a big social media presence on a particular platform? Or perhaps you're a brick-and-mortar store looking to build awareness about your new online marketplace?

You must also determine what kind of contest to hold. Generally, they fall into "chance-based" sweepstakes or "skills-based" competitions. Sub-categories of the latter are endless, but a few include:

  • caption contests
  • creative-answer contests
  • design of a new company logo or t-shirt (a great way to build brand loyalty by letting customers participate in big decisions)
  • video contests

Each contest type has a different barrier to entry (i.e. how hard it is to enroll), which should be carefully considered. The lower the barrier (e.g. entering an email address), the more signups, but higher barriers (like creating a video) can increase brand loyalty and even work as future advertising, as Doritos has famously done for a number of years with their create-a-commercial contest.

Whatever the answers, they must be considered carefully before deciding on a contest venue, options for which include:


An in-store contest has the advantage of being able to showcase a prize in person, so strongly consider choosing one that's eye-catching and displayable, like, say, a motorcycle instead of a tropical vacation for two. If you're looking to publicize a particular product, make sure the prize relates. Better yet, make the prize the product (a new, free or custom version).

Just as the prize is on display, consider putting your customers' entries on display as well. It will result in contestants bringing their friends and families by, having a snowball effect on the contest and your store. This effect will of course be stronger the more visual your entries are, so photography or other art-based contests are things worth considering.

Finally, make crowning your winner a public event, and consider not announcing the winner beforehand. That means that any sincerely interested entrants will show up at your store again in the hopes of winning, and the more time any potential customers spend in your store, the better.

On Your Website

This is a great option if your business is a blog or other advertisement-supported media site. Since page views are literally the sole source and determent of your income, it's important to gobble up as many as possible via your contest. While it’s easier to facilitate, running a competition on social media could potentially mean that entrants never actually set a digital foot within your site.

If you do hold the contest on your site, make sure it's promoted heavily on your front page. Generally, a link will direct users to a contest page with a description of the contest and an entry form, but you can also consider putting all of this on your front page, depending on available space.

Via Social Media

If getting customers into your store or viewers onto your website isn't mission-critical to the goals you've established, holding your contest on a social network (or across multiple ones) is a great way to extend reach you might not otherwise have.

Every network works differently, though, so take into account the following:

Facebook has the advantage of being highly measurable thanks to Facebook Insights, and analyzing the entrant data from your contest is important no matter your overall goal. The network also has the advantage of several third-party apps that can build your contest’s visuals (meaning you won't have to hire a designer), including ShortStack, Woobox and Offerpop. Having entrants share your brand/contest is a great way to build brand awareness. Or if your goal is to create brand loyalty, you can insist entrants become fans of your page. Either way, caption contests work great here: provide an image relevant to your business or promotion, and ask entrants for creative captions.

Twitter is similarly flexible depending on the goals of your contest. To promote a specific event or offer, have your entrants tweet a link to it. To build brand awareness, require entrants to follow you to be eligible. To improve reach, have entrants re-tweet your original contest tweet for a chance to be randomly selected. Make sure, when designing your contest, that you think about how to filter results -- the most straightforward way is to create a contest hashtag and ask all entrants to accompany their tweets with it. Hashtags can be easily browsed on Twitter itself or through a social media management service like Hootsuite.

Pinterest is a great option when working with a contest idea that's highly visual. Before starting, carefully read the Pinning Etiquette Guide, and remember that you can still use Facebook and Twitter to promote your Pinterest contest. Setting clear rules for your entrants is perhaps most vital on Pinterest, which allows for so many different configurations (i.e. Do you want entrants to create a whole new board for you contest? Should they just re-pin one image?). Finally, remember that Pinterest still skews strongly female (reportedly up to 97 percent), so this venue probably only makes sense if you're A) a female-centric brand or B) a unisex brand trying to boost your female customer base.