Social media contests are a great way to promote your company and increase your visibility online. Outside the price of the prize, social media contests are essentially free, which is a great bonus.

Successful contests can create customers for life, and, by engaging your target audience and customer base in an interactive experience, you're creating a memorable bond between your brand and your target audience.

But not all companies have successful experiences with social media contests. For best results, follow these social media contest do's and don'ts for effective marketing.

Five Do's...

1. Choose the right type of contest

Consider what type of contest best suits your interests and your audience. Sweepstakes are easy to enter, but media (photos, video, essay, etc.) contests give you more content for your site and page. There are benefits to each type of contest; the ideal choice depends on what would be most suitable and appealing to your audience.

Also take into consideration the way that the winners are chosen. Should the voting be entirely left up to the public, via likes, retweets, etc.? Should just one person be appointed judge? Should there be a council of judges? Which approach is most appropriate again varies by circumstance and situation. Be wary that open voting can easily lead to cheating, but an exclusive, inaccessible judge or group of judges can make things seem less "real."

2. Set boundaries

Define your rules very specifically. Be clear and up front about age limits, entry periods, location restrictions, etc. Place that information in accessible and highly visible areas so that it can't be missed by entrants. It doesn't help anyone to have confusion and misunderstandings throughout the entire contest period. Write out the rules both for your and your audience's reference. Set clearly defined boundaries, and maintain them.

3. Provide clear instructions

Tell people how to enter and when. Navigating the entry process should be simple and intuitive. All information (rules, restrictions, directions, information on the process, time chart for rounds or voting periods, if applicable) should be easy to find at all points of the application process. Your entrants are the most important people who need this information.

4. Outline prizes

The last thing that you should be vague about are prizes. Describe exactly what you are offering. The winner might be a surprise, but the prize shouldn't be. Be clear about how many prizes you're offering (unless it's meant to be undefined and "multiple winners may be selected"), what winners at different levels/places receive, how soon the prize will be delivered, and whether it is exchangeable for an equivalent cash value. If your prize will be shipped to the winner, indicate whether the sponsor or the winner will be responsible for the shipping costs and other fees involved.

5. Regularly promote

It might not be the best idea to spam your followers with reminders every day about the contest, but do promote it regularly. Milestones (the end of a round, one week until submissions close, etc.) is a good chance to give it more visibility. Post some entries as you receive them as an excuse to get people to "Check this out," and post more updates and information about the prizes to get people hyped up about it. Don't make your updates spammy, make them sharable.

Five Don'ts...

1. Break laws or rules

The Internet is sometimes very easily viewed as an area of free rein. That assumption can lead to mistakes. Contests and giveaways are still subject to local, state, national, and other nations' laws. Make sure you check out all of the laws and regulations regarding contests in the relevant areas that you are hosting the contest. Also check with the rules that the various social media platforms set. Social media contests have grown more and more popular, and as a result rules have grown more defined.

2. Be lazy with disclaimers

Now that you've gone over all the rules and regulations, incorporate your new knowledge with your contest. Some disclaimers might sound silly, irrelevant, or random, but rules have been put in place for a reason. Cover all your bases and have all your disclaimers written out to further illustrate the more minute details of your contest rules and boundaries.

3. Offer irrelevant prizes

Go back to why you are having this contest—to promote your business, right? So, ideally, all of the attention you get would be from people who are in your company's target audience and fit your typical consumer profile. But that is hard to ensure, since your contest is open to the public. One way to make sure that your entrants are also potential customers is to offer a relevant prize.

Everybody wants $100 or a trip to the Bahamas, but not all of the people who want $100 would even consider buying your products or services. However, offering something relevant to your business means that the entrants (who want that prize) are also interested in your other offerings, your products and services.

4. Permit cheating

Tools are available to detect fraudulent behavior. Tracking the IP addresses of entrants and votes prevents much of the most basic cheating methods on the Internet. Make it clear that you are monitoring cheating and that it's not permitted, and then follow up to make sure it isn't happening.

5. Make entry complicated

Ultimately, you are the one who wants people to enter; without entrants, you don't really have a contest or a marketing effort. Therefore, you should make people want to enter by making entry as easy as possible. Even if the entry requires effort or time (such as a video or an essay), the process of entering work should not be difficult.

Regardless of the type of contest you're running, don't collect more information than you need, don't ask them to click through a million pages, and don't make it confusing. Streamline the entry process to prevent potential entrants from being discouraged to bother with it.

Best of luck!

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Social Media Contests: Five Do's and Five Don'ts

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Olivia Lin writes for Fahrenheit Marketing, an online marketing firm based in Austin, TX.

LinkedIn: Olivia Lin