The complete guide to running a photo contest like a pro

by | Mar 21, 2022 | Articles, Blog

We’re all distracted by beautiful photos. And it’s likely we’ve all scrolled through pictures from a photo contest online. The images have the power to stop us in our tracks, transport us to another place or time and inspire us creatively. 

Photo contests are an amazing way to shine a light on talented photographers around the world. They’re also a great way to engage your community—whether it’s an audience of professional photographers or a group of passionate people pointing their phones at a subject that inspires them.

A photo contest can be a way to create beautiful, engaging content for your brand or a lighthearted event to draw participation. And, either way, it can be an effective marketing strategy chock-full of other benefits for the hosting brand.

However, running a photo contest involves multiple moving parts. From announcing and promoting the contest to collecting the entrants’ details, submissions and the judging process, each aspect needs to work perfectly for the photo contest to turn out great. Read on for details on how you can run a photo contest like a total professional even if you’re new to the scene.    

How to run a photo contest like an expert

This detailed guide will help you run a photo contest without stress. 

1. Determine your goals (and see the benefits)

To run a photo contest like an expert, you have to begin by identifying what you hope to accomplish. Interestingly, the goals that can be accomplished are naturally the benefits of running a photo contest. 

By running a photo contest, you can:

  • Boost your brand awareness 
  • Enhance engagement in your audience and community. 
  • Launch or market your brand’s offering and solicit  feedback 
  • Secure a portfolio of user-generated content
  • Form new alliances with ambassadors, influencers and other brands
  • Expand your brand’s reach and grow your customer base. According to research, brands record, on average, a 34% increase in customers after running a contest

Determining the goals of your photo contest first ensures that other subsequent steps align with the goals and ultimately makes the success of the endeavour a huge possibility.   

2. Choose the awards prize

Some people enter contests just for the prize. Other benefits that accrue are like mere side dishes.

This speaks to the importance of selecting an amazing prize for the photo contest. Since the idea of what would make a good prize isn’t set in stone, here are some practices to ensure your picks would be excellent:

  • The gifts should be good enough to entice entry into the contest. People shouldn’t look at the prizes and go “What’s that? Pfftt! I’d pass.” 
  • It should be strongly related to the theme of the photo contest. If the photo contest focuses on fashion and the contestants have to submit pictures of themselves decked out in fashionable clothing, the gifts should be clothing or accessories from a reputable brand. In this case, gifts of gardening tools might seem inappropriate.
  • Ensure that your organisation’s products or services are part of the gifts. This way, your brand will remain in the spotlight.
  • Recognise all the entrants in some way. While you may save the best prizes for the winner and the runner up, reserve consolation prizes for other contestants. 

An array of wonderful prizes will boost the contest’s popularity. 

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3. Use an efficient contest management tool

To efficiently run a photo contest, a contest management tool is a must. Managing the entire process manually is a recipe for disaster. Contest management software, especially one where your photo contest can shine, is of good use.

 With good contest management software, you can be sure of a higher volume and quality of entries. This is because the contestants can easily enter their data and make their submissions. 


Contest management
Contest management tools also streamline the process by specifying the image file types acceptable for the photo contest. It’s likely you’ll require high-resolution images and you’ll need a system that can handle the weight of big files without breaking down. Whether you require .jpg, .jpeg, .png or others, entrants should be able to simply follow your requirements without confusion.  

Additionally, contest management software helps keep your photo contest organised via the labelling, filtering and search options that narrow down a list of results to the relevant ones. This function makes for easy management of submissions, entrants or any other data. 

An excellent contest management tool takes the chore out of running a photo contest. Its essence can’t be overemphasised; it comes in handy in a host of other ways as we’ll see later in this post.

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4. Organise the contest

Though it has multiple dimensions, organisation is a major determinant in the success or failure of a photo contest. To ensure you run the photo contest successfully, here are a number of pointers on how to organise it:

  • Set the photo contest apart by ensuring that it aligns with your brand’s mission and has a particular theme.
  • Decide whether you’ll collaborate with other brands and/or sponsors for enhanced promotion and reach.
  • Determine how the winner(s) will be selected. Winners can be selected by a judging panel made up of respected people in the industry, a public voting round, or even your own staff based on a specific set of criteria. It’s important to choose a contest judging process that prevents bias or poor selection experience. It’s easy to avoid this with software that set you up for judging success. 
  • Provide terms and conditions for your program that includes consent or permission to use any submission content in the future. Provide a registration process that ensures your entrants’ agreement to your terms and their consent to use their submissions to avoid any intellectual property disputes.

These tips will have your photo contest on lock!

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5. Market and promote the photo contest

The next step is to relentlessly market and promote the photo contest. Quite frankly, running a photo contest is a remarkable marketing strategy in itself as it offers you the opportunity to promote your brand, product, service and general offerings. 

Here is where you can market and promote the photo contest.

Your website:

Begin by putting your brand’s website to good use. Publish all relevant details about the contest on a dedicated page on the website. Take it further by writing articles on the site’s blog or creating FAQs. 

On social media:

It’s important to talk about your photo contest where people spend their time, and that’s on social media. Whether Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn, it’s in your best interest to leverage each one of these platforms to sufficiently spread word about the photo contest. A few tips: 

  • Create a relatable, unique and easy-to-remember hashtag for the photo contest. This helps create a community around the event and helps interested parties to follow along.
  • Post details and contest links on various social media platforms.
  • Share high-grade pictures on the channels regularly and tag the entrants who submitted the photo. Their submissions will make excellent fodder for your social media content. It’ll further grow the reach of the contest because the entrants who are tagged will happily reshare the post. That’s a win for everyone in our books.
  • If the contest is open to external voting, constantly share the link and remind your audience to vote.   

For more insight, read our guide on how to use social media to build awareness for your awards programs and contests.

Through email marketing and traditional media:

You shouldn’t neglect your email lists: statistics reveal that email marketing remains a powerful form of marketing. Consider sending contest announcements to contacts in your email lists. Fetch more publicity by liaising with media houses and distributing press releases to spread the word about the contest. Though the entire world is on the digital bandwagon, traditional media still matters.     

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6. Announce the winner

As the time for submission of entries comes to a close, announce it and call for last-minute submissions. Once the deadline strikes, announce the closure and end submissions instantly. This is one way to demonstrate impartiality, credibility and preserve the faith of the participants in the contest.

Also, notify all participants and your audience that the process of selecting the winner has commenced. When the winner(s) is selected, notify the relevant parties that a selection has been made. 

It’s vital to mention that communication is a core part of running a photo contest. While social media and email work just fine to communicate with the audience, a contest management tool improves the communication process with the actual participants. 

For example, Award Force eliminates the need for any third-party communication tools by supporting bulk emails, customised emails, individual communication and automatic notifications for program participants from within the platform.

Once the winners have been notified, you can then share it across social media, adding their photos and tagging them so they can be notified and easily re-share in their networks. 

If you offer a physical prize, be sure to send that out right away. Have them take pictures with their prizes so you can post and tag them across social. It wouldn’t hurt to propose an ambassadorial role to the winners. These will generally boost your brand’s credibility, add legitimacy to the contest and further boost your brand’s reach.             

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7. Track the success and impact of the contest

The benefit of running an online photo contest is that nearly every bit of it is measurable. The metrics can give helpful insights into the effectiveness and result of the contest. Some metrics that matter are:

  • The number of submissions
  • Total number of unique participants
  • Number of eligible entries
  • Number of votes
  • Engagement, reach and growth of audience

These can be measured using social media, a specific link or even software. Award Force helps users effortlessly track, report and export contest data.

The beauty of tracking lies in the fact that it sheds light on what you’re doing wrong so that you can make the necessary adjustments. Also, you’ll find out what’s working fine and kick it into full throttle.

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As you can see, running a photo contest requires a good strategy, software and implementation. But following these steps above will help you manage it like a pro!

Want to see how Award Force can support your photo contest? Watch a demo to learn more about the platform.

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