Six Dos and Don’ts of Contests on Facebook

By Patrick Courtney

Contests on Facebook are a tried and true method of Like acquisition and customer engagement. From a Like & Win sweepstakes to a skill-based contest, these promotions can be fun for fans and a great marketing tool for brands. They can also be tricky to pull off; from unplanned Platform changes to holding the attention of fickle Facebook users, every contest has its challenges. We wanted to share some of the lessons we learned from a contest Affinitive did for Contiki Vacations, the leader in travel tours for 18-35s.

To get you up to speed, “Get On The Bus” was a contest encouraging US-based travelers to Like Contiki on Facebook and create virtual buses heading to one of eight Contiki vacation destinations, fill the buses with four of their friends and campaign to get the most votes of any other bus. You can learn more about this contest at the Facebook Studio.

The campaign generated over 10 million impressions through press coverage and sharing, and millions more impressions through offline WOM and advertising that supported the contest. Contiki additionally benefited from nearly 10,000 new US-based Facebook fans and thousands of newsletter signups.

Get On The Bus was deemed a success, but even the best campaigns have challenges and lessons learned. Here are some of ours:


Overcomplicate. Buses could be made private (invite-only) or public. Not all users understood how the Facebook invite friends feature worked, if their invites were sent, where they could be found and how to accept an invite. It goes to show that sometimes features can easily overcomplicate, even if those features are native to Facebook.

Draw It Out. The contest ran for 6 weeks, and while the application shot up to tens of thousands of active users in that time, in hindsight the same contest might have been executed with the same results with a shorter duration. The best contest is one that keeps participants on their toes and engaged in the event, so it’s important not to draw it out and lose interest from fans.

Make Rules You Can’t Enforce. It was decided prior to the launch of the contest that vote-swapping and vote-buying would not be permitted. This was more difficult to monitor or define than originally planned. Once it was discovered that participants who were caught vote-swapping/buying were being disqualified, contestants began setting each other up to look like they were breaking the rules. The intention behind the rule was good, but the varying definitions and scale of incentives and swapping was too much of a gray area to enforce accurately.


Personalize The Experience. Bus creators could name their own bus and give it a story.  Bus pages pulled in passengers’ common likes and interests from Open Graph to display the music, movies, etc. the passengers on the bus liked most as well as their average age, gender breakdown, and whether they were “Party” or “Culture” travelers.

Pages also included Facebook comments and activity streams updating the latest happenings on the bus. Participants had a ball with the personalization built into the contest experience and it showed with impressive time spent metrics.

Promote Sharing. Millions of impressions were generated through pass along on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms. The contest made sharing and spreading the word a core component of the campaign, and it paid off in reach and awareness numbers. The critical piece is to make sharing a natural extension of the contest, and not just a mechanism to spam friends.

Create A Sense Of Urgency. The contest leader board showed, in real-time, which buses had the most votes. Participants were glued to the leader board checking in on how their bus was doing as voting wound down, which was in turn a huge motivator to get more votes. Additionally, email notifications were sent as the contest neared its conclusion, which drove many people back to the contest to turn their campaigning into high gear.

We had a blast working on this project with Contiki, and are happy to see them getting the recognition they deserve for hosting an innovative contest like this one.  We hope these learnings can help your team execute some great Facebook contests down the road.  There are many more Dos and Don’ts, so please share yours in the comments!