Sweepstakes, Contests, and Giveaways ... Oh My

From Cutest Pets to Holiday Giveaways, many publishers run contests as a way to engage with their audience, build their brand, increase email acquisition and drive revenue. Running a successful contest series requires a lot of prep work. We don’t want to put ourselves in a Fyre Festival situation where tents are getting set up as guests begin arriving, do we? To avoid any “SOS” moments, consider these helpful tips when planning your next contest.


Often overlooked, but absolutely the most crucial part of a contest is what happens in the launch meeting. Does everyone on your team know what the goal is? Are we clear on how the contest is going to work? Did you spend any time at all talking about making the user’s experience seamless? Next time you’re brainstorming contest ideas, make sure to bring this outline to your launch meeting.

  1. Define the Why

    • Before launching a contest, ask yourself: Why are we running this contest? Is it because we’ve done it year after year? Did it work in another market? Does it align with our branding?

  2. Revenue

    • How does the contest drive revenue?

    • Define what a successful contest looks like. Is it X% increase in newsletter subscribers? Is it X entries? What is your ideal cost per entry?

    • Consider increasing ad placement to advertisers or increase reach for special offers.

  3. What’s In It For the User?

    • What would motivate a user to participate in the contest?

    • What are the prizes or benefits?

    • Why should they care?

    • Who won last time and what happened to them?

    • Remember: Creativity counts!


We know contests come together after they’re already announced. New sponsors are established, more prizes are gathered, and we know that causes a lot of struggles. But it doesn’t mean that you can’t have a contest checklist. Your art team will be happy, your sales team will be happy, you’ll feel good checking things off, win-win-win.
Brainstorm all aspects of user/contest engagement and create a workback schedule outlining needs from all internal departments, advertisers, sponsors, and partners and communicate with respective departments to get these items on their radar.

  1. Timeline

    • How long will the contest be live?

    • 8 weeks is a good amount of time for a contest to run. This gives enough time to drive interest, a longer contest can potentially annoy your audience. TFD Tip: If your contest is longer, make sure to change up your art when your frequency gets too high.

  2. Art/Design Needs

    • Paid and organic social media creative

    • Contest entry landing page

    • Contest entry database

    • Website content driving traffic to entry landing page

    • Provide details on sponsor logo placement - remember too much text in an image is bad for paid social, so have your Ad Sales department alert sponsors up front that they’ll be tagged in the post, not necessarily in the image.

Organic Reach

On contest launch day, you’ll have a slew of assets to update. Good thing you had your art team make everything in one batch so you can update everything at one time. We want to make sure any users that come into contact with your brand know you have a contest/giveaway going on. That means updating social profiles, posting about it, emailing your audience and even adding a pop up or banner to your website. Having messaging at all touchpoints will help mobilize your current audience.

  1. Organic Social

    • Create a unique (and eye catching!) post on all of your social media channels announcing the contest.

    • Update your profile picture and cover photo on all social media accounts.

    • Update your bio to include a link to the contest and verbiage directing traffic to click on it. Be sure to include a deadline, too!

    • Engage with commenters that post on your original announcement post and reminder posts. Thank people for entering!

  2. Email

    • Email your engaged users with a contest announcement email.

    • Test your subject lines, find out quickly what resonates with your audience.

    • Introduce workflows so you can send out reminders throughout the contest journey.

  3. Website Traffic

    • Install a contrasting banner that sticks to the top of your site, outlining a key benefit for contest entry and directing traffic to the entry landing page.

    • Create a pop up on your site promoting the contest.

    • While the contest is live, place a module at the end of an article driving users to enter.

Paid Reach

Throughout the contest, continuously have paid social running to increase contest’s reach. Separate your targeting by warm and prospective audiences. Your warm audience already knows who you are, but paid social will help you get in front of them. It’s not necessary to introduce yourself/your brand to warm audiences, which is why they’re more likely to convert.

However, when targeting a prospective audience, you will need to create ads that will introduce not only the contest, but instill brand trust in the user. If your contest is in a specific area of interest, use Facebook’s targeting to reach out to interested parties based on brand affinity, education, work or general interests. TFD Tip: Sync your Facebook audiences with your contest entries list, so you’re not wasting impressions targeting anyone who has already entered.

  1. Site Retargeting

    • Retarget anyone that has been on relevant pages on your website.

    • Email openers/clickers—If your CRM has the capability, link a Smart List to FB of people who have engaged with your emails regarding the contests

    • Social media engagers—target people who have recently engaged with your social media posts

  2. Change Your Creative

    • Be sure to change up your creative throughout contest to avoid audience fatigue.

    • Keep your frequency below 2.5

  3. A/B Test

    • Let Facebook and Instagram machine learning and testing tell you what works by using Budget Optimization features.

    • But, always rely on your gut. If Facebook has decided to stop showing ads to a certain audience, and you feel it is too soon to know if that audience is not working, turn off Budget Optimization for a period of time and see if you see an increase in engagement.

  4. Influencer Audience

    • There are influencers in every town/region that have loyal followings. Partner with the ones that align with your contest’s interests. Bake in the cost of a paid placement to sponsor/advertiser costs.


Last but most definitely not least, but probably the most important: User experience. *Raise your hand if you’ve abandoned a shopping cart because your credit card was in the other room* 🙋 Spoiler alert: It’s the same for users signing up for free things … no one is going to sign up for your contest or giveaway if it’s hard or there are too many questions. Keep it simple, create a sign up process that is simple for the user to execute.

  1. Clean entry page

    • Keep all sign up processes on one page

    • Keep the navigation menu minimal

    • Use as few form fills as possible

      • If you ask for nothing else, you HAVE to ask for an email. That is your ticket to warming up your new audience members.

  2. Follow Up

    • Immediately notify the user by email that they have been entered into the contest.

    • Add their email to a welcome workflow, directing them to content of interest on your website.

    • If they continue engaging with you, retarget them with subscription/membership offers.

A few other things to keep in mind…

Don’t over post/email/advertise about your contest or giveaway constantly. If you email your entire database once a week about your contest, I guarantee you’re going to get more unsubscribes than contest entrants.

Keep it fresh. Change up how you’re talking about the contest. Use different art for every email, change your paid social ads every few weeks, update your CTAs and ad verbiage.

Remember that first meeting where you defined success metrics? Keep referring back to that. Is your cost per entry cost too high? What audiences are you advertising to? Can you make any changes to drive that down? Raise a flag early to your team that cost is higher than expected.

While promoting the contest, always remember the why—that will drive how you promote and market the contest. Why should the user care about this? Make the user feel like the need to enter the contest. Afterall, they give their email away all the time for promo codes, why not give it away for a chance to win something? Hype it up!

Have a contest coming up? TFD can help you get organized, promote and execute it all while keeping your business goals in mind. Email me at natalie@twentyfirstdigital.com.