Hit the Mark With Your Next Social Media Contest

by Zach Snyder
Digital Marketing Specialist
Onondaga Community College, NY

Social media contests are powerful tools to boost your following and engagement. But the devil is in the details. As communications practitioners, we set out with good intentions when setting up social media contests. Here’s how to hit the mark.

Setting Goals and Finding Budget

Setting goals sounds simple but it’s the first step. Do you want to add followers? Or do you want to drive engagement? Establishing your goals will help determine the tactics you need to get there. For example, if the goal is to add new prospective students, consider integrating with your college open house or other large recruitment event.

Once the goal has been set, the next step is to set aside a prize. Ultimately, people won’t participate if they don’t have a reason to. While it may seem like the bigger prize you get, the better the contest would be, this isn’t always the case. Always ask yourself and your students, “Would I/you take this action for this prize?” Speaking from personal experience, the answer might surprise you.

What’s the best prize to give right now? Ask your students! An Amazon gift card is never amiss but beyond that, a quick survey on your social platforms or an informal poll in a class of students will tell a lot.

Choosing the Platform Strategically

The next step after setting your goals and finding a prize is to choose the platform you want to run the contest on. The most successful contests Onondaga Community College (OCC) has run are contests that are single platform. Multi-platform competitions tend to be hard to manage and confuse the user.

Making the Rules and Setting Logistics

  1. Goals and Prizes
  2. Choosing Platform

Now it’s time to set up the contest. This is where those devilish details come in. An idea that surfaces a lot for college contests is the social media scavenger hunt. Sounds like it would be very engaging for students, right?

While that may work at a four-year school, the model falls short at a community college. But why? The answer is simple: our student population is different than the four-year population. Our student population is more likely to be adult, less likely to become engaged in campus life, and more likely to be working a long number of hours at part-time jobs to sustain their education. A social media contest at a community college should reflect that it’s a different student population. For example, OCC has run some contests that are multi-day and involve taking multiple actions. These types of contests were always 25-50% less effective because they required more effort that the students couldn’t put in.

Keep it simple! Avoid having contests that stretch over long periods of time. Keep your explanation of the contest to three bullet points or less, with one of the steps being how to win a prize. For example, a good contest explanation for an open house would look like:

  1. Add us on (Social Media Platform)
  2. Tag a photo of your day at (Name of College)
  3. Get entered to win (Prize)

Measuring Outcomes

Now the social media contest is completed and you want to measure outcomes. But what represents a good outcome? A good way to measure your contest effectiveness is to divide the number of participants by the number of total eligible participants. Based on the contests OCC has run for recruitment events, typical engagement percentages range between 20-30% for events with parents and around 50% for events without parents. For contests that engage current followers, a benchmark of about 50% participation – based on post engagement – is a good result.

Hopefully, this post has provided some good insight as you look to start or revise social media contests at your college. Remember, keeping it simple is key to achieving good outcomes and remember to keep it fun. Ultimately, if done right, continued social media contests will help gain followers, grow engagement and provide a fun and positive way for students to interact with the college.

Zach Snyder is the digital marketing specialist at Onondaga Community College in Syracuse, New York.

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