The ability to continuously create new, engaging and quality content can be quite a challenge for marketers across all industries. In fact, 20% of B2B companies cited “producing enough content” as their greatest marketing challenge. However, I imagine many companies would be surprised at not only the value of social contests, but how easy they are to create.

Contests are a great way to acquire user-generated content from your followers and fans (which lightens the load on your staff). Of course, some industries are better fits for contests than others, but most businesses can hold some kind of contest that gets fans excited and brings in new followers. These contests work across multiple social platforms, for example:

·         Ask your fans to create a video and upload it to YouTube, using a designated #hashtag.

·         Ask followers to tweet a photo and use a specific hashtag that relates to the photo and your brand.

·         Create an app for your Facebook page to incorporate video, photos or written word content contests.

·         Ask your audience to write a poem and submit it on your website or via email.

·         Ask your audience to create a caption for a photo or to name a video.

All of the above examples involve users providing content so you can then use to market your business. Once you have content from your audience, you can feature submissions in a blog post and across your social networks. Depending on how large your company is or how big your contest gets, you may end up with content for a few weeks or months!

Step 1: Planning the Contest

Planning your contests will inevitably the brunt of the workload at first.  But as with any piece of content - once you get the ball rolling – it gets easier as you go. Be sure to check out any competitors and see if they have created any related contests. Browse through the other contests and take note of what could be improved or any ideas that can be used for your own contest. Make it easy and use sites like Iconosquare (for Instagram)or search common contest hashtags like #contest, #win and #photocontest on Twitter and Facebook.

Set Obtainable Goals

As with any piece of content you are creating, it’s crucial to set specific and obtainable goals to track successes and failures. The clearer they are, the better your chance of finding success in the future. For example:

·         Increase Instagram/Facebook/Twitter followers by X%.

·         Generate at least #XX @mentions of your Instagram/Twitter handle.

·         Obtain more than #XXuser-generated photos.

Determine your Target Audience and Social Channels

In my post, “Top 70 Social Media Statistics You Need to Know Right Now”, we determined that the social media giants boast some truly incredible numbers. Instagram has 150 million active monthly users; Twitter now has over 550 million registered users; and as the largest social network, Facebook has over 1.15 billion Facebook users.  I don’t think most people comprehend those numbers from a marketing standpoint.

You have the opportunity to reach an audience that just wasn’t possible ten years ago. But you need to be smart about the contests you are generating on each platform.  Depending on the idea, the contest might work better you’re your Twitter followers rather than Instagram. You can do this by researching your audience from each network. Decide if a “like to win”, user-generated pictures, #hashtag or even an email-gated contest will best achieve your specific objectives.

Create a Theme for your Contest

Your contest will obvious need a theme – your followers need guidelines for the contest that can help determine a winner. Regardless of your theme, be sure that it will tie back into a designated hashtag. Hashtags are a major part of marketing these days.

Man with Funny Mustache

Try and create a unique hashtag for your contest to create a community and boost brand awareness. You can research hashtags for free on sites like Websta, TagBoard and Hashatit. This will make the contest easier to track, and easier for new participants to find.

Now the Fun Part. Pick a Prize!

Your prize is obviously the key factor in what motivates a person to participate in your contest (and follow your brand once the contest has concluded). The prize you offer often depends on your demographic or target audience – so only you can decided on what they are seeking.  The main goal behind selecting the best prize is to get users to take action and participate.

Your prize should be about marketing your brand, and not just a random keepsake with no meaning. Whether it’s a product you sell, a gift card to the store, or even an experience you can’t get anywhere else, it needs to relate back to your brand.

Step 2: Begin the Contest

Come up with an attention-grabbing title, and let your followers get to work. Create appealing visuals to accompany the title.Remember: social media, for the most part, is all about visual marketing. The better you can promote your contest - including the prize - the better it will succeed.

Promotion is Key

Spread the word about the contest to your audience. Post the contest on your website and/or write an article to accompany it on the blog. Include direct links to the contest to make it easy to enter and share.  Here are some other ways to promote the contest:

·         Cross-promote on Social Networks: Engage with the maximum amount of people by cross-promoting the content from other social platforms. Depending on your audience, you might see the best results if contest updates and information are on multiple platforms.

·         Send an Email Blast: If you already have a large number of followers that registered with your brand through email, send out personalized messages to targeted members on your email list. Remember, subject lines are imperative. To avoid getting sent to the Trash Bin, clearly indicate that you are inviting recipients to your social media contest –and include the prizes!

·         Promote in-store: I often neglect to address that many companies have a brick-and-mortar location.  If your company has a store or office, a great way to promote contests is by leaving material that includes your contest details, hashtag, @handle. You can even present the prize in store to entice visitors to participate.

Step 3: Remember to Follow-Through

After the contest has closed, choose the winner, whether selected through public voting, random draws or a panel of selected judges. Notify the winner via email (if you can) and through social media with an @mention. Obviously, make sure you let the winner know how to best claim their prize.

Announcing the Winner

Share the winning entry on through the social channels you used to host the contest. Give the winner their “5 Minutes of Fame” to the winner by sharing the winning photo or content piece on your company website or social network page.

Follow-up with Fellow Participants

If you gated your contest behind a lead capture form, send out an email to everyone who contributed. Thank them for their participation and keep them engaged.Announce the winner and invite them to stay tuned for your next contest.

Track Metrics of the Contest

Put together a report of what did and didn’t work for your contest, and using that information, decide what to do next. Use the momentum from your contest to get your audience excited about the next one.

The most important rule for good social media is measuring performance. I will say it until I am blue in the face: measuring and analyzing your successes or failures is essential for any successful content marketing strategy. When you can accurately measure what’s working, you can fine tune your strategy and better reach your set goals.