Going Viral (the Good Way): How to Use Contests to Gain More Leads

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Everybody loves contests! Our desire to be number one is in our DNA. The chance of winning a prize without any obligation is hugely appealing. Plus, we get to exhibit our skills and abilities because we enjoy competing. Most important of all, contests can also be entertaining and fun!

Competition is a way people determine their self-worth when they compare themselves to others. When winners are announced, they check who wrote the best story or which photo won and so on.

People check how they measure up to the winner, if it’s a contest requiring skill, and it encourages them to improve and perform better next time.

Contests are good for the winner and even better for the host providing the contest … which is YOU!

Now you know that there’s a little bit of psychology involved with contests. Companies like Eggo, Dove, Valdo Prosecco and Dominos have run successful viral contests because they understand what makes people tick. There’s no reason why brands like yours can’t succeed as well.  

Read on and I’ll tell you how to create a custom-fit contest that’s going to appeal to your market and go viral. It will pay off your audience and, most important of all, you and your business as well.

But first…

Why should you run a contest?

We’ve run contests in the past, and trust me – you gain more than you give. Would you want to grow your audience by thousands in just a week? Of course you would! Here are reasons why you should run contests:

  • You can explode the growth of your e-mail list.

Lead creation, of course, is our primary goal when hosting contests. If people submit their e-mail addresses to enter the contest, ask them if it’s okay to send them product information. Provide a check box for this.

By collecting e-mail addresses, you can then market to them in the future. Don’t just send them emails asking to buy your product or service, though. You can ask for other information such as market research, asking about brands people use aside from yours, and many other questions. Make it fun – use a quiz or a survey. I suggest taking a look at our article on how to format these.    

  • Your brand and products get a considerable viral boost.

You can easily advertise your brand and products through contests. Don’t forget to leverage the power of your marketing assets, including social media, to build awareness – share and post.

To have your contest go viral, ask your followers to help spread the word for additional contest entries. Through a contest, people become more curious about your brand and products, and become competitive. They will share with others to gain more chances of winning themselves.    

  • It’s a better way to introduce a new product.

A single ad or announcement about your upcoming product can easily be forgotten. A contest, on the other hand, can build anticipation and excitement.

Add a countdown timer to your contest landing page, website or Facebook account. Coincide the release of your new product with the deadline of your contest.

The prize, of course, is your new product!

  • It increases sales.

Transforming leads into conversions may not happen at once. However, we always found that sales increased significantly whenever we hold contests.

If our primary goal in a contest is to increase sales, we DO NOT offer our products as the prizes. This somewhat stifles sales (though not completely), as contest entrants wait to see if they win first.

Instead, throughout the contest, we offer discounts for our products. As prizes, we either offer similar but non-competing products in our niche, or cash prizes (such as Amazon gift certificates).

We have experimented with offering a cash prize if the winner already owns the products, but found that this tactic makes things too complex.

  • Contests keeps your audience engaged.

If you have followers and raving fans, a contest can further increase their engagement, and it makes them feel appreciated.

Keep in mind, two-way relationships are always the best. Why not encourage them to suggest the kind of contest they would participate in? Conduct a survey and get discussions rolling. Maybe the search for a contest type attractive to everybody can be a contest in itself!

  • They spread goodwill and keeps your customers loyal.

I’m sure you know that creating goodwill with your customers is one way of keeping them. Give something back through a contest. It will give them a good feeling about your brand. 

If they have fun with your brand, feel good about you and are continually engaged with contests, quizzes and sweepstakes, they will recommend you to others when conversations come up about your niche.

What Type of Contest Should You Run?

Below are the popular types of contests to run. Choose one that fits your brand. Be creative –  mix or make your own variation.


The simplest, sweepstakes require people to submit their e-mail address, and that’s it. Some ask entrants to view products or answer a survey.

You can run sweepstakes, but people might not bother unless your prizes are something they value. Nobody reveals their e-mail details readily. You need to give your target audience compelling reasons.

Example contest from Rafflepress

Photo contest.

What pictures would your customers like to share? These could be photos while they’re using your product. Or, you can also ask them to submit photobombed pictures. The Queen of England photobombing a selfie by soccer players in 2014 is still remembered today.

Apple continuously runs a photo contest for amateurs using their iPhone.  Travel companies give prizes for the best vacation photos. Maybe now, you could host a contest for the best stay-at-home pictures. Involve pets if you can.  People like to share photos of their furry family members.

Video contest.

You could ask people to send short funny videos on a variety of topics related to your products. It could be a how-to or a song and dance number introducing a new product.

Again, ask your audience for ideas, or think of something that would fit your niche or what you are selling.  

Recipe contest.

If your brand is related to cooking or the kitchen, ask your target market to share their unique recipes. Get each of them to take photos of their culinary masterpiece. Maybe they can share stories on FB or IG on how they discovered their recipes.

On the other hand, your brand doesn’t need to have anything to do with cooking. It’s still an excellent idea to keep your customers busy and have fun while they’re quarantined at home due to the pandemic. A contest might be just what they need to get excited.

Art contest.

Are you thinking of creating or changing your logo? Why not ask your customers to design one for you through a contest?

Get them to vote on the best too. A complete change may not be necessary. You can invite people to design seasonal logos.

To increase engagement, we also held a contest to change our Facebook Group banner. It cost us nothing, and we got dozens of enthusiastic submissions.  

Writing contest.

People are willing to share tons of content. You can ask them to write a short lead-in for your new product or your brand’s slogan.

A writing contest can be an event or holiday-related. For Halloween, ask participants to write about something scary. I know it may not be related to your brand, but your prizes can include costumes or decor.

People love stories, so don’t disregard fictional narratives. Your customers might like to express themselves through storytelling. Set a length limit, though.

Post a GIF or meme contest.

Make it fun for your participants. Ask a question like “How would you describe via a GIF our product?” Allow them to be judges by asking for votes. Instead of a GIF, tell your entrants to use memes instead.        

The Viral Formula

So, how do you make your contests go viral to collect thousands of leads from a few submissions? This is actually the easy part!

Make the prize valuable

As stated earlier, you stand a better chance of making your contest go viral when the prize is something valuable and that your audience is interested in.

For instance, if you own a yoga business, have the prize be something related to yoga. That way, participants will forward your contest to their friends who are interested in yoga. Nobody is going to forward a contest for something generic.

Contest length

Make sure there is a start and end date to your contest. Place countdown timers on your contest landing page and even in your emails. People will more likely enter and share your contest details if they know there is a time limit.

We found that running the contest for two weeks is best. Any shorter, and you don’t give it enough time to go viral. Any longer, and people begin to forget about you.               

Make it fun

Add an element of “gamification” … that is, add levels and bonuses to your contest. For instance, if somebody refers 10 people, they receive 10 extra entries. However, if they refer between 10 and 20 people, their entries will double per person.

You can set their up with most contest software packages (see below).

Fuel your contest with a story

Don’t just state “Enter and win a prize!” Have a little story to engage your participant. If you are offering a new product, talk a bit about how it came to be.

If a holiday is approaching, talk about a personal memory from a holiday past where the product helped you or a customer.

Basically, when people share your contest, a story gives them something worth sharing. Continue the story with follow-up emails.

Showcase and share

For contests that involve some fun creation, such as a photo, recipe, etc, make sure you encourage participants to showcase their creation. After they enter, offer bonus “votes” to win by sharing their entry to their friends via social media.

Contest Headline

Make your headline short, simple, catchy and attention-grabbing. Have the call to action in the statement. A good example is “Enter Now to Win a New Set of (Your Product)” with Your Product being of course the actual product name.

Depending on the type of contest you are running, here are some other great examples:

Tell Us How You Would Use (Our Product) to Win it!

Take a Photo of Yourself (Doing/Using Product) to Win $250!

Caption this to Win $100!

The key to all of these is simplicity and directness. You want an action to be taken and what the person can win.

Email Blasts During the Contest

Before you begin your contest, set up a separate list for contest entrants in your autoresponder, or tag them as such. You don’t want them mixed in with your “VIP members” who already bought your product, because you don’t yet know the quality of your new leads.

Once your contest is running, send emails to those who have already entered. We usually send an email out twice a week for as long as the contest is running, then once the night before the contest ends, and once or twice the day the contest ends.

In each email, thank them for joining the contest, and remind them about what it is about. Remember, everybody is busy, and many won’t remember that they entered your contest.

Then, to make your contest go viral, remind them that they can increase their chances of winning by sharing the contest to their friends and posting on social media.

Then, if applicable, we offer a discount to our products or services that they can use now. This discount expires a couple days after the contest ends.

Follow-Up Emails Once the Contest Ends

Once the contest ends, choose a winner (or winners) and let them know. Give them a day or two to acknowledge the win. If they don’t respond, send a final email saying that they risk the chance of losing their winnings. After a day, pick somebody else.

Once all winners are chosen and contacted, email everybody saying who the winner(s) are … but just the first name and last initial, for privacy. We also give the town and state (or country).

In that same email, thank everybody who participated, and offer them a discount for your products or services … this will be the same discount you offered throughout the contest.

If your prize was the products, then do not offer the discount until the contest is over. Then say something like “You still won with this discount code!” or something to make it sound like they still have something of value … a discount for your products, of course!

Follow-Up email example via Wishpond

Finally, invite them to your next contest. We encourage monthly or quarterly contests, where you invite all previous contest entrants as well. While the viral momentum will likely not be as high (after all, may would have already shared your contest the first time), you still have potentially several thousand entrants who may share your new contest!

What is your prize?

Always know your audience. Your contests aren’t for the general public unless that is your market.  Aside from your new product, your prize should be something related to your brand. It should answer a need or solve a problem for your target audience.

Be prudent in your choice of prizes. Don’t give away smartphones just because these are popular (unless your niche is the smartphone market, of course.)

Sure, these devices attract people like bees to honey. However, the quality of your leads won’t be very good, and very few will care about what you sell. This is why you should focus only on your target audience.  

Sometimes, it’s not about the prize. The prestige and recognition of being the winner might be enough for a person. This doesn’t mean you can be stingy. Know your market well to discover what’s important to them.  If you’re unsure, keep in mind these two things – relevance and value.

Don’t just consider your own products. Also think of prizes from a sponsor or business partner. In exchange for marketing exposure, they might be willing to give away their products in your contest.

Marketing your contest

Post on all your available marketing resources. Get family and friends to help out. And don’t forget to share on the following:

  • Your website as a blog post and graphic or video on your home page
  • Contest landing page
  • Your current e-mail list (don’t forget your current fans!)
  • Social media
  • Advertising via Google Ads or social media ads
  • Through your influencer and raving fans.
  • Press releases
  • Contest websites, directories and listings – though we found these to be hit and miss, because the audience and followers for these are primarily only interested in prizes, not your product or brand.

Contest Tools

There are software packages available that will help you create contests. Some of these are fully dedicated, while others have all-in-one features. Each has plug-ins for WordPress and Shopify.  

These are not free but offer a free-trial period.  You might have to spend from $10 to $97 monthly for the basic plans. Here are a few:

  • UpViral.  This has been our go-to contest software for years. For $35 a month, UpViral has all the bells and whistles we need. It has a beginner-friendly system. In minutes you can create giveaways, sweepstakes and contests. From the dashboard, click “Create Campaign” and give your first contest a name. It includes landing pages, connections to your autoresponder lists, and choices of how to pick the winner.
  • Rafflecopter. This is solely used for creating campaigns. You can make these on your website and FB accounts. Rafflecopter is an excellent choice for small businesses. Plans include data collection tools. Prices start at $13 a month.
  • VYPER. You can open an account for free. Payment is only required when you start your contests. VYPER is similar to UpViral. You can run referral campaigns and automate your e-mail. Monthly fees begin at $75.
  • Wishpond. This is software that allows you to create landing pages, pop-ups and forms. You can run contests and automate marketing functions. Wishpond rewards people for referrals and offers customization to fit your needs. The basic plan starts at $45.
  • Gleam.  You can set up your campaign in 3 minutes. It also has a referral program and can verify entries on social media using tools. Mobile-friendly, Gleam claims to have a clientele of over a million. Pricing starts at $97 a month.

There are more options to choose from. Your final choice will depend on your needs and what would work best for your target market.

While you’re sitting on the fence about contests, consider the simplest – sweepstakes. It’s easy to set up and will definitely appeal to your target audience. See how it goes and if you get leads beyond expectations, it means you should host more.

It’s now time to include contests in your marketing plan. Set one up, go viral, and watch the thousands of new leads pour into your lists! It is a great way to scale up your sales fast, and introduce your brand to a larger audience.

Have you run a contest in the past, or plan on doing one? Let us know how it goes!

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