Social Media Contests: A Creative Marketing Tool for Startups

Social media contests are a fantastic way to start conversations about your startup, engage your followers and obtain user-generated marketing material. Contests are great for startups because they don’t require a lot of money up front and can help them reach new markets. Contests also can turn somewhat-frequent customers into fans for life by enabling them to be invested in what your startup is doing. If your startup is looking for some fresh marketing ideas, learn from some of these companies’ social media contests to model your own after:

Hands struggling to reach trending topic hashtagSelfie

Smartphone selfies are here to stay. Samsung found that over 1 million selfies are posted on social media every day, and they make up 30 percent of photos taken by people ages 18 through 24. This trend is propelled by smartphones designed with high-resolution and front-facing cameras, such as the HTC One M9. Furthermore, celebrities like Kim Kardashian are selling books about the art of the selfie.

Many companies, including Axe, Marc Jacobs, Ponds and Kenneth Cole, have picked up on this trend and launched successful selfie photo contests. To promote its new fragrance, Axe Peace, Axe ran a selfie contest on social media dubbed #KissForPeace. The company encouraged followers to submit various themed selfies, including “kiss your loved one,” “kiss your rival” and “pucker up and kiss your Axe.” This contest engaged its followers worldwide and generated a lot of user content.

Similarly, Kenneth Cole had followers submit selfies with a message strip and the hashtag, #DressForYourSelfie. This contest increased the visibility of the brand, gained more followers and boosted the company’s credibility.

Follow, Share, Like

Set up a simple contest on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter that simply asks entrants to either follow, share or like content you post on your site. Although this type of contest does not give you access to your followers’ emails or other social media profiles, it does generate buzz about your company.

For example, Qwertee, a limited edition T-shirt producer, ran a successful contest on Facebook in which entrants were required to like its page and submit their email address for the chance to win 30 free T-shirts. The company’s goal was 100,000 Facebook page likes, but it greatly surpassed that number with 240,000 likes. Wishpond explains that this contest was so successful because it stayed true to the company’s brand and motivated fans to turn into customers.


To promote the debut of a short story book by their author B.J. Novak, Mashable launched an essay contest on Twitter. Entrants had to compose a short story within the 140-character limit and include the hashtag #mashreads. The prizes included signed books and the chance to join a book discussion with the author. Over 66 percent of the content generated about B.J. Novak was shared through Twitter, which helped highlight Mashable and promoted the book.

Dove is another company that ran an essay submission contest called “Real Beauty Should be Shared.” On Facebook, they asked customers to tell them why their friend represents real beauty. The winners of the contest became the next faces of Dove.


Engage customers with your products by having them vote on their favorites. For instance, the Mexican fast-food chain Qdoba had its followers vote between two of its quesos. The results were updated in real-time on Facebook, which energized and engaged Qdoba fans and customers. The contest encouraged social media involvement, generated buzz about their new products and allowed them to gauge which product the public favored the most.


Starbucks ran a creative campaign called #WhiteCupContest, which challenged customers to create an artful drawing or design on the brand’s iconic cup. The winner’s design was made into a limited-edition, reusable cup available for sale in stores. The contest received over 4,000 submissions in just three weeks and was successfully used as a catalyst to highlight and promote Starbucks’ reusable cups.

Recent Posts