How to Run a Better Online Contest


Whether it’s a creative marketing campaign or scholarship award, an online contest is a great way to engage your audience, build brand awareness, and curate quality content. However, they can also be a big headache for the organizations that run them.

First, Streamline Your Entries

Without the right software, managing a contest can be a time and labor-intensive process. To address these pain points, Submittable centralizes the submission and review process for contest submissions into a single online system.

With a submission management system you can:

  • Quickly create online forms to collect any type of content, including documents, images, sound, video, and more;
  • Establish team member accounts to collaborate and vote on entries in one efficient and user-friendly place;
  • Or, optionally, display entries in an online gallery so that a public audience can choose the winner for you.

5 Tips for a Better Online Contest

Here are a few tips for running your first contest, gathered from working with thousands of organizations that use Submittable’s platform for this purpose:

Emphasize what makes your contest unique. Why should submitters enter your contest? Are you going to display their work on a great platform? Will winning your contest help advance their hobby or career? Is there a prize?

Since there can be many reasons someone enters a contest, start with the end goal first and work backward. Consider what would make you enter the contest if you were in their shoes. Mention the benefits of entering the contest in your category guidelines and contest promotions.

Create an online form to collect complete entries. Place a ‘Submit’ button or a link on your website so that entrants can easily find your submission form. Submittable’s drop-and-drag form builder lets you establish a series of qualifying questions, and correlate all the proper data to the contest or award entry. You can even send submitters a set of follow-up questions (a qualifier for their entry, for example) if they pass a first set of criteria.

Curate first before opening votes to the public. Copious options aren’t always a good thing. With public-facing contests, Submittable customers typically prefer to curate the entries first, reviewing and choosing finalists among their team before showing them to the public. This helps ensure the entries are valid, do not violate rules or regulations, and are owned by the submitter.

example of gallery feature

Gallery makes it easy for Submittable users to host public contests and people’s choice awards, collect user-generated content, and more.

It also ensures any entries shown to the public will be of high quality, and that strong entries aren’t lost among the masses. Our software lets you easily distribute entries to the appropriate team member levels and vote on them internally, before moving them on to a public audience.

Consider making submissions anonymous. You have the option to make contest entries anonymous, to the public and/or to any team member at or below your preferred blind level settings. This can help prevent team members or contest voters from making decisions based on preconceived notions they may have about the entrants, especially if some entrants already have a history of success. This also makes it easy for you to hold public contests for students whose parents may wish them to remain anonymous.

Consider UGC. User generated content (or UGC) is a powerful marketing tool. Rather than wait for users to post something shareable on social media, why not go to them with a contest? Here’s an example of how Submittable ran its own poetry contest and three reasons you might consider doing something similar to curate user content.


Once you build an efficient contest submission or public voting workflow, you can focus on the fun and meaningful part of your contest: choosing the most deserving entrants for your awards and curating some great content.

Interested in hosting your own contest? Submittable can help. Connect with us anytime for a free demo.

Keriann Strickland

Keriann Strickland manages content and branding for Submittable's marketing team. She's a recovering journalist, mountain lover, and gifted spiller (and speller).