I believe sweepstakes, contests, and giveaways are the most exciting marketing tool I use to engage the client’s customers, especially online. (Being a Sweepstakes Marketing Strategist does make me a wee bit biased!) The trap I find contest sponsors fall into is, if you build it, they will come.

The thinking is; everyone likes free and fun, which is true, so we should get thousands of entries that will lead to sales. Just because you create a contest, doesn’t mean anyone will enter it.

Case in Point

I hosted my own #12DaysofGiveaways contest running from December 1st to December 12th. I alternated between giving away prizes on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Four chances to win on each platform.

I should have taken my own advice and been better prepared. (Not unlike the shoemaker’s children.) I didn’t include the sweepstakes in my original annual marketing plan. Even though I hadn’t, at the minimum, I should have created the proper promotional graphics along with standard daily text to make each post stand out. I didn’t. I ran the whole thing by the seat of my pants. (Insert facepalm here.)

It should not have been a surprise when on Day 9 I only had one entrant. Yes. You read that right. Only one entrant.

I have thousands of followers across each platform and they are at the core of the sweepstakes community. If anyone should have heaps of entrants with a little effort it should be me. I didn’t. Therefore, why would any other contest sponsor?

To avoid this happening to you, it is important to:

  1. have a marketing goal/reason for each contest, then design the promotion around them:
    • branding,
    • social followers,
    • newsletter subscribers,
    • product launch, etc.
    • make sweepstakes part of your annual marketing plan, (and not just hosted on a whim).
  2. execute all giveaways properly with:
    • official rules (and ensure they are compliant with each social channel’s promotional guidelines),
    • proper attention-grabbing graphics,
    • decent prizes (either from your brand or tied to it),
    • unique promotional hashtags for tracking and drawing (impossible to do without it, especially on Instagram),
    • scheduled to be posted early in the day (to maximize the first-day visibility).
  3. get the contest community to begin the viral marketing process.

I solely relied on point #3 assuming my followers would be enough to carry the promotion. I was wrong. By the time I realized I had made a grave mistake, it was too late to stop.

Going Viral

Once you have set up your giveaway properly, the next step is to let the world know it’s there!  One of the most common questions I get is, “ Can you make our contest go viral? ” The short answer is, “ No. ” And neither can you.


There are a myriad of subtle factors that make any marketing campaign viral. Contests usually do not viral to the level of Chewbacca Mom, but you can make it a success and garner quality results if you follow a few steps:

  1. pre-announce your sweepstakes,
  2. build-in online and social influencers and bloggers to attract attention to the sweepstakes,
  3. reach out to your customers online, via email, use social media ads, etc.

If you schedule sweepstakes into your annual marketing plan you have the time to announce upcoming promotions. This builds in anticipation and your subscribers and followers will be looking for their chance to win. When the sweepstakes is launched, it will have an immediate boost for the previously laid groundwork.

Another way to ‘get the ball rolling’ is to create a network of social influencers that you use on a regular basis to promote your brand, products, or services. Depending on the prizing, a popular option is to sponsor a ‘Review and Giveaway’ for key influencers, or you could get them to share your giveaway socially as part of their influencer program.

Ensure all avenues you to reach your customer base are utilized: home page ads, newsletter inclusion or special email blast, posts across all social media outlets, and ads anywhere else already used by your company such as Facebook and Twitter.

Ground Zero

As every social sweepstakes should always build in the option that all entrants receive extra entries for sharing, the final marketing avenue is to promote your giveaway to the contest community. I call it Ground Zero. Those of us that like to enter sweepstakes as a hobby will viral your contest faster than any other online community. We will enter, share, and enter again (if it’s a daily sweepstakes). Post your giveaways with contest community influencers and the entrants will come.

NOTE: This post was originally written for Neal Schaffer’s social media marketing blog