How to Use Facebook Contests & Giveaways to Build a Fan Base

Fans gathered on one side of a railing.
by jamesbluntbook | via Flickr

Note from Jane: In today’s guest post, social media marketing expert Chris Syme (@cksyme) discusses how to use Facebook contests and giveaways to turn fans into super fans.

There’s an old online myth that says if you give something away, you will only attract people who are looking for free stuff—fans who will never pay for anything. But, like many marketing myths, this one has no legs. As a matter of fact, contests and giveaways have the opposite effect according to much of the consumer research we see today.* Well-timed Facebook contests and giveaways can create a reciprocal relationship with your fans. If you give them true value, they feel a sense of connection and responsibility to pay you back, so to speak. The value you offer can come in the form of good books, good online content, or, as we’ll look at in this post, giveaways and contests.

First Things First: Know the Rules

Facebook is picky about how you run contests and giveaways. They will not let you promote your page by asking people to share contests on their personal profiles or tag people as a form or condition of entry. You can ask people to share, but it can’t be how they enter the contest. Facebook supports a number of apps that can run your contest legally, including this very basic and free app for simple contests. There are also a number of good apps you can buy that run different types of contests, but for the purposes of this post, I’ll focus on how to use contests to engage fans and build loyalty.

The Journey to Super Fandom

You may have seen variations of the customer journey before, but I have illustrated the stages to super fandom by using a simple target. Our goal is to move fans into the bulls-eye.

It’s a good idea to run different types of contests each year and plan them on a regular calendar. You want to appeal to all levels of fans. Some contests have a promotive value and others have a reward value. Here are some of the basic types of contests along with their goals and target Facebook audience.

A bulls-eye target showing the three stages of fandom.

Contest Goal Target Audience Location
Book launch contests and giveaways To sell more books All fan groups Facebook page
Page building To increase the number of casual fans; discovery People who are not yet fans of your page Facebook page and boosted posts
Fan engagement To move fans to the next level of fandom Casual and engaged fans Facebook page and group
Thank-you giveaways To reward fan loyalty Engaged and super fans Facebook group

Book Launch Contests

When you promote a book for sale, you should be aiming at all fan groups. Even your super fans want to be remembered and reminded. This is probably the most familiar formula for most authors. It may be in the form of a launch party.

I do suggest that you run your giveaway over a number of days rather than just one night on launch day. Having a multi-day party with three possible prizes the first night and then one on each of the following days will keep the chatter going.

Don’t be afraid to ask people to share with friends. Your super fans will do this without being asked. You may want to use secondary goals of building your email list or promoting your Facebook group (the more intimate and personal location for raving fans). If you have both a group and a Facebook page, I would keep launch promotions on your page and refer group members there to participate. Fan group pages are usually closed, and you want your new book to have maximum exposure.

Page-Building Contests

You can use giveaways to build your fan base as well. I recommend you run this type of giveaway a couple times a year, tops. Page-building contests help you get people into the first stage: casual fans. These types of giveaways rely on shares. Ask people to share—you can’t make it a condition of entry, but you can let them know what your contest aim is (to get new fans) and ask them to partner with you.

Boosted posts can help as they will help you reach a larger percentage of your fans than Facebook normally allows. I’ve had much success in this type of contest using a target number of fans I want to reach (say an increase from 800 to 1100 in a defined span of time) and offer prizes at each milestone of 50 new fans. Don’t let these types of contests drag on forever—three to four weeks, tops. You will be surprised how motivated your fans will get to help you reach a milestone. There is more information on using Facebook ads for promotions in my new book SMART Social Media for Authors.

Fan Engagement Giveaways

These giveaways are designed specifically to move people to the next level of fandom. This is a perfect way to get people to join your exclusive Facebook group or subscribe to your newsletter. I have also used this type of giveaway inside a closed Facebook group to invite people to join an advance-reader team. One author I work with offers a canvas tote bag to all her advance readers. You can use this gift incentive to get new team members with a two-day promotion in your group or in a monthly newsletter. The cost is minimal for what you gain—new reviewers. I would run this type of giveaway probably two times a year.

Thank-you Giveaways

I think it’s a good idea for all authors to have an annual thank-you giveaway promotion—no strings or promotions, just thanks. One author I know runs an annual 12 Days of Christmas promotion where she puts together 12 gift packages and posts a question or poll once a day beginning on December 25. A random winner is chosen daily. This promotion takes place only in her closed Facebook group, but she promotes the opportunity to join the group in her newsletter and her Facebook page before the giveaway starts. This year she has collected books from author friends in her same genre (along with some other goodies) and is using those for her 12 giveaways. In exchange, she has offered books to all the cooperating authors for their future giveaways.

Facebook contests can help you build raving fans: people who share your social media posts, buy all your books, review and share them, and recommend them to others. If you plan your contests out on an annual calendar, each contest will have a specific purpose and work to move your fans from just being casual acquaintances to super fans.

The cover of SMART Social Media for Authors

* Here are some resources with research and data about creating a reciprocal culture with giveaways: The Content Code by Mark Schaefer and 5 Ways Companies Win by Giving Stuff Away from Time Magazine online.

For more advice from Chris Syme (@cksyme), check out SMART Social Media for Authors or visit

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