Here, we outline our ideas for designing responsible Twitter contests (as opposed to ones that generate spam) – certainly not a definitive guide, more of a starting point. Please feel free to contribute in the comments.

Twitter contests are often annoying, spammy affairs, which generate lots of repetitive tweets with no conversational value at all. This needn’t be the case, though.

The Problem

The problem is that these contests are devised with one objective in mind: to generate exposure. Unfortunately, many businesses still measure their success in terms of reach, rather than in terms of the real connections that they make with real people (Twitter accounts don’t buy things, people do).

Of course, reach is much easier to measure (and to achieve – if you can afford to buy it), so it has become the important metric. This, however, is the subject for another post.

Because reach is the metric they’re going for, Twitter contests become about generating retweets, circulating hastags, posting links, etc. None of which benefit the conversation, unless they happen organically, as part of the conversation.

Responsible Twitter Contests

A responsible Twitter contest should:

A responsible Twitter contest should not:

With this in mind, here are some ideas about retweets and hastags as they relate to a responsible Twitter contest…


A responsible Twitter contest can gather plenty of retweets, but it does so organically, as a result of producing good content. Here’s how it works:

Someone discovers the contest, decides to enter, and tweets accordingly. Because this is a well designed and responsible Twitter contest, the chances are good that this tweet is unique and interesting. If it is, it stands a good chance of being retweeted.

This is how retweeting works: if someone says something that others what to share, it gets shared. Offering material incentives for sharing generates spam.


Hashtags should be used for two purposes: context and indexing. Take this example:

“#sandiegofire: 300,000 people evacuated in San Diego county now.”*

Because it’s descriptive, The hastag here lets readers of the tweet know the context of the post – this is ideal but not always possible. However, even an esoteric hashtag can be useful for offering context:

“#15DayWebApp: We’re running a contest to see if any of you guys can guess what @Gooify is. Any ideas?”

The above provides a reference to contextual information. If the reader wants to know more about the context, they can click on the hashtag, revealing the Twitter Search results for it.

This is also useful for creating an index of tweets visible to those who interested in a specific subject. If someone wants to follow information about our 15 Day Web App (Gooify), they can search for the hashtag.

*There’s a great article about the use of hastags here, from which we took the first of the examples above.


The subject of a responsible Twitter contest is not retweeting the same tweet, or including a particular hashtag – as I mentioned above, hashtags are tools, and retweets are a social activity. If the only criteria for entry into a contest is retweeting something or including a hashtag, the contest will only generate spam (non-conversational, inorganic clutter).

A responsible Twitter contest is designed to generate unique and interesting tweets by it’s entrants. It is a conversation starter.

The Guardian’s Hay Festival produced a good example.

A Simple Method for Inventing a Responsible Twitter Contest

Here’s one way to ensure that a Twitter contest idea will benefit the conversation:

Imagine sitting in a large room with 30 or 40 people, all in a large circle. Devise the contest so that it works, and is valuable (fun, entertaining, a learning experience, etc.) in this context.

If the idea works for this situation, it’s likely that it will generate interesting content, rather than spam.

The point here, is that a Twitter contest should only use Twitter as a platform on which to run, not as it’s subject. This is a responsible Twitter contest: it utilises the platform’s unique conversational framework to play a game that increases the value of the conversation.

Must Do Better Next Time

This post is based on ideas that we had both before and after lanuching our current Twitter contest – it’s not perfect but it’s not bad. Next time, we’ll give more thought to the use of hashtags.

Please contribute to these ideas in the comments below. What makes a responsible (not spam-generating) Twitter contest? How do you go about ensuring that your contest is a responsible one?

One Comment

  1. January 10, 2012 at 2:52 pm

    Good point about generating discussion rather than going for RT Gold, thanks for sharing!