Humans are competitive by nature—and if there’s one thing we love more than a bit of friendly rivalry, it’s the prospect of winning a super cool prize for our efforts. (And honestly, the coolness of the prize doesn’t even matter; if I win a chip clip, it’s automatically ten times cooler than all other chip clips because I won it.)

So, if you’re looking for a way to stir up some excitement around your practice on social, an online contest might be just the ticket. But before you jump into the game (see what I did there?), you’ve got to learn the playbook. Here are some of the major points to consider, as explained in the Simply Measured social media contest guide found here:

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1. There’s a difference between a contest and a sweepstakes.

People tend to use the word “contest” loosely when referring to promotional competitions on social. In reality, though, a “contest” implies that the facilitator will determine winners based on some kind of skill. Common types of social media contests include photo, video, and caption contests. If you go the contest route, be sure to fully explain who will judge the entries and the criteria they will use.

A sweepstakes, on the other hand, implies that the facilitator will select winners at random. In other words, all entrants have the same probability of winning. (Please note that raffles fall into this category.)

2. You’ve got to follow the rules.

Each social media platform has its own set of rules governing promotional activities, including contests. Before you launch any sort of promotion on social, it’s crucial that you review the policy for the platform you’re using. If you get caught violating a particular site’s code of conduct, you risk having your contest shut down—or worse, being permanently banned from the site.

Here are some key guidelines for Facebook and Twitter, the two most popular social media contest vehicles:


The folks at Facebook have worked and reworked their contest rules over the years. Traditionally, they’re known for being a little more strict than some of the other social platforms out there—at one point, you could only run contests through third-party applications—and they still have a pretty detailed set of guidelines for promotions. They’ve cooled their jets a bit, though; users can now run contests directly on their pages/timelines and can require likes, posts, and messages as mechanisms of participation. One important caveat, though, is that you must clearly indicate that your contest or sweepstakes is wholly unrelated to Facebook (i.e., Facebook is not responsible for contest administration or results).


The tweet peeps are a bit more chill when it comes to contests. According to Twitter’s contest guidelines, contest hosts “may offer prizes for tweeting a particular update, for following a particular user, or for posting updates with a specific hashtag.” Be aware, however, that there are a few rules pertaining to spam, repeat postings, and the use of multiple accounts.       

3. There are legal implications.

Any official contest—whether it’s administered on social or not—is subject to a certain set of legal rules and regulations. The tricky thing, though, is that those rules differ based on jurisdiction. For example, some states require businesses to legally register certain promotional activities. So, before you dive—or even dip your toe—into the social promotion pool, be sure to run it by your practice’s legal consultant. Here are a few universal pieces of advice:

  • Define your promotion using the correct term (e.g., “contest” or “sweepstakes,” per section one above).
  • Remember that in most cases, you cannot require purchase as a condition of entry.
  • Clearly state the contest rules, including deadlines, processes for determining winners, and any disclaimers.
  • If your contest requires participants to submit content—photos, for example—be sure to indicate whether your business will retain the rights to that content, meaning you can use and distribute it as you wish, even after the contest is over.

4. A little planning goes a long way.

When inspiration strikes, you may be tempted to hop on your computer and craft an on-the-spot announcement for the contest you just dreamed up. After all, running a social media contest is as simple as hitting “Tweet,” right?

Not quite. For your contest to be successful—that is, for it to have the effect you desire—you’ll need to put some thought into it. At the very least, you should set a goal for the promotion and build your efforts around it. For example, if your goal is to increase brand awareness, maybe your contest could involve asking your followers to share photos of themselves wearing a shirt with your logo on it. If your goal is to promote the cash-based services you provide, perhaps your prize could be five free sessions.

You should also consider which social platform you’ll use to launch and run your contest. Facebook provides a lot of flexibility with interactions, giving you a variety of options for participation requirements—from liking, to sharing, to posting, to commenting. (Just remember to set those parameters in advance so you’ll easily be able to organize and track participation.) Twitter, on the other hand, is good for real-time, rapid-fire type contests—trivia questions, for example. Whichever social network you decide to use, be sure to cross-promote your contest on your other accounts to ensure as much participation as possible.

Has your practice ever run a contest on social media? What were the results? Share your thoughts in the comment section below. And for more winning advice on marketing your practice online, be sure to download our free marketing e-book.

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