Looking for new ways to engage customers on social? Want more likes, comments and shares? Of course you do. Asking questions, posting funny memes and sharing user-generated images can help you boost activity on your social accounts, but they only get you so far. They don’t offer a next step, or call-to-action that drives followers to truly engage with your brand.

Want a better plan? Create a social media contest. Having an awesome prize like a shopping spree or vacation is definitely a plus — but if you have a smaller marketing budget, don’t fret. You can create fun and memorable social contests that give your followers some killer bragging rights without breaking the bank. Ready to get started? Follow these six steps:

1. Start at the end

Given the amount of time and effort it takes to plan and run a social contest, you want to make sure that it’s actually worth it. Ask yourself this simple question: What are you trying to accomplish?

Are you trying to generate brand awareness? Are you trying to amplify social word-of-mouth and win more followers? Or are you trying to support a new product launch, annual sales event or other business initiative?

Once you identify your goals, figure out what metrics you should track to determine whether the contest was a success. For example, if you’re an apparel retailer hoping to boost sales for your new line of fall dresses, you should track things like:

  • Site traffic
  • Store traffic
  • Number of items sold
  • Total sales
  • Items sold per customer

But of course, this isn’t a one-size-fits all exercise. You need to identify the metrics or key performance indicators that are most important to your company’s particular end goals.

2. Build your budget

There are a few different variables you should take into account while building your budget. Perhaps the most important thing to consider is whether you’ve run a social contest before. If you have, and you know your customers love them, it may be worthwhile to invest some (or possibly more) money this time around. Conversely, if you’re just testing out social contests because they seem fun, you may want to consider more viral, budget-friendly options.

If you want to see a great breakdown of how VentureBeat planned, executed and measured the success a recent social media contest, check out this article.

3. Identify your audience

You need to develop social contests with your audience in mind. Do your primary customers like to engage on social media? Would contests be considered fun and cool…or just plain annoying?

If social contests are a big hit with your customers, figure out which networks you should focus on. If you’re targeting millennials, you may want to find ways they can engage across their favorite networks — like Instagram and Snapchat. If you have an older, more traditional audience, you may be better off sticking to Facebook.

4. Pick a prize

Taking into account your budget and target audience, brainstorm potential rewards and prizes that will get them excited to participate. Tangible things are great, but would a more emotional, fun prize actually work better?

Glamorous vacations, cash rewards or shopping sprees get some people in a tizzy. Others get more excited about being spotlighted on a brand’s website or having their content be shared on a brand’s social accounts.

Marc Jacobs, for example, was on a mission to find its next model so the brand solicited selfies on social media. To enter, followers posted pictures to Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #CastMeMarc. If this doesn’t quite align with your business or your goals, look to more traditional rewards, such as shopping sprees, gift cards or access to exclusive events.

5. Figure out how they should participate

All of the preceding elements play a role in your contest’s parameters — how your consumers participate or enter to win the grand prize. But now’s when you have to go deeper. How do people “submit” for your contest? What makes someone qualified to win? How do you select your winners? How do you get in contact with them to let them know they’ve won? This is the time when you answer all these questions…and more.

Sephora held a Snapchat contest in order to build its following on the social network. To participate, members had to follow the brand on Snapchat, take a “snap” of themselves, and draw fake eyebrows on the photo using the doodle feature. Photos had to be sent to Sephora’s Snapchat account and participants also had to upload the image to Instagram with the hashtag #SephoraSnapsSweeps. Winners were randomly selected and received a $500 gift card.

Based on the structure of this campaign, it’s clear that Sephora wanted to generate a lot of social buzz and build its following on a relatively new social account. Consumers didn’t have to use a specific product in the photo, nor did they have to publish or share any brand-focused content. All they needed to do was take a snap, share and hope for the best!

But if you want to build awareness of a new product release or event, you may add another layer to the contest where participants need to like or share social images or copy focused on what you’re trying to promote. Or, if you want to grow your email list, you may want to have consumers submit their email addresses in order to qualify for the contest.

6. Keep them coming back for more

Imagine you planned and rolled out a stellar social contest. You exceeded your goals and generated a lot of buzz. What comes next? How do you keep your participants engaged for the long term? How do you turn these consumers, who are largely influenced by a prize or reward, into loyal shoppers?

This is where post-contest follow up and engagement play critical roles. You need to continue to post great content on your social accounts and through email so your followers are always in tune with your brand.

Perhaps no brand holds more captivating social contests than American Apparel. For a recent Halloween costume contest, it gave away a silver 1987 Cadillac Allantè with Italian leather as its top prize and garnered thousands of entries via Instagram. They partner with Curalate to create Fanreels of all the best entries, which are now displayed on the American Apparel site. Want to learn the company’s strategies? Download our free success story.