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Updated Mar 28, 2023

How to Create a Contest That Makes Your Brand Go Viral

You've seen other brands run big-time contests. Now it's your turn to do the same.

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Sean Peek, Senior Analyst & Expert on Business Ownership
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You don’t need to change the world with a contest that expands your brand. Some of the most successful business promotions were both simple and easy to access: These contests increased user engagement across all forms of social media and created collaborations with unexpected companies. 

Contests and giveaways are no doubt an important part of becoming a viral brand. By following these basic principles for contest-building, you can reach a massive audience and bring new customers to your business. [Learn how you can create a small business marketing plan.]

How to create a viral contest

Offer the right prize

An exciting prize is a basis for any successful contest. After all, if you can’t get your target audience interested in your prize, you won’t have much hope of going viral. The good news is that – unlike lotteries or sweepstakes – you don’t have to offer cash to get others on board.

Some of the best prizes include gift cards, free products (perhaps even the full line) or an all-expenses-paid trip to a special event. When a prize has greater monetary value or is viewed as a rare, exclusive item, interest naturally increases. Make sure the prize is relevant to your business in some way to ensure you attract relevant participants who are more likely to become paying customers once the contest ends.

Incentivize sharing

You can’t make a contest go viral on your own. You need the help of your participants, and the best way to get them to spread the word about your contest is to incentivize online sharing. This is a great way for individuals you might not reach with your own marketing materials to learn about the contest – and your brand.

Make it easy for participants to share your contest. Even something as simple as adding a social media button to the contest’s main page can increase the likelihood that participants will spread the word.

Limit the time frame

You might think that letting a contest run for a longer period of time creates more opportunities to generate buzz. This isn’t actually the case. The most successful online contests typically run for a month or less — all to take advantage of FOMO (fear of missing out).

When your audience knows they only have a limited amount of time to win that great prize, the perceived value increases. More importantly, it creates a greater sense of urgency that motivates customers to act immediately. That’s why restaurants, auto dealerships and other brands use limited-time offers: The narrow window makes the deal that much more desirable.

The FOMO concept also applies to multistage contests. Even a photo contest that requires multiple rounds of voting should end after a relatively short period, which ensures your audience doesn’t lose interest.

Harness the power of partnerships

You don’t always have to offer one of your own products or services as a contest prize. Many successful contests involve partnering with media influencers, celebrities or other brands to create a win-win situation for both parties.

Let’s say your entertainment company was offering an all-expenses-paid trip to the Super Bowl. By partnering with a specific airline and hotel for the grand prize, and keeping them in the loop regarding all contest details, you can quickly double the marketing power behind your contest. Your partners will provide an additional marketing push to spread the word to new audiences, and without the need for extra spending on your part.

TipBottom line
By collaborating with another brand for a contest, you essentially double the amount of marketing audience your company receives.

Time to go viral

People love participating in contests – especially if they think they have a chance at winning a great prize. As you incorporate these techniques into your contest, you’ll set yourself in a better position to reach your target audience. When this happens, even those who miss out on the grand prize can contribute to the rapid growth of your business. [Learn how to receive positive customer reviews.]

Successful examples of viral contests

SunRype’s giveaway inspires sharing 

Social media posts are often useful outlets for promoting brands and companies. This was evident when SunRype held a contest for its products. The food and beverage business collaborated with a fitness company to offer free workout equipment and healthy snacks in an online giveaway. The contest was a smashing success and was shared over 3,000 times by social media users.

Goldfish’s creative video contest

Goldfish crackers had immense success with a promotional campaign on the social media platform TikTok. The “#GoForTheHandful duet” challenge asked TikTok users to submit videos showing their attempts to try to break basketball player Boban Marjanović’s record of holding 301 Goldfish crackers in their hands. The winner would be dubbed the Official Goldfish Spokeshand. Goldfish’s duet campaign was so successful that its TikTok video reached over 30 million views.

Yeti and Traeger Grills’s photo contest

In collaboration with Traeger Grills, Yeti held an Instagram photo contest that asked users to post an image of where they liked to barbeque, then add the hashtag  #YETIxTraegerBBQ to tag Yeti and Traeger’s accounts. The unique hashtag wound up in over 1,000 original social posts. Yeti and Traeger later repurposed these posts on their own social media.

GoMacro’s tag-a-friend contest

Tag-a-friend campaigns across social media platforms can be an effective way to attract new users. GoMacro, an organic protein bar maker, prompted its audience to tag two friends in a comment on one of its photos and follow its account. In return, participants were entered for a chance to win free GoMacro bars. Ultimately, this single social media post included over 450 comments, which may have led to 1,000 additional new followers. 

Funko’s follow to win

When brands showcase a contest with just one rule – to follow their social media account – more users can be included in the giveaway, thus resulting in a large, unique audience. The toy brand Funko created an exclusive contest for followers of its Twitter account. The campaign proved to be successful, with more than 7,000 retweets and over 4,000 likes with just that tweet alone. 

Did You Know?Did you know
ccording to an Easy Promos survey, Facebook is the most popular social media network to offer giveaways.

When should you run a contest? 

  • Launching a new product: When a company launches a new product, they need to spur people’s interest. Contests can help increase buzz around your brand or product launch and generate immediate sales
  • Introducing a new website: The main goal of holding a contest when launching a new website is to drive more traffic to the site. These contests can also generate new email leads, increase engagement levels on social media and potentially gain insights into popular products.
  • Showcasing an upcoming event: With an upcoming event on the horizon, contests can build interest in promotional material. By creating a unique experience surrounding the event, companies are more likely to retain customers.
  • Rebranding: Announcing your rebranding can be an exciting time to host a contest. Not only will it generate enthusiasm internally, but when it’s utilized correctly fans will create more user-generated content that can develop customer relationships.

Additional reporting by Nathan Resnick.

author image
Sean Peek, Senior Analyst & Expert on Business Ownership
Sean Peek co-founded and self-funded a small business that's grown to include more than a dozen dedicated team members. Over the years, he's become adept at navigating the intricacies of bootstrapping a new business, overseeing day-to-day operations, utilizing process automation to increase efficiencies and cut costs, and leading a small workforce. This journey has afforded him a profound understanding of the B2B landscape and the critical challenges business owners face as they start and grow their enterprises today. In addition to running his own business, Peek shares his firsthand experiences and vast knowledge to support fellow entrepreneurs, offering guidance on everything from business software to marketing strategies to HR management. In fact, his expertise has been featured in Entrepreneur, Inc. and Forbes and with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
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