How to Run a Successful Contest on YouTube

This is the only guide you'll ever need to help you run an effective YouTube contest.

This YouTube guide was last updated on 7th March 2019, some information may be out of date as new policies are still coming into effect.

Did you know that one of YouTube’s first viral videos came from a contest? It’s odd, but true: the Diet Coke & Mentos Geyser experiment, a community-organized challenge, featured this entry from user renetto (check it out below in glorious 240p).

This video went viral when it came out, and has around 15 million views to date. To give you some perspective, Justin Timberlake’s 2-song medley, “Let Me Talk To You/My Love” also came out in 2006… And has 50 million views.

Now, you might say: that doesn’t mean anything. J.T. got way more views… And that’s true.

But it’s also true that “renetto” had no marketing budget, no hot Billboard single and no star power behind his video… And still managed to get 30% of an international hit’s views with no marketing.

That’s the power of a historically great contest for you. The Diet Coke & Mentos Geyser challenge had no prizes; no social media backing; it didn’t even have paid ads or a marketing budget.

None of this stopped it from working like gangbusters.

Now, things have changed since then. In modern marketing, companies like Ford, Intel and Warner Bros. all use contests to market. This speaks to how popular the strategy has become.

But one thing has remained completely unchanged in the last 10+ years.

YouTube contests still drive sales, leads and user engagement like crazy… Especially if you know the simple, replicable steps to running a successful contest.

Fortunately for you, that’s exactly what you’re about to learn in this article – starting with…

First up, it’s important to think about what your overall goals are for your channel. Do you just care about subscribers? More views? Collaboration with other creators?

All these things will flow into what the overall goal might be for your campaigns. It will also depend on whether you are running a campaign solely for yourself, or have partnered with a brand (more on that later).

To do this I recommend following a simple framework called SMART. It’s an easy way for you to layout your goals for a campaign in an rememberable format that is designed to drive outcomes.


Having a clear an concise goal for your campaign will allow you to understand whether it has succeeded or not.

This means you need to pick a top priority. No excuses; no ifs, ands or buts; no flip-flopping. Make a firm decision on the direction you want to go in, e.g.:

  • Better user engagement (more comments, more views or video likes)
  • More sales
  • More social follows
  • More e-mail subscribers
  • Traffic growth
YouTube Analytics

This part can be fairly hard, as you need to be able to record and measure how your contest has been impacting the various metrics you’ve set in your goals.

This will also be determined by the type of contest that you decide to run (more on this later), but if your contest involves commenting on a video then that’d be the main focus for your reporting.

Plus how do you separate what is driven by the contest and what is just normal engagement?

Some other ways to measure the success of your campaign include:

  • YouTube’s Analytics
  • Google Analytics
  • Contest tool reporting (i.e. Gleam’s reports)
  • Manual reporting/exports

Your average metrics should give you a baseline to compare against, then you’ll be able to compare date ranges of the campaign to previous periods.

Are your goals actually achievable?

I see fairly often smaller channels (Relevant

Relevancy matters, there’s no point running an iPhone 7 contest when you have a knitting channel. You’ll end up with a huge range of users from all demographics and only a small portion that are interested in your channel.

However, there’s some more general categories where this approach makes total sense:

The same goes for campaigns that are sponsored by brands. Does that brand add value to your users? Is the product relevant for your audience?

Not All Subscribers Are Equal

Let’s take a quick timeout here to mention that if you are running a contest just to increase or “grow” your Subscriber count then you might be sorely disappointed.

It’s well known that a Subscriber from a contest will not generally be as engaged with your channel or content to the same extend as an organically earned subscriber.

The final step is to either set yourself a time limit to achieve these goals or set your campaign timelines around when you think the goals are realistically achievable.

Most contests will typically last a month, however some channels like to set goals based on “channel growth.” We do feel that a time limit is the fairest way to hold a contest (more on this later).

But this could also mean to align your campaign with certain events or launches that are happening in your industry.

For example, the Nintendo Switch is big news currently and many channels are giving them away:

Once you’ve figured that out, use the SMART framework to narrow down your goal. This will maximize your chances to succeed – and help your team stay on track when you’re not sure what to do next.

Law is a side of contests that many YouTubers will overlook, but it’s important to ensure that you understand the terms of the platform you use and also the laws of your specific country.

Breaking the law with your contest can result in unwanted expenses, bad publicity and unhappy participants.

Make sure everything you do is legal and compliant with local regulations. This namely means 3 things:

Don’t use copyrighted material. YouTube can and will flag you for it, and either remove your content or alter it (e.g. by removing a song or de-monetizing your video).

U.S. laws differentiate between different contest types. Make sure you market yours correctly – else you may end up breaking the law:

  • Sweepstakes – Completely random and completely free.
  • Contests – Skill-based. Require time and effort to participate in.
  • Lottery – Completely random but not free. Require an up-front fee, as they are, from a legal standpoint, “a means to raise money”.
  • Challenges – An umbrella term for contests with no payoff. These are usually run by communities rather than companies.

Once you’re compliant with laws, move on to getting familiar with…

Understanding what’s allowed on YouTube is an important part of deciding how you run your promotion.

There’s two seperate guidelines that will apply to promotions depending on how you administer it. This can often cause confusion about what is and isn’t allowed in your contest.

The first set of policies and guidelines relates to what you are allowed to do on the platform. Compared to other networks (i.e. Facebook) YouTube is actually quite fair in this regard, they leave a lot of the legal liability up to you.

YouTube's contest promotional guidelines

That being said, there’s a few key points that you need to be aware of:

  1. You must abide by the Community Guidelines, Terms of Service and Privacy Policy of YouTube
  2. You cannot infringe upon copyright or the 3rd party rights of a user. This could be anything from using copied material in your announcement video or imagery to copyrighted audio or products that you do not have the permission or licence to giveaway
  3. The contest must be Free to enter. In fact it is illegal in the USA to require anything other than No Purchase Necessary without a lottery licence. So this is really YouTube covering themselves here.
  4. You and any third party may not manipulate metrics on the YouTube service, including numbers of views, likes, dislikes, or subscribers, such that those metrics fail to reflect genuine user engagement with the YouTube service.
  5. You must not insinuate that YouTube endorses your contest is any way.

The second part of the page goes into Rules, and this is something that I regularly see most YouTubers completely ignore.

  1. You must have rules that state what determines an invalid entry, and discloses any sponsorships (as required by the FTC).
  2. You must award prizes as per the rules (this is something that we police heavily, so keep your receipts / emails with sponsors)
  3. Again, you must state that YouTube is not a sponsor and is not liable for your contest
  4. Link to a Privacy Policy that explains how you will use any collected data

This section has always been a contentious part:

You and any third party may not manipulate metrics on the YouTube service, including numbers of views, likes, dislikes, or subscribers, such that those metrics fail to reflect genuine user engagement with the YouTube service.

We've had lawyers review this statement and you'll see other lawyers on YouTube do the same. The consesus is that this means you should not use 3rd party services to boost your contest and make it seem like it more popular than it actually is.

We feel this could be better worded so creators know what they are and aren't allowed to do.

This makes YouTube a very open and rewarding platform to conduct a contest. Check out Derrels video above for a less boring explanation about some of these rules.

YouTube has recently rolled out their Fake Engagement Policy

This states that:

Content that links to or promotes third-party services that artificially inflate views, likes, subscribers, or other metrics is not allowed on YouTube. We consider engagement to be legitimate when a human user’s primary intent is to interact with content free of coercion or deception.

This policy applies to videos, video descriptions, comments, live streams, and any other YouTube product or feature. Please note this is not a complete list.

This means that if you do use an external service like Gleam to conduct a contest, you cannot use that service to ask users to Subscribe, Comment, Like or even View a video.

YouTube’s Developer Policy applies if you are using a 3rd party app to administer your promotion, these are the guidelines that developers must adhere to when building their Facebook app.

This particular policy often gets overlooked by marketers, so it’s important to understand that if you use any sort of 3rd party app, these policies apply to the developers that built that app (and then filter down to you, the user).

This means that Gleam or any other contest service you might use has to comply with the following:

API Clients must not offer or provide incentives, rewards, or other compensation to users for engaging with YouTube Applications (directly or indirectly) by performing actions like viewing content, liking content, sharing content, subscribing to channels, adding comments. For example, API Clients must not offer features or services that trade video views for a fee or that trade video views in return for other YouTube-related or non-YouTube-related actions.

For this reason Gleam offers a limited set of YouTube actions which helps you identify your entrants and fairly draw a winner.

Once you’ve read and understood YouTube’s rules, it’s time to…

This is possibly the most important step of all. Your prize can be absolutely anything – but people have got to want it.

If you’re a brand, it’s likely that you have a much larger budget and can do much more than the average YouTuber.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t get YouTubers and the community involved to help spread your message or take part in getting the campaign towards whatever the end goal might be.

Here’s some good examples:

  • The Hobbit film’s marketing team ran a live video contest in which fans could ask Peter Jackson their questions. The fans submitted hundreds of videos, telling Peter Jackson what they would do on a day in Middle Earth.
  • Ford gave 100 Fiestas away as a physical prize in the #FiestaMovement campaign. (The one that gave them a 38% awareness boost with Generation Y’ers).
  • DJ Tech Tools ran a contest to win a Midi Fighter 3D controller, all you had to do was record yourself playing a track live in Ableton Live. Check out the winning entry, it has been viewed over 8M+ times, insane marketing value.
  • The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge gave people nothing… But one could argue that helping a charitable cause is payoff enough in itself. The amazing thing about this contest is that the money raised actually led to a breakthrough in the search for an ALS cure.

For larger businesses or channels with significant followers, there’s plenty of creative (expensive and inexpensive) ways to give back to the community.

Here’s some good examples:

  • If you don’t have a great Prize but have a loyal audience then you can giveaway non-physical things. PewDiePie ran a competition to give a shoutout to 10 channels he thought deserved more attention. Didn’t cost him anything other than the time it took to make a video (which got 5M+ views), then he got even more views from all the channels who made a video about his competition.
  • RiceGum took his giveaway to the next level and made it funny, interesting and engaging. He gave away hundreds of Amazon gift vouchers inside the video (first come, first served), then used Gleam to giveaway merchandise. This giveaway drove over 3M+ entries.
  • There’s a lot to be said about giving away cool products, stuff that’s unique and everyone might want. That’s what YouTuber kipkay did in this video which has been viewed more than 10M+ times.
  • Artists, Actors, Authors or anyone famous will always have a huge brand following, combine this with an engaging channel and some exclusive merchandise for insane results. In this contest from the channel What’s Inside users could win half of Marshmellow’s helmet. This contest generated over 60k entries and 2M+ video views.
  • Quite often Brands will partner with YouTubers, and the best way to maximise your exposure is to giveaway some of your products. This advertorial from popular YouTuber Zoella has over 2M+ views.

If you have a smaller channel and don’t have the income to support a larger prize, then don’t worry there’s still plenty of options available.

Here’s some good examples:

  • If you have a channel that reviews books, then giving away a book might seem like a great idea. But if you can get the author to sign the book, then all of a sudden you have something unique.

  • Piggyback off product launches or things that are in high demand. For example, the Nintendo Switch is in super high demand right now.

  • Do giveaways that comprise of multiple products, users love to win bundles of items as it give an overall feeling of higher value. You could even reach out and partner with brands that supply the products to give them exposure.

  • Unboxing videos can be a great way to feature a specific product, show it to them, then give them a chance to win it. Again, you can partner with brands to unbox their products, or buy the product yourself 😎

The gist is, it doesn’t matter what your prize is. What matters is that people want it. Study your target audience (even ask them) and make sure to tempt them with something that’s appealing enough to drive action.

Once you do, pick a contest type that meshes with your goals and prize!

There’s a number of types of contest that you can run on YouTube, all depending on what sort of outcome you want to drive.

Ease of Setup: Easy
Moderation: Hard
Impact: High

A Sweepstakes allows you to give users multiple ways to enter a contest. This can be a fun and rewarding way for YouTubers to get their fans engaged across many different platforms.

Sweepstakes can however be hard to administer manually. Each entry need to be cross checked and referenced back to each user to determine their totals.

Some users like to do this manually, but trying to draw a winner fairly using this method is quite difficult. Take the example below:

You need to: Subscribe, Follow her on Instagram/Twitter and Leave a Comment plus a bunch of other stuff.

Problem is, the YouTuber would have no easy way to link all of these tasks together back to the one person. How can you link a Twitter/Instagram Follow to a YouTube Subscribe/Comment?

Please note that you need to be aware of the rules of each social network and what they allow, YouTube no longer allows you to use apps to force users to Subscribe to your channel.

So how does the winner get drawn fairly from such an array of disparate data?

It’s possible that the winner just gets randomly picked from the comments*, which unfortunately nullifies all those other entries that users spent time completing.

Then there’s the step of cross checking that the winner actually still follows you on various social networks.

This is where an app like Gleam excels in helping you automate the entire YouTube contest process. Gleam tracks each action back to the same user, automating most of the process, including helping you randomly draw the winners from all the data and providing information to contact them.

This saves you hours of work, and makes your contest legal and compliant by ensuring that everyone has a fair chance of winning.

Try it out our pre-made template to see what your own contest could look like with Gleam:

  Learn More   Use This Template

Ease of Setup: Moderate
Moderation: Very Hard
Impact: Very High

Marketers have been doing this for years in different ways. Partner Contests generally involve either partnering with a brand or partnering with other YouTubers.

This could involve you:

  • Combining Prizes with others to increase the overall value
  • Paying to partner with a larger channel to get access to their audience
  • Partnering with a brand who might give you the products for free
  • Partnering with other channels to cross promote each others campaigns
  • Partnering so someone will give you a channel shoutout or send your contest to their email list

Why is this useful I hear you say?

Well, let’s imagine you have a small channel of < 10k Subscribers, and you partner with 3 other YouTubers who have a total of 45k Subscribers combined. Instantly you've increased your potential reach by 600%, which means more eyeballs on your channel and more buzz for all parties involved. Partner contests can help you:

  • Share views and subscribers across channels
  • Reach new audiences
  • Get access to products or prizes way above your own pay grade
  • Meet new people
  • Open up opportunities for collabs

Check out a few partner campaigns below:

  • In this video FaZe Censor collaborated with GFuel Energy drinks to giveaway a huge $5,000 shopping spree. Not only did this bring attention to his channel, but the campaign helped drive almost 500k social actions for his partners.
  • In this video the Caleon Twins partnered with online watch store Daniel Wellington to giveaway some awesome products.
  • Tati ran a contest to allow the winner the chance to run one of her segments called “July Favourite” on her channel.

You can see the result here (and the boost Serene got from winning):

  • Collab giveaways are a common thing that you’ll see on Beauty channels, in this campaign SL MissGlam partnered with 3 other channels to giveaway a huge range of awesome products.

Please note that YouTube may deem certain campaigns as a sub4sub community guideline violation so you should not include any Actions that would not be considered genuine engagement.

Ease of Setup: Moderate
Moderation: Easy
Impact: Variable

Get people involved and ask them to make their own video. Provide instructions and ask uploaders to “reply” to your video with theirs, or forward you a link to their video.

It’s often useful to get users to use a specific #hashtag tied to the campaign i.e. #AwesomeVideoContest

The advantage of this type of content is that you get lots of user-submitted content which you can later use for marketing.

The videos will also live on for years to come driving additional marketing value:

Ease of Setup: Moderate
Moderation: Hard
Impact: Variable

Let the people decide by having your audience vote on their favourite video. There’s always going to be a debate, which is a good thing!

This plays into the previous type in which you’re adding an additional voting mechanic to the campaign.

This can really increase the exposure of the campaign as the entrants now have incentive to share their videos as much as possible for votes.

Ease of Setup: Easy
Moderation: Easy
Impact: Moderate

Ask your viewers to leave a comment for a chance to win, a quick and easy way to enter. This type of contest also can act like a survey if you ask users to comment the answers to a specific question:

  • Guess how many x are in y
  • Name the x
  • Caption x
  • Fill in the blank
  • Q&A

If you need to randomly pick a comment you can use this awesome Random Comment Picker, or you can use Gleam's YouTube Comment Import Action to automatically award entries to users who comment on your video. This is a perfect approach if you want to drive other actions as well as comments.

Learn More About YouTube Comment Contests

Find out everything you need to know about running your own easy and effective YouTube comment contest!

Ease of Setup: Easy
Moderation: Hard
Impact: Moderate

A competition can see a large spike in your subscription. This is a good opportunity to non-subscribers to take part in your content by subscribing to your channel.

Please note, you can no longer use 3rd party apps to ask users to Subscribe to your channel otherwise you risk violating the Fake Engagement Policy.

We recommend combining this method with either a Gleam campaign or our Youtube Subscriber Growth method.

Now you’re all set to go – well, almost. You just need to consider…..

Rules are a very important part of the campaign. We mentioned earlier how this can be overlooked by many.

Below we’re going to give you some simple tips and disclaimers that you can use in campaigns.

Making things 100% clear from the start will save you lots of time and energy. Try to anticipate common questions and answer them in advance with simple rules and an FAQ in the video description.

Questions you may want to consider are:

  • Who’s eligible?
  • Is it International?
  • How many entries can one user submit?
  • How long can/should videos be?
  • How are the Winners chosen?
  • How are the Winners announced?

This may sound silly (and expensive), but it’s incredibly important that you do this.

For example, in the USA it is against the law to require a purchase to enter, and it is required by the FTC that you disclose any sponsorships etc.

Here’s a simple release that you can add to your campaigns for Youtube:

This Contest is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with YouTube or any other social media platform on which it may be promoted.

If your contest is sponsored by a 3rd party you must disclose those sponsorships.

Here’s some disclaimers you can use:

FTC Disclaimer: This video is sponsored by CompanyName.

Sponsor: Check out CompanyName and do xyz: link

FTC Disclaimer: Some of the products used in this video were provided by CompanyName, and some were purchased with my own money. This video was made in collaboration with CompanyName.

You may also decide to include the sponsorship in the video itself:

FTC Disclaimer: This video is not sponsored. All products featured in the video are purchased with my own money.

FTC Disclaimer: This video is not sponsored. Product links included are affiliate links, which means I can make a small commission through purchases.

Once you’ve answered all the questions, it’s time to launch the actual contest. There’s just one last thing to consider…

There’s a few considerations about where you should run the actual contest. By far the easiest (and most common method) is to…

Many YouTubers will simply create a video and ask users to follow the required steps. Or if using a 3rd party app they will link to the landing page in the video description.

Link to Gleam giveaway from YouTube

For brands, there are many advantages to embedding your contest onto your own website.

Run Gleam giveaways inside your website
  • You can funnel all the traffic into your contest however you want
  • You get analytics on the people viewing your campaign
  • You can control the look and feel of the landing page
  • If you have an E-Commerce store you can really take advantage of this traffic
  • Increased trust with users

If these points are important to you, then you’re best embedding videos on a separate URL. If they aren’t, then feel free to use YouTube and save time.

Announce your content with your own YouTube video. Explain your competition, and how participants can enter and maximize their chances of winning. Write a clear call to action with a sense of urgency.

I’m sure you have lots of older videos that are getting traffic, you can add YouTube cards to those videos to promote the current contest.

Just remember to remove them when the contest is over.

Social engagement is the best way to make sure your contest succeeds, so make sure to leverage any existing channels with regular announcements of the contest.


Remember when Myspace was big? Then it died?

What about Vine?

There’s a chance that YouTube might not be around forever, so you need to ensure that you cover as many of your bases as possible.

The absolute best way to do this is to build your email list.

This allows you to have a 1 to 1 conversation with your fans at any time, not just when you post videos.

It also allows you to:

  • Create unique content for list subscribers
  • Instantly promote your contests to everyone’s inbox
  • Weather any storms (i.e. YouTube changing notifications or algorithms)

See how Gleam can help you grow your email list.

After the contest starts, give your audience an update and thank everyone for participating. Mention the prizes and the entries you got thus far.

This will help you create a sense of urgency and community. If possible, offer people mini-rewards – like the opportunity to make an extra entry – in exchange for referrals. Keep doing this right up until the contest ends.

Once the campaign is over it’s time to reflect and enjoy the buzz generated from the campaign. But there’s a few things you need to do first.

How you draw winners will depend on how you run the campaign.

However you decide to draw the winners you need to make sure that they are chosen using a fair an unbiased method.

For me, this is perhaps one of the most important parts of the campaign. It’s now time for you to fulfil your obligations to all the loyal fans who have been supporting the contest for the duration.

The best way to do this is to make a video:

Not announcing winners is a very fast way to annoy your Subscribers. It’s important that you make clear in your terms when you plan announce winners and how.

Some other ideas here:

  • Announce the winners names in your video description
  • Get the winner to comment on the video and highlight their comment with a reply
  • Announce the winners on all your social channels
  • Get pictures of the winners with prizes

Now you can wrap up the contest and give out the prizes.

But wait, you can use this to your advantage! Motivate the winners to submit thank-you videos that show off the prizes. This creates an amazing sense of social proof that will only reassure your fans that your campaigns are being run professionally (and that prizes are being awarded).

Once the contest is over, check to see if your goals have been met. Was the traffic as good as you’d hoped? Were the conversion rates what you’d expected to see? If you’ve set SMART goals (as mentioned earlier), this data will help you when it’s time to run a new campaign.

If your contest was successful, there’s no reason not to run it again – especially since you’ve got all kinds of new insights. Don’t think of contests as a one-off thing, but rather as a permanent part of your marketing toolbox. That’s what Intel did – and many of their Ultrabook video contests were incredibly successful over the years.

In other words: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Just keep doing it. And if it is broke, figure out how you can make it better – and try again.


Stuart McKeown

Stuart McKeown is one of the Co-founders at Gleam. Aside from writing and helping businesses grow, he also enjoys sound design and drinking tea ☕️