FacebookIt’s no secret that Facebook is one of the most powerful marketing tools available, but not everyone knows how to take full advantage of it when gearing up for a contest or promotion. When done right, a contest can bring you a deluge of new visitors who will carry your message farther for you, but it isn’t enough to slap a contest notification on your Facebook wall and expect a spate of new traffic. Follow these simple guidelines, and you’ll find your next contest will be a hit.

Before The Contest

A successful Facebook event starts before you post the first word of content. Laying your groundwork well takes you at least half the way to a soaring success, so don’t skimp on these steps.

1. Determine Why You Need A Contest Now

Are you interested in running a contest to bolster flat “like” numbers and follow rates? Is your contest a means to generate buzz among a wider audience? Is it a way to entice disinterested visitors back to your site and re-engage with them? Are you promoting your new product line to an already interested niche audience? Will your contest garner useful data about your customers? Until you know why you’re hosting a contest, you can’t pin down the details you need to make it successful.

When you’ve outlined your goals for your contest, think of ways to focus more completely on those goals. One major mistake businesses make with Facebook contests is trying to be all things to everyone. Save some goals for your next contest and make this one a targeted event that succeeds at its primary goal instead of burdening your event with a laundry list of objectives. For example, if your contest is to launch a new product, make it the centerpiece prize.

2. Choose The Right Kind Of Contest

Your Facebook contest will fall into one of three types: timeline contests, random-entry sweepstakes and content submissions. Until 2013, Facebook didn’t allow timeline promotions, but after they opened that door, timeline contests have been one of the most reliable ways to expand and engage with your audience. These contests turn “like” votes or user comments into entries. They’re especially useful for urging your visitors to push past a new follower milestone.

To make entries simple, use Facebook “likes” as entries and encourage your current followers to tell their friends

Random-entry sweepstakes build huge interest temporarily. If you want to broaden your reach exponentially, offer a random sweepstakes drawing and watch the new fans pour into your site. To make entries simple, use Facebook “likes” as entries and encourage your current followers to tell their friends. The primary role of a random-entry contest is to drum up huge volume, so don’t be shy to ask your fans to spread the word.

Content submission contests are ideal for getting your prospects to engage with you and become more involved with your organization. Asking fans to write essays, submit images or record videos as contest entries also means you’ll need to have a jury to select the winner, but it’s worth the extra investment if you want to create brand ambassadors and transform your fans into active advocates. Depending on the entries you receive and how you write your rules, you could even find content you can later use for other promotional material or new contests.

3. Be Clear About Contest Rules

Speaking of contest rules, you must be absolutely clear about every aspect of your event. Read up on Facebook’s guidelines on data collection and promotions to ensure your contest stays on the platform’s good side. If you might use video or images collected as contest entries in your promotional material, let entrants know they’re giving you the rights to their content when they use it as an entry in your contest. Err on the side of providing too much detail about your contest than offering too little.

4. Consider A Third-Party App

Close to 80% of Facebook visitors reach the site via a mobile device, so you need a responsive app that looks right whether the user’s on a smartphone or computer

You don’t have to use a third-party app for your Facebook contest, but choosing to do so has some significant advantages. A flexible third-party app can increase your contest’s effective reach by allowing you to post an entry form on your static website or blog as well as your Facebook page. A well-designed app also gives you greater mobile capabilities, and that’s key to your contest’s success. Close to 80 percent of Facebook visitors reach the site via a mobile device, so you need a responsive app that looks right whether the user’s on a smartphone or the office computer.

If third-party apps have a drawback, it’s their potential cost. While free apps are available, not all of them provide the flexibility and power you need. Others are costly and give you more features than you need. Aim for a middle ground and expect to pay a small fee to get something both flexible and powerful. You’ll be glad you did when your next contest is even easier to run.

5. Keep Entries Simple

The value of your prize must seem greater than the effort it takes to win it. If you put your visitors through a complicated entry procedure, most of them will bounce. Of those who stay and fill out the paperwork, few will recommend your event to others in their network. Make it easy on your entrants and give them clear, simple instructions. If your contest aims to collect more data, design a simple form that doesn’t overwhelm with too many details.

During Your Contest

A well-planned contest launch sets you up for success, but the work isn’t done once your event goes live. Visibility and buzz are vital to your contest’s success throughout its lifespan, so keep them talking with these tips for broadcasting your contest’s details to a wider audience.

6. Tell Everyone

Don’t limit yourself to promoting on Facebook – use Twitter, Google+, YouTube, Pinterest, make posters & handouts for your brick-and-mortar stores

You’ll obviously have plenty of highly visible information about your contest on your Facebook page, but don’t limit yourself to promoting only on the platform where your event is running. Make posters and hand-outs for your brick-and-mortar store. Add a line about your contest to your printed receipts. Use Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest to spread the word. Make a couple of YouTube videos. Let your prospects hear about your contest from multiple sources, and they’ll be more inclined to enter.

7. Make Entry Forms Visible

You’ve designed an elegantly simple entry form, but unless you make it highly visible, it still won’t get much attention. Pin it to your Facebook timeline, send out newsletters with action buttons and make sure all links to the entry page are functional. Be direct in your language throughout your contest information; phrases such as “enter now” and “sign up here” work fine, so don’t get tricky with your content.

8. Keep The Buzz Coming

While you don’t want to wear your visitors’ patience thin with a constant barrage of fresh advertisements for your contest, you must mention it regularly. Add a line or two to your regular Facebook posts reminding people to enter if they haven’t already and to tell friends to participate. As the contest draws to a close, ramp up the urgency by pointing out how few days are left before the event comes to a close. Urgency is a strong driver for increased action, so use it wisely in your posts and tweets.

After The Contest

Your contest may have ended, but the rewards from it are just getting started. If you’ve followed the previous tips before and during the event, you now have a deep pool of new fans and plenty of new data to maximize. Make the most of it with a smart post-contest plan.

9. Congratulate Your Winners

People will want to know how the story of your contest ended. Give them the big finale they want by publicly congratulating your winner or winners. Facebook didn’t previously allow notification of winners via the platform but now they’ve relaxed these rules, so you can feature winners’ portraits or a statement or two from them. It’s important to show the conclusion of your contest in part because it shows your commitment and partially because it fires up excitement for the next event. Everyone who didn’t win hopes to stand in the winner’s shoes next time. Remember that this is all about social proof.

10. Crunch The Numbers

After your contest, you probably have a mountain of data to mine for useful information. Everything from demographic and firmographic details to participation and engagement numbers needs to be sorted, analyzed and turned into useful knowledge. Facebook Insights can tell you about the volume of entries you earned, but dig a little deeper to find out the origins of those entries. You might even consider a brief follow-up survey of participants to learn more about why they were inspired to participate; you can then use that information to host an even more successful contest with your next event.

Facebook contests are proven buzz-builders and data goldmines, but without thorough planning, maintenance and follow-through, you won’t maximize the power inherent in these events. Use these tips to help your next contest become your best yet and unlock the potential Facebook has to be your biggest business tool.