Erudite Expressions (Prints)

Five (5) Ways to Run an Effective Twitter Contest

Last week, I wrote a blog post “Five (5) Ways of How NOT to Run a Twitter Contest.” Today, I saw Smashing Magazine run a Twitter contest where they were giving away Google Wave invites. They posted a message on Twitter:

Win one of 25 Google Wave invites – to get one, just follow @smashingmag and retweet this msg! #smwave

Smashing Magazine and their Twitter Contest

So what’s wrong with running a contest this way? First, it’s a cheap way to gain followers, as I outlined in point #2 in my previous post. Second, Smashing Magazine was soliciting other users for their Google Wave invites. As one Twitter user (@DavidYell) pointed out, it appeared as though Smashing Magazine was “taking people’s google wave invites to get more follows.” While this may not necessarily be the case, the intentions of Smashing Magazine may certainly be misconstrued. And because there’s an invitation for speculation, I argue that it’s not a good way to run a Twitter contest.

Which brings me to the subject of this post. Here are 5 things you can do to run an effective (and fun!) contest on Twitter:

1) Ask for an Opinion. Do you realize that making people retweet a certain message is not only trite, but painfully boring? The propensity to run a contest this way is unoriginal. So what can you do instead? Focus on this word: engagement. For example, rather than make people retweet the same message, ask a question instead. For example, one thing that Smashing Magazine could have done is by asking readers to come up with an answer to this question: “Why do you want a Google Wave Invite? The most interesting or clever answer gets an invite!” When you’re asking a question or opinion, it allows Twitter users to come up with creative answers. And it’s so much more interesting to read through interesting responses than a barage of monotonous retweets.

2) The Trivia Contest. I think this idea has the most potential to interact with your audience. A simple approach would be to ask a trivia question on Twitter, and allow Twitter users to @reply with their answers. However, I think this approach can quickly lead to people scanning the Twitter search timeline and finding the correct results (and cheating isn’t fun; the cheaters will also dilute the whole purpose of the contest for others). So here’s a better way to engage with your audience. Ask the trivia question on Twitter, but motion users to reply with the answer on your blog. For example, a contest I held on Erudite Expressions could have been proposed on Twitter (example trivia question: Name the work in which Ernest Hemingway wrote “Bullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in danger of death and in which the degree of brilliance in the performance is left to the fighter’s honour;” the answer is here), with an invitation for users to respond with their answers on the blog post. If you think that people will be able to cheat by scanning comments left by other users, do this instead: ask users to leave a comment on a blog post of their choice which doesn’t contain the answer to the trivia question. If your blog doesn’t contain a timeline of recent comments (you could turn them off temporarily if you do have this feature enabled), it may lead to a great interactive experience (and your readers may find some other interesting content you have to offer in the process as well!). The contest winner would be chosen randomly from all submissions where the correct answer to the trivia contest was provided.

3) Hashtag Frenzy. The idea here is simple. Create a unique hashtag and allow people to incorporate it in any tweet of their choice. One company that ran with this idea was Moonfruit. Another company that went with this contest idea was SquareSpace. The upside potential is huge, as the contest may go viral. The contestants don’t have to retweet a boring message, they don’t have to follow you, and they can have fun in the process. The downside of this contest idea is that if it grows viral, it can lead to spam (i.e., spammers will start using this hashtag to promote themselves, their website, or their product). My only caveat for choosing to run a contest this way: don’t let contestants get multiple “entries” by using the hashtag multiple times (because it may upset other Twitter users and/or appear as spam-like). SquareSpace did a great job and realized about this issue about halfway into their contest, and they chose to make a disclaimer that using the hashtag multiple times would not increase your chances of winning).

4) Short Timeline (and Multiple Contests). If you’re running a Twitter contest, don’t make it last more than one week. For one, people could get bored waiting that long, and two, they might forget about the contest in the first place. This is definitely a personal choice, but a shorter time-frame allows you to better manage the influx of entries for your contest. Additionally, if you find that your contest has been successful, it opens up doors to run another contest in the future. If you can repeat the contest multiple times, it also allows you increased exposure, as people will try to enter a second time if they didn’t win. SquareSpace did exactly that: they picked a winner every 24 hours.

5) Validation of Results. I see too many Twitter contests in which the winners are chosen, but I have no idea what tools the organizers of the contest used to select the winner. If I enter a contest, I want to be certain that my submission did not go in vain. In other words, I want to see a validation of the contest. Check out sites like Tweetaways, TweetsWin, and Twtaway. If you’re running a contest where #hashtags are involved, check out these tools to help in your search:  CoTweet, PubliciTweet, TweetGrid, and Monitter. I personally don’t recommend using Twitter Search because it often is unreliable and/or doesn’t find tweets that are more than a few days old (but if your contest is short, as per #4 above, Twitter Search may be a good choice).

However, I want to bring the focus to what to do with the tracking. Whether you run a contest based on a trivia question, an invitation with the use of a hashtag, or something else, the validation process is critical. How do I know that I was entered into the contest? That my submission was both received and counted? This is where comes into play. From the site:

People use RANDOM.ORG for holding drawings, lotteries and sweepstakes, to drive games and gambling sites, for scientific applications and for art and music. The service has existed since 1998… insists that it relies on true randomness (based on atmospheric patterns), and you can read more about that here (it is a fascinating read). Why do I recommend using Because it allows you (the contest organizer) to input all valid participants into their engine, which will output a random winner (it can select multiple winners as well, if your contest is structured that way). The most appealing part is that functions as a perfect validation tool: the participants can log in (to a unique website which will be generated by for you) and see if they were entered into the contest. The unique identifier could be the participant’s email address, their twitter handle, or whatever you choose. The best part? guarantees privacy because they will not reveal people’s email address or Twitter IDs. For the purposes of running a contest on Twitter, the optimal choice is the entrant-accessible drawing in which privacy is ensured and those who want to verify their entrance into the contest can easily do so. For more information, I highly recommend checking out this video which explains the entire process.


This was a follow-up post on things NOT to do when running a Twitter contest. I hope this post gives you some great ideas on what you can do to run a great contest on Twitter (i.e., don’t do what Smashing Magazine did!). If there is one element I would recommend above any other in advancing an effective contest on Twitter, it’s my insistence on relying on the validation tool, such as that offered by Yes, it does cost $4.99 to use their service, but if you’re running a contest with hundreds or thousands of entries, it’s a small price to pay to ensure fairness.

If you have some other ideas on how to run an awesome contest on Twitter, feel free to chime in with your thoughts in the comments. And if you see other contests on Twitter where the organizers are making users retweet a boring message, please point them to this post.


Other helpful resources:
1) The official Guidelines for Running a Contest on Twitter (note the policy on multiple tweets; my addendum is rule #2 here)
2) Five Helpful Tips for a Rockin’ Twitter Contest (hat tip for the apps that track hashtags)


November 16, 2009 - Posted by | other | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Good suggestions! Especially the point about recency and short timeline on 4 and the giveaway tools on 5 are very helpful, thanks =)

    Comment by Yuki Chow | March 22, 2010 | Reply

  2. […] FREE OPTIONS: Promote yourself, such as by putting your Twitter username on your blog, in your email signature and on your business cards. For more tips like this, see “How to get more followers on Twitter without using Twitter.” Some accounts also offer prizes for following their accounts (see “Contest Problems” in the numbered list just below this one), or try to create engagement events, like polls. Read more about creating events and contests to build your Twitter account. […]

    Pingback by Everything you ever wanted to know about getting Twitter followers, but were afraid to ask | February 14, 2011 | Reply

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