Neil Patel

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How to Create a Facebook Contest that Actually Works


Facebook recently passed 2 billion monthly users.

No one in the history of humanity has ever had the means to talk directly to so many people.

We need a new word for behemoth!

But predictably, with something so large comes a quantity of content that is also unheard of. And it’s growing fast.

You might feel tempted to buy fans. Don’t.

You can find far more effective (and ethical) ways to build your Facebook brand organically.

Despite hot competition from the likes of Instagram and the messaging apps like Whatsapp, Facebook is still on another level — both in terms of size and reach but also in terms of functionality.

The ability to host various campaigns inside Facebook makes it the ideal platform for running contests.

I can hear you groaning from back there.

“Contests are the oldest trick in the book!”

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This ticket from an Irish hospital sweepstakes in 1937 seems to bear that out!

It’s true that there have been lots of different contests on Facebook over the years.

You probably have participated in quite a few yourself.

And that’s the thing. Contests might be a dime a dozen, but when you find yourself participating in one, there has to be a reason why.

Good contests actually do work. That’s why everyone keeps running them!

As you can guess, there is a large difference between a regular old contest and a good contest. This is true in execution, but especially in terms of surpassing your business objectives.

In order to create a Facebook contest that actually works, there are four major points you have to address.

  1. Start with why. What are you trying to achieve with your Facebook contest?
  2. Strike the right balance.
  3. Execute the contest flawlessly.
  4. Measure the results and improve upon them.

And right before we get started, I highly recommend that you check the Facebook page promotions terms. Contests on Facebook have changed a lot over the years. Make sure that you’re not going to find yourself cut off before you begin!

Now, let’s dive in!

First, start with why

If you’re running a contest, you need to define your primary goal. This is how you will measure your contest’s results!

There are different types of goals, but they most commonly fall into one of the two following categories:

  • Brand or product awareness
  • Data collection

Brand or product awareness

One of the best parts of social networks is the way that each and every one of us can share something with our networks.

The viral effect is when people share content that catches many people’s attention, causing it to be reshared at lightning speed.

From a marketing perspective, this is priceless. The network makes your content reach people beyond your audience — for free!

For a contest to have a chance to tip the scales and reach outside of your immediate network, it needs to harness the social forces that keep Facebook turning.

The biggest of those forces boils down to sharing pictures and videos of ourselves. In fact, people take over 1 million combined selfies per day.

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Therefore, if you are looking for brand or product awareness, you should consider asking people to create content that includes themselves.

The content can come in different forms.

You can ask participants to take pictures of themselves doing something.

You can ask people to make videos, usually of themselves performing a task.

This is called UGC, or user-generated content.

UGC is super effective. By some estimates, it can generate 6.9x higher engagement than brand-generated content.


Because people care about their friends.

When you see someone post something unrelated to themselves, you have a tendency to skip over that content.

But when you see your friends’ faces in images and videos, your thumb stops scrolling.

Remember the ice bucket challenge?

In a way, it’s not even really a contest, since there was no “winner” for participating.

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But it did drive an incredible amount of awareness. Plus, it generated $115 million in donations for the ALS Association.

It was driven particularly by the tagging method, which was one of the best ways to spread awareness about a contest. Each participant becomes an ambassador, spreading the content to their networks.

I say was because you are no longer able to require people to tag their friends in order to try and win something on Facebook.

You can certainly push people to share contests with their friends — and to tag other people — but you can’t make it a requirement for a participant to win your prize.

The key is to find something for people to do that reinforces your brand or business, but that breaks out from the norm so that it attracts the attention of other people.

Then, once people have created content, you can offer to feature the best content on your social channel.

This can be a surprisingly strong motivator. The exposure and proximity to a brand can be enough to get people to participate.

It also doesn’t cost you anything.

But it won’t always work, especially if you have a smaller reach on your social channel and your brand isn’t really known.

In this case, compensate for those deficiencies by making the action or challenge fun and innovative.

Collecting data and boosting CRM

Data collection operations are one of the best uses of contests.

They have been around since forever!

It’s the classic “enter to win” format.

People enter their contact information for a chance to win the prize.

Then you can contact those people again when you’re ready to sell to them.

In this case, you wouldn’t ask people to take pictures of themselves or to create UGC since the action of handing over their email addresses and other information is already necessary.

You can up the stakes with trivia questions or by running a photo caption contest.

But when you want to collect information about people, don’t put too many steps in between them and your data collection.

I will get into the details a little later, but there are some great apps on Facebook that give you a form to add contacts directly to your database.

The tool you choose depends on how much information you’re looking for.

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This is an example of asking for a lot of information. Your forms can be longer depending on how much information you want to recover. But do keep in mind that, statistically speaking, the more information you request, the fewer people will fill out your form.

Are you trying to get people to like your page?

Ah, this is where it gets tricky.

Facebook no longer allows what it calls “like-gating.”

Like-gating is making someone like your page in order for them to participate in a contest that you’re running.

This used to be standard practice for recruiting followers.

Today, it’s no longer possible.

In fact, it’s important to note that, in certain countries, there are laws against forcing people to enter their contact information before participating in a game or contest.

Whatever the objective of your contest, some things remain constant.

For a contest to be effective, it has to strike the proper balance between a number of different factors.

Let’s take a closer look at those balances.

Second, strike the right balances

There must be a balance between the frequency of winners and the size of the prize.

You must consider the value that someone might attach to the prize, the possibility of winning the prize, and the steps that a contestant has to take in order to be able to win the prize.

Generally speaking, there is an inverse relationship between the absolute value of the prize and the frequency with which someone can win it.

Makes sense.

You can’t give away a tropical vacation plus $10,000 cash every day for a month (unless your business is really going well!)

If the prize is an eye-catching thing that’s designed to attract everyone, it will probably be something that is won at the end of the competition.

If the prize is smaller —say, one of your products that you’ve valued around $30 — you could structure your contest so that there is a winner every day for the duration of the contest.

The fact that a participant could win today adds a sense of urgency.

Sometimes, huge prizes seem too good to be true, and they often are. The chances of winning become too small.

That can turn people away from participating in the first place.

A common prize that works well is an iPhone or iPad. It’s just big enough to draw people in, since everyone loves free tech, without the huge price tag of sending two people to Acapulco.

In fact, according to HubSpot, the average value of a social media contest prize is $369.

The problem with the iPhone or iPad gift? You’re probably not working for Apple, so that type of generic prize probably has little to do with your core business.

The balance between the prize and brand

The great thing about contests on Facebook is that they can be shared instantly by participants, often as a part of the mechanism for a chance to win.

This opens up the marvels of the vitality of content.

But it also attracts all kinds of people, many who are not in your target group.

They also want to win an iPhone or $10,000. It doesn’t matter who you are or what your company does. They will participate for a chance to win.

Participants like this water down the quality of your data collection and erode your conversions after the fact.

A great contest is one that offers a prize that is in line with the spirit of the brand.

It reaffirms the brand DNA.

The relevant prize will also do your screening for you, as a heli-ski trip to a mountain will only appeal to people who want to do that.

That’s exactly what Sherpas Cinema did to promote their new film Into the Mind. Even though this type of contest is no longer permissible on Facebook, it shows how the prize should qualify the types of people who participate.

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The balance between the number of things that participants have to do to try and win versus the size of the prize also matters.

Think of each step that you want your participants to take.

  • Do you want them to take an image of themselves and share it?
  • Do you want them to make a video?
  • Do you want them to make a video and tag their closest friends?

Each time you add complexity to the participation, the size of the prize should reflect that.

People expect it. If the prize is a flight in a private jet with a celebrity they love, they will be prepared to complete multiple steps to try and make it a reality.

If the prize is a coffee mug, it’s doubtful that people will film themselves doing anything (except maybe drinking coffee).

The key is to utilize Facebook’s functionality to maximize the effect of the participation.

Sharing should be mandatory.

Tagging others is the way to go viral, so suggest very strongly that people tag a friend (without requiring it).

Ask people to send you private messages. This can create a one-on-one relationship that really brings people closer to the company or brand.

If you can succeed in galvanizing your participants around the contest, they become ambassadors.

If you’re running a UGC contest, you can make a final selection and ask the community of participants to vote for the final winner.

It gives extra incentive for the top three people to get the word out. It also provides extra visibility for your company before the contest is officially over.

Promotion budget versus ROI

Of course, just creating a contest on Facebook and sharing it with your community does not guarantee that you will have a lot of participants.

In fact, according to Socialbakers, organic reach for brand content is only 2% on Facebook.

That means that hardly anyone will see your first post when you start promoting your contest.

The reality of Facebook today means that you need to have a marketing budget to promote your contest posts.

The trick is finding the right balance between your promotion budget and your contest’s ROI.

Keep in mind the fact that your prize costs money, too.

The prize itself is not enough if people don’t know about their chance to win.

The good thing is that Facebook enables post targeting, which means that you can reach your audience, friends of your audience, or targeted interest segments.

You can even retarget people who have seen your content or visited your page.

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And on Facebook, promoting content is not very expensive. It can start as low as a few dollars, depending on how many people you want to reach, and it goes up from there.

Check out the Facebook Advertising Help Center for more detailed information.

Third, execute flawlessly

Alright, now you’ve got the concept down. You know your objective, you’ve selected the prize, and you’ve found your balances.

Now it’s time to go out and do it.

No matter the strategy or goal of your Facebook contest, there are essentially two approaches you can take: go it alone or work with a partner.

Going it alone

When the goal of your Facebook contest is to gain awareness for a brand or product, the mechanisms for Facebook are generally good enough that you don’t necessarily need a third-party app to help you get it done.

What you need to develop is an attractive creative that will catch people’s attention: either a photo or video that pops out and gets people to participate.

You will have to animate your contest, posting new and fresh content every day to stimulate participation.

If you’re running a UGC contest, you can post the latest entries to your page along with a clear “Participate Now!” call to action.

The key is having an active community manager who can encourage participants, keep the contest moving, and maintain a high level of energy up until the very end.

Using a partner solution

There are many Facebook apps that are dedicated to running contests, and they can be a slick option to get you up and running quickly.

Especially if your contest objective is to collect data and prospects, third-party apps that work on Facebook provide pre-formatted forms that are responsive on mobile.

Another benefit of using a partner is their expertise. Contest apps often help you fill in your legal terms as well as optimize the length of your contest.

Many also have great extras, such as a countdown to the end of the contest or creative material that you can schedule to change as the contest goes on.

If you’re not a developer, it’s very tricky to make this type of thing yourself. And even if you are a developer, the opportunity cost of developing an app yourself is probably not worth it.

Here are a couple of contest apps that I recommend:


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Kontest is more than a simple contest app, it also adds a gaming level. Through the app, you can customize the experience and optimize it for your goals. It syncs data capture for all major databases, like Salesforce and MySQL.

Part of its pitch is to use Kontest to energize your audience at off-peak moments, which can keep them engaged throughout the year.


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Wishpond makes it easy to run a Facebook contest by breaking down your options into different categories like photo contests, photo caption contests, sweepstakes, and even essay contests.

The app can be added directly to your Facebook page, and it’s optimized for mobile and tablet formats, as well.


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Heyo bills itself as a lead-generation tool for your business, and it’s particularly useful for contests. It has pre-made templates, automatic countdown timers, and different plans for different levels of audience engagement.

Regardless of whether or not you use a partner solution, there are two steps that remain absolutely critical to the success of your Facebook contest.

Step 1: Create crystal-clear instructions

First, there are the instructions on how to participate. These instructions should be super simple and direct so that there is no confusion.

If you read them and there is any question about what needs to be done to participate, you need to edit, revise, and try again.

Here is an example:

  • Post a picture of you with blue paint covering your face
  • Write why you’re feeling Blue in the caption
  • Tag the Blue Man Group page in the caption

Separate from the instructions are the terms and conditions.

The terms and conditions are not something to mess around with.

Terms and conditions protect your business from people who might try to exploit your contest.

There are different ways to approach the terms and conditions.

You could create a dedicated page on your website that explains the rules, then link to that page in the About section on your Facebook page.

Or you could add a legal disclaimer directly in the Story part of your Facebook Page.

Alternatively, you could add it in as a comment to the post that you’re using to promote your contest.

Generally speaking, the terms and conditions will be too long to post directly to your Facebook page.

They need to include such specific things as who can win, how the winner will be chosen, and actions that might exclude participants from winning.

For example, in our Blue Man Group example, you wouldn’t want people taking pictures of themselves in compromising situations. Your terms and conditions should clearly outline what that might be.

Additionally, if the prize is oriented towards adults, make sure you specify the minimum age to participate.

Running a local contest? Make sure you specify that people need to come from a certain area to qualify to win.

Step 2: Optimize for mobile

Is it mobile friendly? Can you easily participate via a mobile phone?

This is not an afterthought. The majority of internet traffic in the US has been mobile since 2014, and it’s only growing:

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Like I mentioned earlier, you have to capture attention immediately.

The mobile-first trend points to the fact that the majority of your future participants will discover your contest on mobile.

Make sure that your creative assets are adapted. Here’s an example of what responsive content versus non-responsive content looks like:

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Make sure that the data-capture form is easy to operate on mobile.

How can you be sure?

Test it!

Fourth, measure the results and optimize

As your contest is running, you should be monitoring the results. If your contest is not performing as well as you would like, you are responsible for making it better.

Fortunately, there are few things you can do as you go along to make sure your contest is a success.

What’s the response rate?

The response rate is the ratio of the participants in your contest versus the total number of people who see your contest on Facebook.

If your response rate is very low, maybe the contest is too complicated. Or maybe you’re trying to collect too much data.

Either way, drop a few of the barriers to make it easier for people to participate.

Perhaps the prize is too humble to motivate people. Maybe the creative that you’re using to entice people is not effective enough. If you think that’s the case, don’t waste any more time.

Switch out the creative and try a different approach.

Are enough people seeing the contest?

This one is easy to fix. If not enough people are seeing your contest, throw some money behind it.

Like I explained above, organic reach on Facebook is not reliable enough to get many contests off the ground. Calculate your desired ROI and start boosting posts.

You should be able to find the sweet spot between not spending too much and still reaching a large enough number of potential participants.


The contest format — when executed properly — can still be a great way to achieve your business goals.

Create a goal for your contest, choose a prize, develop a strong creative, and start promoting your contest. Use third-party apps to boost participation and awareness.

Don’t forget to track your metrics. As your contest evolves, pay attention to engagement levels, share rates, and other metrics.

Facebook will be forever changing as it continues to develop along with our social media habits, but one thing will never change: our basic human desire to win things!

Especially things from our favorite brands.

So even if you aren’t 100% convinced, adopting a solid strategy for your Facebook contest can go a long way toward achieving your business goals.

What are your experiences with running contests on Facebook?

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