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Updated 15 Mar 2016

Using Twitter Contests to Grow

One of the best methods for obtaining higher engagement and increasing your followers is the twitter contest. Since twitter began users have been using them to get tremendous results. Below I'll outline some of the most effective types of contests, what they can do for your numbers, and how to run a successful contest from start to finish.

Types of Twitter Contests

Contests on twitter take several forms, but the basic parameters are always the same - you offer your audience the chance to win a prize (eg. a product, discount, or service) in exchange for action taken on their part. Where the variation comes in tends to be around the type of actions required for entry.

Follow, Retweet, and/or Like Contests

The most common and straightforward of twitter contests, these are designed to directly increase engagement and followers through a giveaway to users who engage in a certain way. For example, you might announce that in the next 24 hours you will be giving a prize to one of your followers who retweets you.
These distinct actions can be used in combination in a single contest - for example, you may ask your audience to both follow and retweet a specific tweet in order to be entered into the contest. This is an effective way to increase the exposure of your tweet and get non-followers involved with the contest.

screenshot of Klips retweet and follow contest

External Action Contests

External contests are designed to inspire action outside of twitter itself. For example, you might be launching a new mailing list or blog, or releasing a new book. By using a contest you can further motivate your followers to engage with your external content by increasing their incentives.

screenshot of music album contest on twitter

For example, many musicians who are releasing new albums will ask their followers to tweet proof of purchasing their latest release in order to be entered into a contest to receive exclusive merchandise or content. Not only does this type of contest increase the incentive to purchase your product, but it also encourages engagement with your fans as a community as they see other fans who participate.

screenshot of music submission contest on twitter

Photo, Video and Content Creation Contests

These contests require that users attach some sort of photo or video to a tweet that has to do with your product or brand. They can either be used as entries into a draw (a winner will be selected from submissions at random) or merit-based (the best content will be chosen and rewarded).
As an example, your feed might be dedicated to providing followers with tips on decluttering their homes and offices. You might launch a contest asking followers to tweet you a video of their personal decluttering projects to be entered into a draw to receive your new book on the subject. This example is effective in that both the contest itself and the prize are extremely relevant to your area of expertise and your target audience - users looking to improve their organization.

screenshot of Tata photo contest on twitter

The example above shows a photo contest in action, but there's something wrong with it. Can you spot the problem? There's no mention of the prize, and no link for further information.

How To Run a Contest

Now that we've taken a look at some of the types of contests, let's examine the process of launching and executing them.

Step 1: Outline the contest

Like a great book, a great contest should be carefully outlined before the very first tweet is posted. Decide well beforehand what the parameters of the contest will be.
  • How long will it last?
  • What exactly will you require of contest entrants?
  • Are there any loopholes that you're not thinking of that sneaky followers will be able to exploit?
  • Is this contest fair to all applicants or will some have an unfair disadvantage?
  • Are the details of your contest relevant to your areas of expertise and target audience?
  • Does it comply with twitter's promotion guidelines?

All of these questions should be asked and addressed well before your contest begins. Taking careful time to plot out the details and timeline of your contest will save you a great deal of embarrassment later if your contest fails.

screenshot of Falken Tire twitter contest

It's a good idea to have a link to a rules page that lists all the details of the contest. Although the main elements (such as entry requirements, prize, hashtag and date) should be in the tweet itself, the rest of the small-print should available on the rules page.

Step 2: Decide on a prize

Get creative with your prizes, but remember the two most important elements of a good prize - it should be relevant to your branding and areas of interest, and most of all it should be something people actually want. Don't be surprised if you offer junk as a prize if you don't see the kind of engagement that you're looking for. Prizes that can't be purchased (such as signed memorabilia) are especially good.

screenshot of ice hockey twitter contest

Remember that a prize doesn't necessarily have to be a physical object sent to the winner in the mail, although these sorts of prizes are extremely effective. A prize can be a discount on your products or services, a personalized message (this usually only works well for highly admired celebrities) or free usage of your online services.

Step 3: Choose a hashtag (optional)

Selecting a hashtag is an important element of any contest, particularly those that ask your followers to do more than simply follow and retweet. This is how your contest entrants will mark their entries, how you will sift through entries effectively without missing any, and after the contest is over they make for an effective method of tracking the level of engagement and results of your contest.
In truth you can do some types of contests without them, but they offer an easy way to 'brand' your contest nonetheless. The only time you may want to consider not using a hashtag is if you feel it would add unnecessary complexity, and if the entry and sharing of the contest does not require one to succeed.

screenshot of electronics giveaway contest on twitter

When choosing a contest hashtag there are a few important factors to consider. First, make sure that it's not already in heavy use. This will only make for a confusing contest with results that are difficult to gather. If a hashtag has been used in the past but not for some time, don't worry - you won't have any issues. But avoid hashtags that could apply to other topics or that have a high likelihood of popping up in casual tweets.
Second, make the hashtag relevant to your contest. This might seem like it goes without saying, but ensuring that the hashtag is industry or niche-specific goes a long way toward spreading your tweets and the tweets of your contest entrants to the audiences you most want to attract.
Finally, keep it simple. While a unique hashtag is important, it shouldn't be unique by way of being overly complicated and long. Your followers should be able to read the hashtag once and remember it later when they're ready to do whatever is required to enter the contest via a tweet.

Step 4: Tweet about it

Now is the time to announce your contest with it's very own tweet - this is the most important thing to get right. You want to make it completely clear in the tweet what people need to do to enter, how much time they have, and what they can win. This is where you wrap all the details from the previous three steps into one awesome tweet. Here is quick checklist of things to include:
  • Image: An eye-catching graphic, possibly of the prize.
  • Entry: RT & Follow, RT, Follow, Like, Post a Photo/Video, etc.
  • Hashtag: Optional, unless it will be the only way to identify entries.
  • Rules: Short link to the rules page at the end of the tweet (could be a link to another tweet too).
  • Prize: What's up for grabs.
  • Time: When it ends.
  • The words 'contest' & 'win': Make sure these words appear in your tweet text so that your tweet shows up in twitter search.
  • Disclaimers: Any important disclaimers that people really need to know about.

Be creative about how you get all of this across in a single tweet. Some details can be placed in the tweet text, while other details can be placed in the image. Put the most important info, the clickable elements (hashtag, rules link), and anything that needs to be searchable into the text. This is important as the image may not be shown in some timelines on some devices. Use the image for grabbing attention, creating excitement around the prize, and adding 'overflow' details such as end date and disclaimers.

screenshot of falken tire contest on twitter

The tweet above is a good example of getting all this info across in a single tweet. They have not used a specific hashtag because they can use the retweet list to monitor the entries.

Step 5: Promote it

Once you've announced your contest you need to get the word out. There are four ways to do this effectively:
  • Followers: Your existing followers will see your tweet and will pass it on to their followers if retweeting is an entry requirement.
  • Website: Place banners and links to the contest tweet on your other online assets - such as your website. You can even use a twitter widget to do this.
  • Influencers: If you have any relationships with influential twitter users then ask them for a shout-out.
  • Twitter Ads: Probably the most effective way to promote the contest is with a well-targeted ads campaign.

Remember, the more eyes viewing your contest, the more entrants you'll receive and the greater opportunities for engagement will arise. Use all options open to you to expand the reach of the contest.

Step 6: Engage with your entrants

The most effective way to increase the legitimacy and excitement of your contest is to interact with those who enter. Consider retweeting, thanking, or liking particularly good submissions. Actions like these will show that you are taking it seriously and intend to follow through on your promises.

screenshot of contest announcement

This tends to work best with creative contests. If your contest is only a RT & Follow contest then find other ways to keep the buzz alive. Perhaps when you pass 100 retweets you could make a surprise announcement that more than winner will be selected because you've received so many entries.

Step 7: View your entries

Before you go on to the final step of selecting winners, you will need a way to view all the entries. The way you do this will depend on how people have entered.
  • Retweets: Unfortunately twitter does not currently provide a full list of retweeters on their website or app, but this info can be obtained via their API, which means some 3rd party apps can provide you with this info. I find though that the easiest way to get a list of entrants is to simply turn on email notifications for the duration of the contest:

    screenshot of twitter email notifications

  • Hashtags: If you have asked users to add a hashtag to a tweet (such as with a photo contest), then a simple search for that hashtag will give you a list of entrants. It's important to note that this will usually not show retweets though, so it should not be used for retweet entries.

    screenshot of twitter hashtag search

  • Follows: You can use the email notification method above for follow entries too, or you can simply take a look through your recent followers and pick one. Keep track of how many people followed you during the contest and then scroll back through your followers to this number. Twitter shows your most recent followers first, so you don't have to go back very far to get a list of all of the entries.
  • 3rd Party App: If you receive hundreds or thousands of retweets and followers each day already, then the manual methods above may not be suitable for your account. They may be too noisy, or simply unable to sift through all the entries in a scalable way. You may need to use a 3rd party app to manage your entries. There are tons of these, just google 'twitter contest tool'.

Regardless of the method you use, you'll want to actually visit the potential winner's profile to check that they took all the required actions (and have not rolled back their actions). For most contests this is easy to do, and you may only encounter one or two 'duds'.
Avoid using 'replies' as an entry method. Replies will not be visible to everyone, and some users may miss-understand and do a mention instead. That's not a train smash, but it can make selecting a winner slightly harder.

Step 8: Select and announce the winner(s)

Don't waste any time selecting the winners, either at random or based on merit (depending on the announced parameters of your contest), and then announce your winner or winners to all of your followers.

screenshot of winner announcement on twitter

Make your excitement infectious throughout your winner announcements and thank each one of your followers for entering. Timeliness is important because you'll want to show followers for the future that your contests result in direct action and that you follow through with your promises.

screenshot of tweet winner announcements

Finally, and this should go without saying, follow through with your promise! Contact your winners and arrange for them to receive whatever it is you've promised them as victors. Congratulate them personally for winning and ensure that you have all the information necessary to provide them with their prize.

Extra Credit

You have now successfully completed an effective twitter contest! Here are a few other things that are worth taking note of.

Be mindful of twitter's rules

Twitter has released a set of guidelines for accounts looking to engage in Twitter contests. Basically, they ask that you avoid asking your contest entrants to do anything as part of your contest that would go against their rules and regulations.

screenshot of twitters contest guidelines

For example, the parameters of your contest shouldn't explicitly or indirectly encourage users to create multiple accounts in order to increase their chances of winning. It also shouldn't require or encourage users to post the same tweet multiple times, which will fall under their spamming category and could result in users having their accounts suspended.

Choose an effective timeframe

Deciding when to launch a contest and how long it will last can have a significant impact on your level of engagement. 24 to 48 hour timeframes for follow/retweet/like contests are usually very effective, as they give users ample time to both see your contest announcements and engage in the required activities to enter, while creating a sense of urgency. For contests that are more involved, like those that require users to take real-world actions like taking pictures or videos, 3-7 days are usually generally.

Measure Your Results

Remember that every twitter experience is an opportunity to learn and improve your skills as a social media marketer. Measure the level of engagement that resulted from your contest when measured against your average numbers as a baseline.

screenshot of tweet analytics

Analyze what worked and what didn't work in order to ensure that the next contest you launch will be even bigger, better and more effective than the last. Twitter analytics usually give you enough stats to see how things went. You can test different versions of a tweet or image, and measure which tweet generated the most engagement.

Things to avoid

Don't make your entry requirements too complex. A simple follow and retweet is usually all you need, or a photo post for a creative contest. Asking the user to follow too many accounts will just turn them off, and will make winner verification so much harder.

screenshot of complex twitter contest

The example above shows this complexity. Does the user really need to like the tweet as well? Retweets will provide the expanded reach, so why ask for a like? Will the user really follow both accounts? You'll need to check, as some people may decide it's not worth the effort.

screenshot of too many hashtags

Finally, keep the hashtags to a minimum. Putting a hashtag in front of a bunch of keywords won't gain you anything. They just make the entry requirements confusing. Stick to a nicely written tweet with a single contest hashtag, and communicate all the important details of the contest succinctly.

Do it all on twitter

Try and keep the whole contest experience on twitter itself. Using the step by step guide above you should be able to execute every part of the contest on twitter with good tweets and eye-catching images. If you require the user to take action on external websites then you will lose potential entries, so only do this if it is essential to your goal. The only exception here is your external rules page, but this could be accomplished with an image tweet too.
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