Online photo contests can be a great way to activate a radio audience and drive traffic online. They’re fun, interactive and often generate sharing that can expose the radio station to new potential listeners.

This article explains how to execute an online photo contest. Including:

  • Keys to successful contests.
  • How to plan strategically before the contest even starts.
  • Best practices for choosing a topic or theme.
  • How to choose options that make the contest more manageable. 
  • How to monitor and prevent cheating.
  • Prizing considerations.

How To Make Online Photo Contests Rock

If enough time and resources are devoted to managing the campaign, online photo contests can be an efficient and affordable way to promote and build an active database.

Many of these promotions succeed, like Scared of Santa or Cutest Kids, yet these promotions can also fall short of expectations if not managed properly.

Before launching a contest, study these tips. They apply to all user-generated content promotions. It won’t guarantee a great promotion, but it’s a good place to start. Then, once the promotion is up and running, use these 11 tips for getting the most participation in the contest.

Here’s how to increase your chances of getting the most from your campaign:

Have a Goal

Photo contests can be incredibly viral. Fans will actively promote entries to their friends, effectively promoting the brand! If exposure to new potential customers is a goal, this is a big winner!

Just make sure the goal is clearly established. Photo contests are a great choice if the goal is to capitalize on networked marketing (viral spread). The promotion will recruit brand ambassadors who introduce the station to new potential fans and first-time customers (those who come just to vote).

So the first goal should be a plan to harvest this exposure by leading them to a listening occasion.

Sounds good, huh? However, photo contests require more effort than a simple enter-to-win giveaway. Entrants choose a picture (or video), then upload it. It may sound easy to you, but it will reduce the number of contacts (and qualified information) that would be collected from a simple sweepstakes.

So if the objective is to reach a large audience and gather as many contacts and as much data as possible with the least amount of work, enter to win may be a better way to go.

It Takes Time

Photo contests demand more time and attention than sweepstakes. Someone must monitor the promotion and review entries to protect the integrity of the promotion.

Because there are more steps involved, entrants will have questions. Be prepared for customer service responses.

It’s also important to promote entries frequently to keep the audience interested and voting active.

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And, choosing a winner is a little more complicated. So make sure the promotions department has time and resources to manage the promotion.

Protect The Brand

Photo contests are the most popular type of UGC (user-generated content) promotions, and most campaigns allow participants to seek votes from friends to increase the chance to win.

Since content in this type of promotion represents the station brand, it’s important to monitor entries closely. it takes a few minutes several times each day, but it’s important to stay on top of it and approve or delete inappropriate entries (and comments).

Make It Easy

This advice applies to all promotions, not just photo contests. If the audience thinks it’s going to be too much work to participate, they’ll skip it.

Sometimes, a simple statement that shows how easy it is to enter is all it takes. Use clear, concise instructions such as,

It’s easy to enter! Simply upload a photo that shows how you feel in the morning.

Be sure to demonstrate the type of photo expected. It also helps to launch with a few entries built-in. Nobody wants to participate in a contest that has no entries.

Those entries should look good but not so good it seems hopeless to enter.

It may seem obvious, but design the campaign with a big entry button on the landing page. When it’s hard to find a call to action, the response is weak. And don’t stop with just one entry button. Put them everywhere!

Think Twice About Written Entries

Essay contests are a cousin of online photo contests, but it’s best to offer an option to allow photo entries with or without text.

If requiring a written entry, make it fun. Don’t ask for a long essay about your brand. Entries should always be based on the consumer’s interest.

A good example is Show Off Your New Year’s Resolution. This could be a good photo contest, essay contest or both. This is much more fun than asking for an essay about their health philosophy. The less time and effort required, the more entries.

If encouraging or requiring a short caption, set a character limit so the contest looks good on the landing page and isn’t full of text.

Auto Publish Or Approval?

Most software solutions offer the option for entries to auto-publish or go into a queue for the administrator’s approval.

Allowing entries to post immediately is easier, but it’s playing with fire. An entrant could post anything, including embarrassing content that doesn’t reflect well on the brand.

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But if entries are held for approval, someone should be responsible to manage it several times every day.

Comments can add to the contest, but it opens the door to trash-talking and negativity. This may be okay but again, comments should be monitored.

Choose Topics Carefully

Ask questions to inspire consumers to imagine or dream to stimulate a response. Instead of “Show us how much you want to go to the concert” make it something like:

Hardcore (artist) Concert Face

Your Pet’s cutest trick

This type of invitation will inspire ideas immediately.

Some contest themes tend to be more successful than others. Pets and kids are always popular. Sports team spirit and Halloween costumes are also popular.

Brainstorm things people typically feel strongly about and good options will result.

Also think about “worst” or “best” entries, such as Ugliest Sweater (Christmas), Worst Grill (Father’s Day or Summer) and Cutest Couple (Valentine’s Day).

The more specific the topic, the better the response. For example, “Show Us Your Most Outrageous Man Cave” is better than “What Room In Your House Is Your Favorite.”

Photos Or Video?

Video contests are tempting. After all, videos are shared far more than photos.

But requiring video introduces another layer of complexity. Most people can follow instructions to upload a picture, but a video is more difficult to record and upload.

Sometimes video is a better option. A Justin Timberlake karaoke contest is far more engaging as a video contest.

If requiring videos, expect fewer entries, but those that come in could be more interesting.

Cheater Alert

Most photo contests have at least some cheating. Voter fraud is the most common. Take precautions against this, but it’s almost impossible to eliminate every issue.

Most problems are manageable, by following a few best practices.

  • Avoid awarding prizes based only on the number of votes. The best option could be a combination of votes, a panel of experts selection and a random draw. This also keeps participants who are late to enter the campaign motivated because they can still qualify, even if they have just a few votes!
  • Limit the number of daily votes per user. Some contest platforms can manage this by IP or email address. This will discourage scammers and encourage fans to return on a regular basis.
  • Important: Be sure contest rules allow you to disqualify cheaters at the sole discretion of the administrator.
  • Once fraud is discovered, contact them with a warning. The second time, disqualify!

Be very clear about how a winner will be chosen to avoid problems later.

A good option is to reduce the entries to a few finalists, then allow votes to choose the ultimate winner. Or, set up a panel of experts to choose the winner from finalists. Think it through and set expectations in advance.

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Don’t Make It About You

A lot of brands try to bribe the audience to say great things about them, but it’s a mistake.

A contest asking the consumer where they want to go on vacation and how the brand’s product (specifically) would fit into their trip will yield weak responses.

The first part of the question is fine, but adding the requirement that users also discuss a product will result in very few (and boring) entries.

Be Careful With Embarrassing Content

Asking for private and potentially embarrassing information will result in few entries! The pictures you get could be terrific content, but there won’t be many entries.

Before running a provocative campaign, be prepared for what is likely to come from it.

No Scrolling

When choosing software for the contest, find a solution that hosts entries on multiple pages with little or no scrolling.

Users are lazy. When visiting a landing page and the offer is not immediately obvious and the contest fun, they’re gone. This is another reason to keep it simple…with more graphics and less text.

Show Off Prizes

People enter promotions for access to deals, discounts, content, news, and prizes. In other words, they’re greedy! So show off the prizes.

Capture the main highlights of the prize in a short, catchy phrase. Provide details ‘below the fold’ or in a link, but the prize should be big and obvious.

Try to avoid offering attractive prizes that have nothing to do with the brand. A free vacation is great for a travel agent, but will not attract customers for a furniture store.

Use Great Graphics

Bright, attention-grabbing images should show what the promotion is about.

Images help the user understand what is expected. For example, if asking users to submit an entry in online photo contests showing their happiest moment, provide sample images of happy moments.

Bonus Tip

Don’t forget to promote. The greatest photo contests every will fail if not promoted.

For best results, integrate the campaign into broader marketing efforts.

Leverage all communication channels, like an email list, website traffic or point of sale.

And, consider supporting it with targeted online and/or Facebook ads.


Online photo contests can be fun with listeners, but do it right. There’s more to managing it than just launching the campaign and waiting for entries and votes.

For more tips and best practices, go here.