Social Media Promotions 101: Contests, Giveaways, Surprise & Delight

Throughout my career, one thing that has irked me the most is when someone improperly refers to a sweepstakes as a contest. It might be slightly irrational, but inside I cry a little. Now that I work for a social media agency, I have applied my background in promotions to the world of social media, helping brands understand the key distinctions between contests, giveaways, and surprise & delights. Understanding the legalities and rules governing each type of social media promotion can help a determine the type of program that will help achieve brand objectives.


Running a sweepstakes can be a great way to incentivize the masses. Sweepstakes are a game of chance, meaning at the conclusion of the sweepstakes a random drawing takes place and the participant has no control over the outcome. While there can be simple to complex forms of sweepstakes, there can’t be any form of “consideration at play”.  Consideration means a purchase can’t be required or a large amount of time can’t be required to participate (i.e. watching an hour long video).

When planning a social sweepstakes, one of the biggest challenges is ensuring consumers are engaged with your brand and encouraged to share the sweepstakes.  Often, many brands run sweepstakes that simply prompt a user to enter and leave, missing the opportunity for social spread. Building gamification into a sweepstakes is one way to create engagement while still classifying the promotion as a sweepstakes.

Prize + Chance – Consideration = Sweepstakes

sweepstakes drawing


In a contest, chance is removed. The winner isn’t picked at random, but instead picked by a panel of judges or votes. Skill is also required from the entrant to participate in a contest, whether it be making a short video or submitting a story. If judging is present, the official rules must provide participants with the criteria explaining how the entry will be judged. For social programs, it’s important to keep this criteria broad enough to provide participants room for creativity, while giving the brand some control over the outcome of the entries. The most common criteria we see is: Creativity, Originality, and a specific element that relates to the brand or contest theme.

A contest is a great way to drum up excitement and engagement with your brand on social, but a brand has to be cautious that the barrier and pay-off of the campaign is aligned.

Prize + Consideration – Chance = Contest


Surprise & Delights

You know what’s awesome about Surprise & Delights? No Rules! It’s like the Mad Max version of giving things away, you have freedom to do what your brands wishes (sort of). We are all brand advocates in some way and to be recognized for that can increase engagement. My extreme love of Hint® Water and social media prompts me to post photos every time I get a shipment (my dog may or may not hate me for this). When I noticed the brand included my photo in one of their updates, and sent me a t-shirt – my devotion and sharing have skyrocketed further. This tactic, while it can be more difficult to track compared to contests or sweepstakes is an excellent way to create enthusiasm and fuel loyalty.


GIFT (not a prize) + Hand-Selecting = Surprise & Delight


If you have any questions about whether or not your brand should run a promotion and what type is best for you, reach out, we’d love to help.

Ignite Social Media