Running a Successful Facebook Contest

successful facebook contest

I ran across this infographic on running a successful Facebook contest yesterday but it’s a little dated and changes to the Facebook algorithm mean you must change the way you run contests if you want a successful Facebook contest. So, I scoured the internet for ideas for running a successful Facebook contest to bring you the best ideas all in one place.

successful facebook contest
Image courtesy of Shortstack

Why you should run a Facebook contest

Let’s start with some numbers. First, Facebook features the largest number of users of any social platform on the planet, so many I’ve given up citing the actual number because it’s inevitably outdated almost before I hit “publish”. That’s a lot of potential reach. And, all those users like free stuff, so contests have a lot of appeal. If done right, you can expand your reach by encouraging users to share the contest with their friends.

The value of gamification, and gamified contests are great tools for success, is $3.8 billion in North America alone.

Here’s what a successful Facebook contest looks like:

hosting a facebook contest stats
Image courtesy of Shortstack

Successful Facebook Contest Strategy:

1. Set your goals

Before you start a Facebook contest, figure out what you hope to accomplish.

  • Will your Facebook contest create more engagement? Will the Facebook contest encourage fans to share your message (amplify it) on their own social networks? Are there tools to share your Facebook contest on other social networks to cross-pollinate? Of special note, Facebook doesn’t allow you to share the contest of user profiles, thus you can’t ask users to share your contest in exchange for an entry into the contest. You can, however, ask them to like your content or contest as a form of entry or send them off-page to fill out an entry form, which gives you valuable email addresses for future marketing activities.
  • Do you want to create content with your Facebook contest? This not only gives you content to share, but visitors may engage more with content created by peers. For instance, ask users to post pictures of themselves using your product. Crowdsourcing works great for engagement. However, you can’t ask them to post pictures within the contest itself.
  • Who is your target market and will the Facebook contest attract them without a lot of waste? Reaching folks who aren’t in your target market wastes resources. Facebook contests work best when you have a large, diverse target market. But, Facebook contests can work if you can tap into a niche market effectively using Facebook Ads.
  • Do you want to expand your following with the contest?
  • How will folks respond to your Facebook contest? Will they respond by liking or by entering outside the platform?

2. Develop a Budget for the Facebook Contest

Next, you’ll need to develop a budget and estimate your ROI (return on investment). Don’t forget that a Facebook contest might not generate a high ROI immediately. The value of your Facebook contest might lie in building a more engaged network that pays off over a long time.

Here are some budget items to think about:

  • Prizes – and I’m often surprised at how users respond to prize offers. Something of little value to me sometimes draws in lots of entries because users find it valuable. You might test a few ideas with your target market before you start the contest. Note in the image above how users respond to the prize used in the contest. Of special note, contests often see better value when the prize supports a charity rather than benefiting the user.
  • Odds – What are the chances of winning the prize? Some target markets respond well when the odds are low, but the prize value is high. Others prefer higher chances of winning and a smaller prize. Sometimes, the contest rewards every entry. For instance, Purina offered to donate a bowl of food to a pet shelter for every new follower on Facebook while they donated a bag of food when you created a blog post about the brand. Test!successful facebook contest
  • Ensure # of prizes – this may sound obvious, but it’s not. During the 1980 Olympics, McDonald’s gave out prize pieces based on Olympic sports. If the US won a gold medal in the sport on their game piece, the customer got a free Big Mac, a silver got them medium fries, and a bronze was worth a drink. Unfortunately, for McDonald’s and fortunately for the poor college student I was, the Russians backed out of the games shortly before they began. Thus, the US won gold in many more sports than predicted and McDonald’s had to pay out on all of them. I ate a lot of Big Macs that summer and so did a lot of other people. At one point, McDonald’s ran out of buns — they were giving away so many burgers. Pepsi ran into a similar situation when 2 prize-winning tickets were accidentally produced. While Pepsi fought it, they were required to pay out on both tickets. Check and double-check!
  • You’ll need publicity to promote your Facebook contest in social media, email marketing, and probably traditional marketing, as well.  Add that to your budget.
  • Now, add incidentals such as printing, website design, graphic design, etc. to support your contest. Don’t forget staff — do you need some extra hands to handle the contest?
  • Now, take your estimates of benefits from the Facebook contest and subtract the costs. Remember that the value of the contest may extend well beyond the contest length, so factor that into your evaluation. Still worthwhile, go to the next step.

3. Plan, plan, plan

Contests, whether on Facebook or any other platform, have thousands of little details. Create an action plan detailing each element of the Facebook contest, who’s doing it, how long it takes, and how much it costs. Then, create a PERT chart (or Critical Path Diagram) containing every little detail. Track the critical path to ensure everything comes together without a hitch.

organizing digital marketing

Start your campaign with promotions across social media, email, and traditional marketing sources prior to the launch of the campaign. You want to build anticipation and maybe drum up a few news stories so users are ready to jump on the campaign as soon as it launches. Continue promoting your contest throughout the length it runs.

Set the rules for the contest and clearly state these rules so users have no questions about how to enter the contest.

Changes to the Facebook algorithm make it harder to reach your community organically. As of July of this year, Facebook’s reach was down to 1.52%. That means you only reach a small percentage of your community and virtually no one outside it. Gaining more engagement is one way to improve your reach both within the community (Facebook shares posts with high engagement more) and reach those outside your community as likes and comments show up on the user’s timeline (although at a very small rate). There are steps you can use to slightly improve your reach but you likely need ads to gain any real improvement.

Luckily, Facebook ads are a very low-cost and effective tool for reaching a targeted Facebook audience. If you want to learn more about using Facebook ads, check out my post here. This post is specifically about video ads but much of the content is applicable to any form of Facebook advertising.

4. Measure and evaluate

Once the contest is underway, start evaluating your results using tools like Facebook Insights for Business or proprietary tools to track reach, engagement, and conversion.

If you’ve set up A/B testing you’ll get some great insights allowing you to tweak your Facebook contest while it’s still going on — one of the great benefits of online marketing is you can change things on the fly. And, assess the project at the end to glean insights for future engagement activities.

Wanna learn more about measuring, A/B testing, and analytics? Grab the first chapter of our new ebook. It’s FREE. And, if you provide insights or edits to the manuscript (it’s a Word document so you can make changes as you read), I’ll send you the finished ebook — hopefully ready by late summer.

5. Choose the winner

Ensure transparency when choosing the winner from among the entries. It works best if you share information about how you plan to choose the winner upfront, so users can see there’s no favoritism involved. For instance, we had someone who chose the winner based on the most creative entry. Well, that doesn’t sound unbiased to me. If you plan something like that, ensure you have an outside team making the choice.

If you ask users to like or comment on your contest as a form of entry, think about using a random number generator to choose the winner based on the number of entries. Or you can use other tools to ensure everyone has an equal opportunity of winning. Namepicker is one example.

Notify everyone regarding the winner to ensure your community feels everything was above board about the contest.

Examples of a successful Facebook contest

  • Eggo and many other food brands use recipe contests both on social media and other online properties, such as their blog. In this contest, users visited the company website to enter a recipe. This post shows the winners and runners-up. King Arthur used this strategy, although not on Facebook, to build their brand into an industry leader from a small brand.
  • Dove tied its contest strongly to their brand with this contest for real beauty where users entered by sharing why their friend was beautiful along with the friend’s pictures. BTW, images of people gain more traction on social media than those without images or other types of images.dove real beauty
  • Man of Steel. In this case, the prize was simply recognition, similar to the Dove campaign. Each week the company chose the biggest fan and shared their image on the brand’s Facebook page as a way to increase excitement for an upcoming release. man of steel contest

Of course, I could go on and on with more examples of a successful Facebook contest.


A couple of closing remarks. First, pay careful attention to contest rules established by the platform you choose, whether Facebook or another platform. Strict adherence to the rules avoids delays in publishing your contest, which might prove costly.

Second, monitor the progress of your contest carefully and be prepared to tweak the contest to get the best results. However, never change the rules once the contest starts. Monitor key metrics so you can learn more about how your community responds to your contest so you can improve future contests. That involves adding tracking codes to external links, such as to your website, so you can monitor visitor actions. Knowing that visitors came to your website or app store based on the contest allows you to evaluate the success of your campaign, as well as use this information, if desired, to award prizes.

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