Online promotions differ in many ways, but one of the key differences is about how the winner is chosen. Many people and even online marketers use the words “sweepstakes,” “contest,” and “giveaway” interchangeably, which is the fastest way to get confused and to confuse your audience. Each of these words has a different meaning and it’s important to distinguish between them if you want to succeed with your promotion.

Online Giveaways to Promote Your Business


A Contest is a competition where participants submit for judgment an evidence of a particular skill. For online contests such evidence is typically presented in a digital format, such as a photo, video, collage, drawing, etc. The submissions are then judged by a panel of judges or a public vote and the winner is chosen.disney-louboutin-contest

A proper contest should have submission guidelines and judging criteria to help entrants understand what exactly they need to do to win. For
example, here is a contest from Disney and Christian Louboutin that clearly spells out the entry requirements. The judgment criteria are outlined in the official rules and include:

  • Appropriateness to the theme and brands – 40%
  • Creativity – 20%
  • Visual impact – 20%
  • Quality of entry – 20%


While for entering a contest a person needs to demonstrate a certain skill, the winner of a sweepstakes gets chosen at random from a pool of eligible entries. This way everyone has an equal chance to win no matter how good they are at certain things. You may still ask sweepstakes participants to submit a photo or video with a note that it won’t be judged. Take a look at the Facebook sweepstakes sponsored by Spirit Halloween that offers randomly awarded daily prizes, as well as one Grand Prize:



Timed Giveaways

Giveaway is synonymous to sweepstakes and may also involve a random selection of the winners. But for the purpose of this article and to single out one particular type of promotion, we’ll distinguish a timed giveaway. The winners of a timed giveaway are the first to perform a specific action at a certain time (usually announced beforehand). For example, a question gets posted at 3pm and the first 50 people to submit the correct answer win a prize. This requires entrants to at least be fast and good with computers.

Here is how DSW is used timed giveaways to build their Facebook fan base, attract new rewards program members, and encourage them to learn more about the company by researching and answering trivia questions.


Instant Win Games

Instant win games (IWGs) are exactly what they sound like: when a person instantly finds out if they won a prize. They are similar to timed giveaways, with the difference that they run longer, the winning time is not announced and only one person per time slot wins. The winning times are pre-programmed in the software, so a person who plays an instant win game on or close to that time will receive a winning message.


An entry into an instant win game can be as simple as providing your email address or you could take an example from Dunkin Donuts and come up with something more fun to play:



Skill Games

A skill game is a variation of a contest in which instead of submitting a contest entry, a participant plays a game in an effort to get the top score. The person (or first 5, 10 or any number of people) at the top of the leader-board win a prize. A certain skill, such as memory, agility or exceptional hand-eye coordination is necessary to win. Memory match and whack-a-mole are popular skill games, but you can design one of your own. Get inspired by this creation from Buffalo Wild Wings’ “Protect the Football” game.  The first 50 people on the leader-board receive a weekly gift card prize.


So you have five basic ways to select a winner: randomly, by judging, by determining the fastest, by challenging players to a game round and by pre-selecting winning times. You can combine all or several of these methods to create your own promotion mix that fits your needs. For example:

  • Run instant win game and sweepstakes at the same time: have people entering for a grand prize while also trying their luck at winning instantly.
  • Use a skill game to choose 5 top players every week who will then be entered in sweepstakes and the winner gets chosen randomly.
  • To attract only the most engaged and dedicated participants, request a photo or video submission to enter sweepstakes with a condition that it won’t be judged.

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