Are Ad Campaigns Or Contests Better For Promoting Small Businesses On Facebook?

I've managed both contests and Ad campaigns for clients on Facebook. These specific social media marketing strategies have the potential to deliver big results for small businesses. But there are a million and one different ways you can use them.

That’s why in this post, I’ll compare the benefits and limitations of running contest on Facebook versus running Ad campaigns on the site. Then, I’ll share how you can determine which one is right for your business.


In most cases, running a Facebook Contest would involve posting content that prompts your audience to engage or “click to sign up”, in exchange for the opportunity to win a prize, discount or some type of valuable offer.

Since engagement is becoming more and more important on Facebook (the more likes, shares and comments you get, the more people your page and post will reach), contest are a short-term fix to get massive engagement. If you’re just starting out, this type of audience interaction can definitely help boost brand awareness. But to successfully run a contest for your business, you need to need to do a few key things first:

  1. Have a crystal-clear goal you want to accomplish as a result of running the contest.
  2. Create and promote the contest with a super-specific audience in mind.
  3. Use your goals + target audience to guide your decision-making when it comes to the type of contest you’ll run, incentives you’ll offer and how you’ll promote the contest.

Nail down these important details first to avoid attracting a hollow audience. It won’t benefit your business to have a lot of followers that never engage with you again once the contest is over.

In my experience, the biggest challenge with running a contest is handling the logistics. You need rules, deadlines, fine print that has to align with Facebook’s Terms, and a prize that’s valuable enough to attract the amount of attention you’re looking to gain.

Ad Campaigns
Personally, I think that running Ad campaigns on Facebook is one of the most affordable ways for small businesses to gain big time brand exposure online. They’re simple, strategic and even the smallest businesses can manage the work that’s required to get an Ad campaign up and running.

I’ve worked with clients who had me create campaigns and act as an extension of their marketing department. With others, I created and managed the campaign solo, from start to finish.

Like contests, you can run Ad campaigns for a limited time. But you can also run them for a variety of different reasons: to launch, to promote a product, as an online “press release”, to build an audience, etc. Contests, on the other hand, tend to be most effective when you run them specifically to build an audience or generate leads.

Ad campaigns may not offer the initial surge of engagement you would get from running a contest with promotional prizes. But there are endless ways small businesses can advertise on Facebook as part of a longer-term strategy. For example you could:

  • Share customer photos/quotes in an Image Ad to boost brand awareness.

  • Announce new prices or seasonal specials with an engaging Video Ad.

  • Showcase your new website or product line with a Carousel Ad.

Facebook Ad campaigns can be adjusted and customized to deliver results and build a highly engaged audience on any budget.

Which One Is Right For Your Business

Both contests and Ad campaigns have the power to produce results for most small businesses. Contests are best used as part of a shorter-term strategy to drive engagement. Ad campaigns are more flexible and can help you accomplish specific goals on an ongoing basis.

To have a bigger impact using both social media marketing strategies, create and run a hybrid “contest campaign” from time to time. Decide what you want to achieve, and then start setting up the Ad campaign as you normally would.

Not sure how to do that? Here’s a helpful resource.

Then, use the promotional contest as your Ad content. Just make sure your images and text comply with Facebook Ads policies.

This strategy can create results in record time, so it’s an awesome way to kick off your online presence with a bang. But, in general, remember to focus primarily on posting and promoting high-value content that truly serves your ideal audience. That way, you’ll continue to build and grow a loyal audience that’s in it for the long haul.