How To Run Successful Contests On Twitter

Twitter Contest Giving stuff away is a great way to raise brand awareness. Get yourself in the map.

Running a contest on social platforms can also give you great opportunities to start interacting with people and showcase your product or service.

While running a contest on Twitter offers some juicy advantages like very low cost, the opportunity to interact with the user on real-time or the possibility to go viral, you should also consider taking the time to have a strategy in place. After all, getting no response at all is no fun and, it can even make you look bad.

So here are a few items to take in consideration in order to run a successful contest on Twitter:

Establish Objectives

First things first. What do you want to accomplish with the contest? Having a clear goal from the start will get you focused on the important things. Don’t launch your contest without it, how are you going to determine if it was successful at the end? Or if it’s worth doing it again… Here are some examples:

  • Get some initial traffic to a new website or blog.
  • Spread the word on a new product/service.
  • Increase number of subscribers or traffic on your blog.
  • Get more followers.

Also, be as specific as possible. If you are looking to have more followers for example, establish how many.

The Prize

  • Make sure people can perceive the value. Just because you think it’s valuable doesn’t mean people will see that.
  • If everybody else and their grandmas are already giving away similar stuff on a regular basis, then it’s NOT a prize.
  • Is it worth talking about it? Make sure you can get people excited or nobody will even mention it.
  • Can you give your product/service away as prize? That could be a great way to put it out there.
  • Don’t give away your house. Running smaller contests will allow you to keep repeating instead of just doing a one-time thing.

The Requirements

  • The requirements for the contest are directly attached to the goals. If the goal is to increase the number of followers, then the requirement, or one of the requirements should be to follow you.
  • Keep it simple s…  make sure entering the contest is within a couple of clicks. Nobody will spend more than a few minutes to do this.
  • Don’t be greedy. Ask for one or two things. A Tweet with a hashtag or an email subscription, that’s it.
  • Establish a short deadline to create impact now. At the speed things move today, people will forget soon.

SocialMouths Free Blog Contest Tweet

Traffic Destination

  • So the contests is conducted on Twitter but, where are you taking the traffic? Where are you providing the details?
  • Determine your landing page. It can be a simple post on your blog, a separate page or even an independent site. Keep it simple, especially if this is your first time running a contest.
  • Your landing page should be clean, eliminate all other elements that have nothing to do with the contest to keep the user focused.
  • Copy is probably one of the most important aspects of the campaign. I suggest you spend some time reading the Ultimate (Free) Landing Page Resource by Brian Clark over at CopyBlogger.
  • Having a destination for your traffic is key to measure the results.

Use Of A Hashtag

  • A hashtag is a great way to stay on top of the conversation generated around the contest.
  • Create a listening platform by searching the hashtag and subscribing to the RSS. You can do this with Twitter Search.
  • Be careful, in my opinion a hashtag will make it more obvious if the contest is not a success.

A Short URL?

  • Obviously you need a short url from the moment you decided to run the contest on Twitter.
  • If you want to be able to analyze this data in one place, consider making the url a requirement. I love for this kind of stuff.
  • Kick it up a notch, get a custom url that includes a keyword or the title of the contest if possible.


  • Have a clear message, eliminate all unnecessary content.
  • Without self-promotion, how are you pretending to get things started? You be the first to Tweet and spread the message around.
  • Add an ad on your site’s homepage linking to the landing page.
  • Just because the contest is on Twitter doesn’t mean you can’t use other platforms. Invite your Facebook Fans to participate too and think of other networks or communities.
  • Be creative. Add a link to your email signature or to your “mood message” on Skype.

Encourage Users To Spread The Word

  • Have people enter the contest by Retweeting the message.
  • You only have 140 characters. Consider leaving some available real estate in the message so people can add to their retweet.
  • Have the necessary sharing tools integrated in your landing page.
  • Call-To-Action: Tell people to invite their Facebook friends.

Measure, Measure, Measure…

  • Be clear about the metrics. Is it traffic? Subscriptions? Twitter followers?
  • Have the tools in place. Can you use Google Analytics? How can you track clicks on Twitter? or Retweets?
  • If you are planning on tracking data from Twitter, consider using a short URL like Plain, easy to understand metrics.
  • Get alerts and stay on top of the conversation. UberVU is awesome but there are other ways.
  • These metrics will dictate whether the campaign has been successful or not.

Should You Include Small Print?

  • Be very clear about what’s included and what’s not.
  • Be clear about requirements and dates to participate.
  • Don’t write a legal document, nobody cares.

Final Word…

As I said at the beginning, contests are a great way to raise awareness but don’t lose sight of the real benefit behind all this. During the contest, you will have the opportunity to meet people and that is where the real potential for a return is…

In our last contest, when we gave away a blog, I met very cool people in the process. You want me to be more specific? I introduced a couple of guys, I met a couple of designers, was offered a couple of consulting gigs, there is a possibility for collaboration with somebody else, heck! one guy even pointed out a couple of errors in my code…

The real benefit is always human.

Share your thoughts. Are you using other tools? What do you think about Twitter as a platform to run contests?

  • kagorges

    Thanks for the nice summary on these key points for twitter contests — I especially concur with making sure you're clear (and your customer) about the objectives and then set up the contest to meet the objectives. In fact, I'd say it's helpful to have only one objective — then it's easier to make that happen — you don't get too much room in a tweet to have too many objectives ;))

    The objective is also crucial in choosing the prize. I recently ran 2 contests and we specifically chose prizes that would appeal to the niche we were in, but also be intriguing to new people. The objective was to create a quality following, not just anyone — because we want to be in conversation with people with similar interests. Now, we could have something that would have driven up the number of followers higher, but the objective was a higher number of quality followers… and we achieved that 😉

  • Thanks for the comment Kathryn and very good points. I just followed you on Twitter and visited your blog. hope to stay connected with you.

    Have a great day!

  • joshgroth

    This was a fantastic article, until I saw this: “Don’t write a legal document, nobody cares.”

    The legal document is actually the most important part. If you are giving anything of value away via sweepstakes, you have to abide by federal sweepstakes law. Twitter contests/sweepstakes are a great idea and highly effective, but if done incorrectly, very illegal. Just because it's easy to have someone RT an item doesn't make it legal. Sweepstakes are federally regulated, and there are state, national, and international considerations that you have to take in order to legally run one. It doesn't matter what you're giving away, if it's a sweepstakes you have to have a rules for entry drawn up to protect your (or your client's) butt, and it should be done by a lawyer that specializes in sweepstakes.

    While the government is most likely not going to go after a small blogger, it's still illegal. And if your client is a brand of any importance and you run a Twitter sweepstakes for them, your painting a target on their back.

    It's tough because they're so easy and effective, but the truth of the matter is, that it is still a sweepstakes and is therefore regulated.

    An excellent example of an effective (and legally covered) sweepstakes is the NJ Nets promo – they're giving away free NBA tix. They're promoting it on both Twitter and Facebook. To cover their butts, they build this awesome landing page on Facebook and in a small link at the bottom, included a link to the rules for entry:

    The rules for entry are spelled out in a tweet, or dominating the landing page, but they're there – which is the important piece.

    The other thing to consider is that each social media platform has its own rules regarding sweepstakes. Twitter hasn't really defined their own rules yet, but Facebook has an extensive list of rules that you must comply with:


    Sorry for the extensive reply, but it's a key legal consideration that is glossed over and is leaving both individuals and brands exposed to potential lawsuits.


  • Thanks a lot for taking the time and adding so much value. I have one point to clear and one question:

    I have work with brands and ad agencies, including some major ones and I know legal is a huge part of the project, always, even if it's not a contest. Now, I think it's obvious this is not a publication for brands but more focused on entrepreneurs and small business. Just want to make clear that I'm not suggesting it's ok for the Nets to ignore legal.

    And my question, let's say you want to give away a few copies of a book or an iPod in a small blog like this, what would be your suggestion? I'm thinking, writing a legal document will cost around 5 times the cost of the prize.

    Is it not enough to lay down the rules in a simple way?

    Again, thank you Josh and hope to continue this…

  • Much of what you're describing makes sense, but, and it's a big but, tweeting to win something isn't a contest, it's a sweepstakes under the law. Most of the contests I see on Twitter don't involve “skill” which is necessary to deem them a contest. And Sweepstakes law is nothing to mess with.

    See here:

  • Hello Philip and thanks for your comment/advice. I wonder if this is a common practice, I see a lot of much bigger blogs including a short (and very informal) explanation of the terms, which is what I have done.

  • joshgroth

    Thanks for clarifying. And you're correct, w/ brands, legal is a huge issue.

    First I want to clarify the difference between sweepstakes and contests:

    “A content is a game in which entrants submit something that requires a skill, such as a short story or a drawing. The entries are judged based on predetermined criteria, and winners are selected by a single judge or a panel. A sweepstakes, however, is a game in which no skill is necessary, and winners are selected by random lottery.”

    When someone says “RT this and follow me for a chance to win an iPad” it's a sweepstakes because it's based on chance. The problem with Twitter, is that sweepstakes work so damn well. They're cheap, easy, and go viral fast. The other problem is that sweepstakes law is a pain. So if you want to run a sweepstakes on Twitter, have the legal docs drawn up.

    In your case, where you want to simply give away a book or something, the easiest way around sweepstakes law, is to not have it be a sweepstakes at all. Make it a contest. Contest law is much easier. While none of this info should be taken as legal advice, I'm pretty sure contests just need to be judged by a neutral 3rd party and have rules clearly stated. Boom, done. (look into this more though).

    United Airlines does a great job of this. They'll tweet “the first person to answer (arbitrary UA trivia question and respond correctly wins (arbitrary prize).” This is effective because it forces people to visit their Twitter feed regularly, then the consumer must crawl the UA website for the correct answer improving their CTRs, and it's a contest where the first person wins. It's more effective from a business standpoint, and while next to no legal hassle (or fees).

    It's really interesting stuff. One of my clients is a large casino, so everything we did had to be by the books because they had the gaming commission in their front office.

    I'd look into contest law a little more before doing it, but it would be a MUCH easier way of doing things while getting the same general result. And it will be much less taxing on your budget.

    Great discussion Francisco! happy to continue this…

  • Agreed – the legal aspect is a necessary evil when it comes to sweepstakes and contests. Contests are definitely the way to go from a standpoint of cost-effectiveness (not to mention better engagement). Contests are very simple to build rules for, and often you can do it yourself and have outside council review your work rather than paying for rules development from scratch. The biggest factor is simply having your judging criteria be clearly stated. The first one is always the hardest to develop rules for, but once you have several types of contests under your belt you can reuse big chunks of contest rules and re-purpose them for new contests.

  • Josh, I really appreciate you taking the time, not just for me but for the visitors too. You have done a great job explaining the difference and even provided great examples.

    In the American Airlines example you mention, since the prize is awarded to the “first person”, I wonder if the life of the contest is too short or maybe because it is a major brand, a few hours is enough to spread.

  • joshgroth

    In regards to the United Airlines contest, I don't think the life of the contest is too short.

    There are two ways to look at a contest. One, is a tactic to build lots of followers really quickly and keeping them engaged for a short period of time (sweepstakes or contest). The other is a tactic that looks to engage followers more frequently and build followers at a steady pace.

    Everyone looks at the #moonfruit example as a huge Twitter success (and most ignore it was illegal). They gave away 10 Macbooks and their Twitter followers went from something like 400 to 35,000 in a matter of days. However, that was a one time deal. Tons of traffic all at once, but no retention strategy. Once they got their 35,000 followers there was no strategy to keep them actively engaged and interacting with the brand. Now look at the cost of that sweepstakes, probably someone around $20K.

    Now look at the United Airlines example, or even Smart Pig (@SmartyPig). Their contests may only last a matter of minutes. They would post a question or a trivia question that forces the consumer to crawl the website and find the answer, then post it. While the contests are short, they keep people engaged because they won't know when contest will happen. So people keep checking back to see if one of the contests is happening. Now look at the price. The cost to United Airlines, maybe $200 for a one-way ticket.

    For the price of the #MoonFruit promo ($20K), United Airlines could run 2 contests per week for 50 weeks keeping their user base more engaged.

    The question comes down to, do you want quantity or quality followers. I would argue that United Airlines has superior asset value in the followers than Moon Fruit strictly because their fans are regularly engaging with the brand.

  • In other words, short life but consistency.

    Now, we're mostly talking about brands here, probably involving in-house legal departments, but what happens in the case of blogs or even small business? I have been around this afternoon to much bigger blogs than this and it seems like a quick explanation is all they do.

    Do you think this is a common practice?

  • Nice tip and thanks for heads up. I'm about to run a giveaway on free domain to kick start my domain business and this will certainly help a lot 🙂


    Great article on Twitter contests. I am currently running a contest on Facebook. I was launched a few days ago and I have not had much participation. I have advertised the contest on Twitter (@ngnutrition) and on my blog ( and on my Facebook fan page ( This is my first attempt at a contest and would like to make it an ongoing thing if it is successful. Any thoughts on how I can jump start participation? Any thoughts would be much appreciated.

  • You should research and study @namecheap on Twitter as they are excellent at running such contests and get great engagement from their audience.

  • I’m confused I thought sweepstakes law required someone to explicitly agree to the terms and conditions? just posting them as a link at the bottom of a page wouldn’t work would it?

  • Amazing Bible World History Ti

    Francisco: Thank you for taking the time to write this excellent article and to engage the experts who filled in the gaps.  I’m getting ready to start running contests (answer a question type) and this was valuable.  Your work is appreciated.

  • Great tips for sweepstakes. 

    I am sure would help me posting mine:

  • Wow excellent tips. May be I start a contest soon. Thanks

  • Zak

    I write today regarding systematic discrimation against people who try to use Twitter service to actively participate in sweepstakes and giveaway promotions. By suspending my account without due processs nor cause, they are denying me the ability to fairly compete in these promotions, which do not offer alternate methods of entry for Twitter actions. The Twitter service is supposed to be a free social medium, but apparently only certain people are allowed to get full usage from this. There are plenty of other users who have been posting way more than I do (i.e., Mommy-bloggers), whose accounts do not undergo suspension three times over the course of two weeks, like mine has. By favoring those accounts and allowing them full unfettered use of Twitter, while limiting my ability to use my account, Twitter is effectively creating a differential in my likelihood of winning vs. my competitors (who are doing the same thing as me, if not more often). In short, their suspension policy contributes to a form of discrimation which allows certain entrants to tweet and gain additional entries without limitation, while preventing other entrants, like myself, from doing the same. This can sway the entire outcome/results of a contest or promotion and creates a condition of unequal dignity among entrants. Because they are not fairly offering the same level of free service to all of their users (i.e. suspending accounts for three days at a time without good reason), and because it appears that bias is exercised when suspending these accounts while not suspending others, I have recommended to my legislators that the performance of Twitter actions in exchange for primary or additional entries into a sweepstakes is made illegal, unless an alternate method of entry is provided. They have created a situation where it has become unduly burdensome, if not entirely impossible, for one to use their social venue to fairly compete in a promotion.

  • Giving stuff away is a great way to raise brand awareness. Get yourself in the map.

  • Excellent tips, wish I had found this before I ran my first content.. wait sweepstake. so my first one isn’t a success, but without that failure, i’d never have found this site. thanks