It’s not new: contests are a great way to boost your stats and engagement. Until recently, I had no idea how powerful a viral social media contest could become when part of a well-thought viral strategy. I’m going to do many more starting now!

It can indeed become one of the most efficient ways to get more visibility, likes & social media followers, email subscribers and more!

For the launch of the new Yellow Pages brand YP Grocery app, we threw out a contest and we were able to kickstart it with the +28’000 people who participated in the contest. We had simple goals: drive app downloads and build awareness. When the contest ended, it had +10’000 app download, 7020 newsletter opt-ins, 1160 Facebook likes and 498 Twitter followers. Props to our amazing team!

Got your attention? Let me run you through the process of setting up a viral contest and boost your stats.


Key Ingredients of a Viral Social Media Contest


The prize(s)

First off, why do people enter contests? They want to potentially win one of the prizes you’re offering. That’s the carrot that will attract them.

Contest prize


A prize can either be a gift card, free months of your SaaS product or a free consultation with you. One way or another, it has to be really attractive to your target audience!

You might be wondering if you should have either one big prize or many smaller ones. As we’ve tried both at Yellow Pages, we found out it’s better to go with the big prize than a lot of small ones.

For the launch of YP Grocery, we chose to go with a big prize of $1’500 of grocery gift cards and two $250 ones.


The time frame

Another important ingredient of a viral social media contest is its time frame (when it will happen and how long it will last).

The more time you give to your contest, the longer you give people chances of entering and sharing it.

In the case of YP Grocery, we made it last from October 26th, 2016 until January 18th, 2017. This allowed us to promote it more heavily and, in my opinion, was one of the things that helped us grow it to over 28’000 participants.



Some countries or provinces are strict when it comes to contests. For instance, here in Quebec you must determine the prizes, the process, the starting and ending dates as well as when the winners will be contacted, etc.

Once you start running your own contest, you will realize (and be truly amazed by) how many companies organize illegal contests around you.

Following the rules will also often be a pre-requisite to promote your contest.


Anatomy of a Viral Social Media contest

Now that we’ve set some ground rules, it’s time to understand how a viral contest is built. The contest I describe here was built with ViralSweep, an awesome tool I clearly recommend. Not only does it allow you to create good looking & mobile-friendly contests, but it is also very flexible. You can indeed host on your website or have it hosted. The admin dashboard is much more user-friendly than any other contest tool’s I’ve used in the past and the support is also very available and efficient! Give it a spin here!

It’s 2017, go mobile-first! This is really important as more than 50% of your entries will come from mobile devices.

Where to Host your Contest

A common misconception is that you can’t get Facebook likes or shares if you host a contest outside Facebook. This is far from true.

In fact, I recommend you host your contest on your website for a few reasons. First, you own it and no one can take it away from you. Second, you should get good traffic from your participants, which is always good. Third, you will surely get backlinks from contest websites and that can help with your SEO.


The Entry Page

The first page is where your participants will be able to enter the contest. Here, you’ll need some legal information like name, email, etc. and hey, why not an email opt-in!

You’ll also want to include an excerpt of your rules and info about your contest dates. Pretty straightforward!

Viral contest entry page

The Magic Viral Page with Incentivized Referral

Now, everybody that enters your contest will get one equal chance to win one of the prizes you’re offering. Since the prizes and rules are set, what about giving them more entries for doing actions that benefit you?

That’s the core element of a viral contest: a contest virality loop. The more people enter the contest, the more they refer friends to get more bonus entries!

How it works in the background is that each participant will be given a unique link that they will share your contest on social media (and email). Each time people enter through their link, they’ll get bonus entries. You can also determine how many bonus entries you should give to each action according to your goals.

Mobile contest referral


Ps: make sure it’s mobile-friendly.

You have different kind of ways to make that happen:

  • Share via email

With that option, you will allow people to share their link by imputing their friends’ emails.

A good thing about this approach is that you get to design and write the email to make it convincing. You should also make it personal.

Here is how we built ours:

Email contest

  • Share on social media

While the email option has a better conversion rate, allowing your participants to share their referral bonus link on social media has way more reach!

With ViralSweep you can choose to let your participants share on different social media platforms and even SMS or Whatsapp for mobile users.

To make your contest go viral, you must make sure your contest page is optimized for sharing. For more info about this, make sure to check my tips on how to optimize for social media sharing!

share contest facebook

For the YP Grocery contest, we’ve also made sure to add some other actions that benefited us:

  • Download our app (+10’000 downloads overall)
  • Like our new Facebook Page (+1160 likes)
  • Follow us on Twitter (+ 498 followers

As we also use Audiense for YP Grocery’s Twitter account, we were able to setup automatic mention tweets to people who followed us. In doing so, we were able to promote our latest blog posts and our mobile app. If you’re interest in this, I go more in the depth of the subject in my Twitter growth article.


Use a confirmation email

In many contest tools, you have the option to send to the people who entered your contest a confirmation email. Make sure to use it!

In our case, we promoted the download of our app along confirming their entry.

Now that you’re all set to run a successful contest, let’s see how to feed your viral contest loop!


Contest Promotion: Put gas on the fire

Even with a referral system like the one we put into place, your contest won’t go viral. You should therefore heavily promote your contest to get your viral loop going and ensure your contest really goes viral.

There are many ways to promote a contest. Here are all the channels we used for the launch of YP Grocery and how they work.

  • Analytics: Analyze and adapt

Before anything, make sure you have analytics in place that allows you to track the performance of your contest according to your goal.

Make sure to take decisions based on your data, as it is especially important when launching your contest. If a promotion channel works well, double down on it. If a promotion channel doesn’t work, try to do things differently according to your stats.

  • Promote to your existing customers

This one is a no brainer: don’t hesitate to promote to your already existing customers as they deserve a chance to win the prize too. If they do, they’ll love you even more for it.

In our case, we used a combination of initiative with our mobile apps like pop-ups and push notifications promoting the contest.

You should also put your email list to work and include it in your newsletters, autoresponders, etc. If you have the liberty to do it, I encourage you to send a specific email blast to your list so that you make sure they don’t miss your contest. After all, if it’s relevant to your target audience it should be relevant for them as well.

You can also use your website (especially if your contest is hosted on it) to give visibility to your contest. Whether it’s a banner, a popup, a blog post or all three; it will be effective if you have enough traffic.

Use your social media accounts to promote your contest as well. Make sure to post your contest link often, and I suggest you “pin” this post at the top of your Facebook Page or Twitter Account feeds.

  • Post in contests registers

Some websites (quite a lot actually) specialize as contests registers and order contest via categories, end dates, etc. Most of them have huge traffic and newsletters with wide audiences, which will ensure your contest to quickly spread around.

Here is a list of the top contest registers for North America.

Note that you will often have to create an account to post your contest on these platforms.

  • Post in forums

If you’re new to the contest world, you’ll find out that there are entire communities of contest addicts hiding in forums. Here, you shall use the same principles as for contest registers: you have to find and post your contest link with a description of it.

A good example of a contest forum is the RedFlagDeals’ one.

  • Post in Facebook Groups

Same as Contest forums, Facebook groups can be a little more hostile. In most cases, you will have to get accepted in the Facebook Group with your Facebook account.

Once that’s done, make sure to spend a few days interacting in the Group before posting your contest so that you don’t look too spammy.

A good practice is to reach out to group admins and ask them kindly to post it. Since they’re well known in the group, your contest can even have more reach!

  • Influencer outreach

As in any promotion strategy in 2017, influencers and bloggers deserve a mention. With the growing number of self-proclaimed experts and gurus, people tend to trust influences in their fields. This is also true with contests. My articles on how to find email addresses and reach out to influencers can be useful in this case.

When you try to convince influencers to share your contest, don’t forget to mention that they should share their own referral links so they also earn more chances to win!

If it works for a Grocery App it will work for you!

  • Ads

Running some ads to drive traffic and shares to your contest can be a really effective strategy, especially when it launches. Even with a few dozen dollars of Facebook ads and Adwords, you can start a fire!


When your successful viral contest ends, you legally have to draw your winners and contact them to let them know they’ve won. It’s also nice to craft a post for your social media and publicly announce winners this way.

contest winner

If you’ve gathered some email opt-ins in the process, it’s also a good time to send them your first welcome newsletter!

Also, if you host your contest on your website, you should have something prepared; like a landing page for when your contest ends. Since you heavily promoted your contest everywhere, people might still come to your contest page wanting to participate. Use this opportunity to promote your products or engage with those visitors!


Running a social media contest and making it go viral can be a real boost for your business if done correctly, with the right tools and the right mindset.

Here is what we saw:

  • The key ingredients to the success of your contest
  • Using ViralSweep as a contest tool
  • The anatomy of your viral contest aka how is it organized
  • How to put gas on the fire and spread the word

Do you have any contest success stories or failures to share about contests you’ve run? Let us know in the comments!

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