So you want to run a photo contest.
Good for you!
Just kidding, photo contest is actually a great way to achieve many goals if you know what you are doing.
For example, use photo contest to:
- Grow your social media fan and follower base
- Gain online visibility and build awareness about your brand
- Find your product/service/brand’s most vocal advocates
- Collect quality images to use in your marketing materials
- Show your product or service in a new light, adjust public perception, etc.
As you can see, there are many great reasons to run a photo contest, but if you don’t have anything specific in mind and just thought “it would be cool” to do a photo contest, I beg you reconsider. You need to have a goal, and a photo contest should be the best way to accomplish it. Otherwise, you might as well do a sweepstakes or some other form of online prize giveaways (there is abundance of those).
Select a Photo Contest Theme
But if you are confident that a photo contest is the right solution for you, let’s proceed! First of all, you need to select a theme that somehow ties in with your products or services. This theme will define what kind of photos you will ask your audience to submit. A few examples:
- Tetley Tea’s “How Do You Break for Tetley?” photo contest asked fans to submit a photo and an essay portraying how they enjoy their tea breaks.
- Olay hosted a 60th anniversary photo contest where people were asked to send pictures of themselves proudly showing their age.
- Saks Fifth Avenue wanted contestants to submit their best shoe photos.
- Dunkin Donuts had a contest where they asked coffee drinkers to dress up their DD coffee cups for Halloween.
Well, you get the idea: if you sell pet care products, don’t ask fans to send you pictures of helicopters.
Something to think about: requiring fans to take a picture with your product is not uncommon, but is guaranteed to limit your audience. Remember that you have to state “no purchase necessary to enter” in the rules, which means you are relying mainly on people who already own and use your products. There will be a few who will buy just to enter, but the majority of participants will represent your current customer base – is that your target audience for the purpose of this contest? Generally, I would say if you are not a big brand like McDonald’s or Sony, don’t worry whether your product is in the picture or not.
After you’ve settled with a theme, it’s time to select a platform for your online contest.
Here is a quick overview of the most popular platforms for photo contests.
- Email. Just ask people to email you photos along with their names. This is the easy route, but also the least engaging one. Plus, it creates an extra step of opening an email client and typing up a message.
- Facebook. When hosting a photo contest on Facebook, DO NOT ask people to post contest entries on your timeline or event wall. This is against Facebook’s promotional guidelines and can get you in trouble. Instead, choose a third-party app that has photo contest capabilities.
- Instagram. This platform is all about photos, so it’s only natural to use Instagram for a photo contest. Because it’s essentially a mobile app, there are no built-in capabilities or third-party methods to collect entries from Instagram. The most common approach is to come up with a relevant hashtag and track entries that way.
Settled with a platform? Now select the prize(s)
Follow this algorithm: the more effort it takes to enter a contest, the more expensive the prize/ the more prizes should be offered. You need to give people an incentive to enter. For example, a branded t-shirt is just not enticing enough to go through the trouble of taking and uploading a photo.
Offer something of value, but also something relevant to your business. Prize is the ultimate bait that will attract your target audience… or not. Make it worth entering and you will have success!
Determine the entry limit
Most photo contests are one-time entry, but if you think you’ll get a lot of buzz and engagement, you can go for a weekly entry or designate custom entry periods. Daily entry is not recommended for photo contests, because it requires too much effort and dedication on the part of the contestants, unless you are using Instagram.
Decide how you will choose a winner
Because it’s a contest (=competition) you will need to select a person that did the best job. There are two common approaches to awarding a prize in a photo contest.
1) Judging. You will need to select a judge or a panel of judges who will choose a winner. This could be your employees, your sponsors or an independent judging organization. If you decide to go this route, make sure to outline judging criteria in the official rules. Judging criteria may include:
- Relevance to the theme
- Impact, drama, storytelling potential
2) Public vote. This is quite a controversial method that comes with its own benefits and drawbacks. Consider this before resorting to public vote:
- You will need to make all the submissions available for voting whether by purchasing an app or having someone create a custom voting page on your website. Remember, accepting likes, comments and shares as votes is against Facebook’s rules, but is acceptable on Instagram.
- It is a great way to keep your audience engaged, interested in the contest and empowered by their ability to make a difference.
- Public vote is basically a competition of “who has the most friends.” Expect a person with most caring and active friends to win, which doesn’t necessary equal the best photo.
If you feel like being creative with your promotion and you received a lot of entries, you can combine both judging methods. Arrange a two-phase winner selection by having judges select top five photos and then have your audience vote for the winner. This way everyone is happy!
Get everything in writing
Compile the Official Rules before you launch your contest. Besides the normal legalize that you will find in terms and conditions for any promotion, there are a few clauses unique to a photo contest you’ll need to include:
- Photo guidelines: format, size limit, resolution, caption and other requirements.
- Content restriction: things that photo must not depict, such as nudity, digital editing, violence or copyrighted logos and other materials.
- Photo ownership: a photo must be owned by a participant or he/she must have an explicit permission from the owner to use it.
- Photo rights: by submitting a photo, participants consent to give sponsor royalty-free rights to use, reproduce and modify the photo.
- Judging criteria if the winner is chosen by a panel of judges.
You can find an example of photo contest rules here.
Moderate the contest
Preparation is important, but don’t leave everything on auto-pilot once the contest has started. You will need to designate a person who will be monitoring the contest on a daily basis, specifically:
- Moderating the entries and making sure only the ones that comply with the rules are displayed in the public gallery (if you have one).
- Answering any questions from the contest participants.
- Actively promoting the contest if the word-of-mouth doesn’t deliver desired results.
Once the judging/voting is complete, email or call the winners to let them know the good news. Don’t forget to verify their eligibility as stated in your official rules. I rarely see photo contest administrators publicly displaying the winning photos, and I think they are missing out on a great opportunity. Everyone is curious who won, and the winner certainly deserved the fame – so use it to create more buzz about your business.
Evaluate the success
If you are planning on running similar promotions in the future, it’s important to know what works and what doesn’t. Collect the data and determine whether the contest helped reach your goals and met your expectations in terms of the number of participants, level of engagement and “buzz.” Review questions and comments from the participants and consider their feedback while designing your next photo contest.
Use the data
You have (hopefully) collected a lot of images and entrants’ personal information. As stated in the rules, you now have the full right to use the images in your marketing materials. In my opinion, it wouldn’t hurt to request an official signed release from people whose images you plan on using. I am no lawyer, but I doubt many people have read the official rules. If they see their photo on your brochures, flyers or trucks, they might not be happy.
As for the personal information, such as names and addresses – keep it protected. You can use it for email marketing if the contest participants gave you permission. These people are clearly interested in your promotions, so send them a notification when you have the next one or test special offers email on a small section.
Running a photo contest requires a lot of time and effort, but the result is worth it.
I described a basic model, but feel free to get creative with it.
Good luck with your photo contest, and may the best picture win! Do you have any other tips for everyone new to photo contests? Feel free to share!
Elena Meadowcroft is a social media enthusiast and content strategist at a Maryland-based internet marketing and web design firm PDR Web Solutions. She writes for the company’s blog educating business owners about the best practices in social media, business blogging, web design and many other topics.