There's nothing in marketing as exciting as offering people a chance at winning a prize in exchange for a little effort and personal information. Why? Because social media sweepstakes and contests are great ways to land new prospects and customers. In fact, 80 percent of all Internet users have entered at least one sweepstakes within the past year -- and more than half participate in contests at least once per month, according to Jupiter Research.

Setting up a promotion of your own doesn't have to be difficult. These easy steps will get you started.

How Each Works
Sweepstakes winners are selected randomly through a drawing while contest winners are selected by an official evaluation process such as audience voting or requiring participants to meet a set of quantifiable criteria. Contests are a better choice when you want to limit participation to a select group of people in order to target an audience.

For example, a photography contest is a good choice if you own a camera store and want to target photographers and other artists. On the other hand, you may want to opt for a photography sweepstakes, if you want to give away a camera to attract people who haven't yet made a major investment in taking pictures.

Deciding on a Goal
The objective, of course, is to generate publicity. But you can also use these promotions to collect contacts, gather research and educate participants. Your challenge is to decide which of the following goals -- alone or in combination -- you want to accomplish.

  • Collect contact information: Entry forms can include names, addresses, phone numbers, social media handles, e-mail addresses, etc. Make sure to ask permission to make future contact with every entrant, but don't make it a requirement. That's a turnoff.
  • Educate: You can require entrants to watch a video before entering or send an informative e-mail that includes entry instructions.
  • Gather research: For example, participants must complete a survey before entering.

Keep in mind that it's illegal to require people to make a purchase before entering and that you can't require or even suggest that making a purchase will increase the chances of winning.

Writing the Rules
These are governed by a myriad of state and local laws, so always use an experienced legal professional to write official rules and help you with fulfillment requirements.

Choosing a Prize
The goal here is to choose a prize that will generate attention. The best buzz-worthy items are usually tied to an experience that's fun to share. For example, someone who wins a bike from a bicycle store is more likely to share a story about riding the official Tour-De-France course with a pro cycling coach than a story about going down to the store to pick up their free bike.

Another option is to offer a prize that can be shared among friends, such as event tickets or a party. You can make sure the rules state that friends are only eligible if they officially enter the promotion.

Promoting Your Contest or Sweepstakes
Leverage your existing website traffic to get initial participants. Send e-mail invitations to your opt-in list, mention your promo on social media sites or place advertisements on your site. Use those initial contacts to drive people to your Facebook page or your website to enter.

Once you have some initial participants, encourage them to invite their friends, who in turn will invite their friends, and so on. Doing this is easy when you use a service such as Wildfire to take care of the technology behind the scenes. Your contest page can be added to your Facebook Fan Page and to your website through this easy-to-use application.

Wrapping Up
Once you have all your entries, it's time to choose the winner and promote the end of the contest or sweepstakes. Of course, make sure you follow your official rules.

You should also invite the people who opted in to future communications to see the results and claim a special offer for participating. The door is open. Now, the goal is convert your contestants to customers.