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Running An Effective Twitter Contest For Your Small Business

A few months back I ran a small Twitter contest in the hopes of getting some attention for my business Twitter account. This was my first time attempting a Twitter giveaway, so I wasn’t expecting a whole lot to come from it. My main goal was to learn a little about running a successful contest, so that my next campaign would be successful. This goes back to the whole Fail Early, Fail Often philosophy.

As I expected, I had a lot to learn about running a successful contest on Twitter. In the end, the contest was not a huge success, however, I did get more out of it than I expected. I’d like to share my lessons learned from this exercise, and hopefully hear your thoughts on this topic. But first, a bit of background on my motivation behind this.


I’ve done a decent job of gaining followers, and meeting new people with my personal Twitter account. However, I had neglected my business account. The main problem I had with the latter  was that I felt awkward having a conversation with someone from a company account. It feels much more natural, at least for me, to engage someone in a conversation when you are coming from a personal account with an image of you – people like to know who they are talking to. On top of that, I’ve learned that people are much more likely to follow back a person than they are to follow back a faceless company who they know nothing about.

So I thought that holding this contest would be a good way to engage people without feeling too weird about it.

Lessons Learned

Is your target audience on Twitter? This probably goes without saying, but I’ll mention it anyways. If your target market is not on Twitter, you won’t have much success with it. Twitter is very popular among small business and tech enthusiasts, but not so much among other demographics. If, for example, you sell the JitterBug, a cell phone for the elderly, don’t expect to find a whole lot of customers on Twitter.

Choose your giveaway wisely. An important aspect to consider is what your target audience is interested in. If your giveaway doesn’t match their interests it will be a lot harder to get the right people to participate. Something like an iPad is a good, all purpose giveaway that tends to appeal to a large audience. But I suggest you come up with something a bit more interesting. For instance, if you are in the business of social media consulting for small businesses, you could give away X hours of your time to revamp one small business.

Ask in proportion to what you give. It’s important that the perceived value of what you are giving away be comparable to the effort required to enter the contest. If you are giving away something with a perceived value of $1000, people will invest more time and energy into entering the contest than if your giveaway is only valued at $50. So if you ask people for too much, and give away too little, your contest will fail.

Be proactive. You can’t just sit back and rely on people finding you. Search on Twitter for potential participants, and send them a tweet about the contest – but don’t spam. I also recommend contacting some of your followers, and asking them if they could share the information with their followers. The more work you put into your contest, the more you’ll gain in return.

Search for the right keywords. If you search on Twitter, you will quickly find that there are a ton of accounts whose only purpose is to promote contests and giveaways on Twitter. I initially made the mistake of focusing on keywords like #contest and #giveaway to find what I thought were relevant accounts that would help promote my contest. But I quickly learned that this was the wrong approach. Instead search for industry keywords that relate to what you are giving away because these people are more likely to be interested in what you have to offer. (I also have a suspicion that the pure giveaway Twitter accounts are part of an affiliate network, and won’t help you unless you pay them to.)

Know what to tweet. In most cases you’ll probably write a short blog post describing the contest. When tweeting about your contest, don’t simply include the title of the blog post with the link. Try to include as much information about the giveaway as you can, while still leaving enough room for retweeting. For instance, if your giveaway will require participants to tweet about your contest and follow you back, make sure to put that in your tweet. People will not always take the time to read an entire blog post, but if you can provide them with all the information they need to enter the contest in the tweet, you’ll get a boost in participation. Take a look at these examples:

Example of an ineffective tweet:

Get a free iPad – [your link here]

Examples of effective tweets:

Win a free iPad! Follow @[your twitter account here] & RT this msg to enter. [your link here] #giveaway #contest

I entered to #win an iPad from @[your twitter account here]. Info on the #giveaway here: [your link here] Like? RT!

#Contest: RT this and follow @[your twitter account here] for a chance to win a #Free iPad – [your link here] #giveaway

Do you have any experience with Twitter contests? Or any other strategies you’d like to share with us?

I am the co-founder of Light Point Security, LLC – a startup company developing the next generation in web security products. I am also a project manager for multi-million dollar government contracts. I blog about startups, small businesses, and internet security.

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  • Anonymous

    Good post Zuly and thanks for the mention.nTwitter is not the same tool as it was back in 2008. Small business, which usually have very limited resources must find out first where their time is going to go when choosing a platform and defining the purpose behind.nTwo or three years ago, you could have gotten away with a personal and business account and could have built a decent following. Nowadays, with so many people on Twitter it would be probably better to stick to the personal account for a small business so people can get to know you much better and maybe leave the Facebook page foru00a0companyu00a0interactions and contests. There are great apps to run those on Facebook such as Involver or WildFireApp. At the same time, Facebook is a much more visual platform so have better opportunities for engagement Vs Twitter.

  • Hi Zuly, I think that there is lots of potential on Twitter with the right approach and there are some really good campaign examples, but as usual, it’s the larger businesses that are leading the way :(u00a0nnHere are 5 good examples fromu00a0@simplyzesty:twitteru00a0n’ve used Twitter to support our Sugartone competitions: u00a0 have you seen the #IRLday campaign fromu00a0@pocketnative:twitteru00a0u00a0 u00a0n

  • Thank you for some nice practical tips there Zuly.u00a0u00a0

  • Katie

    u00a0Great post! I just finished a Twitter campaign for the company I work for (we sell virtual desktops -u00a0@desktone:disqusu00a0) and I found it difficult to come up with the wording for the contest. I’m definitely going to use your hashtag tip in my next contest.n

  • Good point. I think it depends on what your goal is for your business Twitter account.u00a0For example, there are some businesses that use their Twitter accounts strictly as a customer service tool, where their customers can quickly contact them, and get a quick response back. In this case I think it makes a lot of sense because it gives your customers more flexibility. But if you intend foru00a0the accountu00a0to be a more comprehensive communication channel, then you definitely need to think about whether it’s worth your investment.nnI definitely found it a lot harder to gain followers with my business account, but I also didn’t dedicate as much time to it as I did with my personal account.

  • Hi Niall. Yes, in factu00a0I discovered Bloggertone through your Sugartone promotion on Twitter, so you’reu00a0evidence that it works 🙂

  • You’re welcomeu00a0Helen!u00a0Gladu00a0to help.u00a0

  • Thanks Katie! It’s funny how evenu00a0somethingu00a0like theu00a0wording of your tweet, which initially sounds so simple, can be a challenge. I struggled with that myself. I’m happy to know that my tips will prevent others from making the same mistakes I made. Good luck with your next contest! Let us know how it goes.

  • Anonymous

    u00a0Great post Zuly! I’ve tried a couple of contests with Twitter that were far from successful. I’ll definitely re-consult this post before the next one though.u00a0nnTotally agree with the importance of the wording – the difference between performing an action and not performing it is often the clear set of instructions preceding it. You’re examples provide a great template!nnCheersnDan

  • Scan on the Side

    Thanks Sian. Hope your readers get some good information from the article. Really look forward to contributing more in the future as well.

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