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4 Tried and True Steps to a Successful (and Legal) Facebook Contest Without Ever Spending a Dime


It happened again. You get on Facebook and see yet another photographer advertising a giveaway. Anytime you’ve tried to drum up business this way, it’s been a total disaster. You only get a couple of entries – or none – and it’s always a disappointing experience. So what is it that makes some contests successful and others a flop? Here are some tips for running a successful (and most importantly – legal). Facebook contest for your photography business.

Step 1. Plan

Before you get started, you’ll need to know:

  • The Facebook contest terms
  • What type of content you are going to hold
  • What you are going to give away
  • When your contest will end
  • How you will announce your winner
  • And how long the winner will have to use their prize

Remember to keep it:

  • Legal
  • Visible
  • Simple
  • Smart

Facebook’s rules forbid requiring followers to “like” your page, share your post or page, or tag their friends in order to be entered. However, you can easily achieve all these things completely organically, without ever having to ask!

Let entrants know that the winner will be announced on your page. They will happily click that “like” button if it means that’s how they will find out if they won.

The most engaging contests are those that are based on popular vote. A photo comment contest is a great way to achieve this. Ask entrants to comment a photo (for instance their adorable pet, or them and their significant other) and choose a winner based on the highest number of “likes” and reactions on their comment. You can also achieve high engagement by asking that entrants comment the type of session that they would book if they win. For instance, “family” or “senior”. With either type, they will share your post, letting their friends and family know to vote for them. This, compared to a random drawing, helps ensure that the person who is the most motivated entrant will win.

With a popular vote contest, entrants will tag close family and friends, because it is beneficial. With a random draw giveaway, entrants will not share or tag as readily, as this will only decrease their odds of winning.

Facebook rules also dictate that you state that your contest is in no way affiliated with Facebook.

Keep It Visible

While no mere mortals fully understand the way it works, one thing is for sure.: the Facebook algorithm is very real. While there is no official source stating what makes a post’s reach go up or down, it only makes sense that Facebook would discourage spammy ad posts (that are not paid sponsored ads). Certain words may make your post have less reach. When possible, avoid using words in your post like “giveaway”, “contest”, “free”, “win”, etc. Of course, these cannot be completely eliminated, but it is for the best not to overuse them.

If your page has a small following, consider hosting your contest in a group. Find a local buy/sell group, or specialty group (such as weddings or parenting), and host your contest directly in the group. Your page may have 150 followers, but a local group may have tens of thousands of

members if you live near a major city. Just be sure to read all rules thoroughly concerning self- promotion. You don’t want people to look badly on your brand because you broke group rules.

One more thing to consider is that in order to get the biggest response, you will need to allow the most people to enter. It may be tempting to target your contest towards a very specific subset of people, however, when fewer people are eligible, fewer people will interact, decreasing your reach. For instance, if you are looking to book more engagements, you may only receive 15 entries with an engagement session-specific contest. If you broaden your prize, you may receive 60 entries and still end up with an engaged couple winning.

Keep It Simple

The fewer steps, the more entries.

If it takes too long to complete, followers will get bored before finishing.

The majority of unsuccessful contests I see are those that say something like: “’Like’ this page, ‘like’ this post, share this page, share this post, and tag 5 friends who meet xyz criteria.” Holding a contest is absolutely pointless if the number of steps discourage people from entering, and yet

I see this all the time.

Keep It Smart

Make sure your contest benefits you. Giving away Starbucks gift cards, or anything unrelated to your business, a) costs you money and b) will attract people who are not local, nor interested in your business. While it may seem strange to say, don’t give away things that anyone would

want. Your prize should be something that only potential clients would be interested in. I highly recommend giving away a full length photo session, unless you are currently promoting seasonal minis. There will be more excitement over a higher value prize. The cheapest thing you can give away is your time.

For a photo contest, keep the photos as comments under a single post. Don’t flood your page with photos you didn’t take as a secondary voting round. This means that anyone visiting your page and clicking the photos tab will be greeted by cell phone shots. Don’t require a photo you

did take as an entry. These contests never receive the same type of interaction and keep you from reaching new people.

Step 2. Post

Always include an image in your post. Text only will not have the same reach and will be easily scrolled past by your followers. An eye-catching photo from your portfolio, related as much as possible to your contest (such as a cute dog if your contest is a pet theme, or a couple if you are hoping your winner will be engaged) will perform better than text or a text-based graphic.

However, a graphic, such as one created in Canva, can still perform, just not as well, in the algorithm. Keep in mind that some people may feel less comfortable interacting with photos of people they don’t know. A more abstract, but eye-catching image, where the faces aren’t the focal point, may be best. Begin your post with a headline word, in caps or surrounded by asterisks, that grabs your attention. Convey as much information as possible in the first characters so that people will be enticed to click “see more”.

Don’t forget to include in your post:

  • How to enter.
  • How to win.
  • What you are giving away.
  • What the prize is valued at.
  • When voting ends or the drawing will take place.
  • When and how you will announce your winner.
  • How long the winner will have to use their prize (for instance, does the session need to take place this year?).
  • What area the winning session will take place in.
  • A statement letting entrants know that they must interact with your original post to be entered.

Step 3. Choose

For a popular vote contest, you can look at all the comments for the highest number of “likes” and reactions and select your winner, or use an online picker system like my favorite by Agorapulse. I always go through and “heart” every comment to increase engagement and ensure I’m not missing any. Keep it fair by reacting to all or none. For a random draw contest, there’s no need to write out every name on a slip of paper and draw from a hat. Online tools can choose a winner fairly and easily in seconds. Agorapulse can be used for a random drawing, photo comment, or quiz contest (where a winner is selected from all comments containing the correct answer).

For most hype and engagement, announce your winner via Facebook Live! If you choose to announce with a post, a graphic that is immediately recognizable as a winner announcement will help make sure people don’t scroll past. Let them know to congratulate the winner, which will increase the reach of your post.

Step 4. Follow Up

Keep the excitement going by sending a follow up personal message to each person who entered your contest. Let them know that while they didn’t win, they can still receive a discount. The level of discount is up to you. Just make sure you’re still making enough profit for these sessions to be worth your while. However, if you’re holding a contest to grow your portfolio and page, speaking from experience, you can fill your entire Spring calendar with these follow-up sessions.

Following these steps will keep your contest within the rules while achieving maximum reach, and snagging potential clients for you!


This article was featured in Summerana Magazine | May 2020 issue

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