Putting on a contest for your customers may be the last thing you have on your mind as an option for your marketing strategy. Even I can admit that, at first glance, a contest may seem less like a business investment and more like a frivolous expense with no guaranteed return. They take time, money, and creativity to keep it all in line with your brand and yield the best results.

But it turns out that contests can yield some pretty substantial benefits for your business. A recent study showed that at least 52% of audiences are most motivated to keep connected to their favorite brands online if those brands are holding a contest at the time. If one successful contest could help you see improved brand loyalty, increased outreach, and a spike in conversion, this may just give you the edge you need to meet your major business goals this year. One contest may be well worth all the effort and money you put into it.

So how do you get started? You’ll be responsible for designing the contest with the team and making sure it fits into your strategy. But first, if you can follow the steps outlined below, you’ll have a solid foundation point for launching the most successful contest for your business needs.

1. Give Away Your Own Product
First things first: what will incentivize your players to enter into the contest? What will they get out of it? You’ll want to entice as many people as possible with a valuable prize. Some businesses may choose to really up the stakes by purchasing televisions, vacation packages, and other products not necessarily affiliated with their business. But why not give away your own product or service as an incentive?

This is the best option for most small business contests for several reasons. It will help make your contest a little cheaper, as well as kill two birds with one stone by getting your product pushed out there and tested by more people. This will in turn result to increased brand loyalty, and increased sales from those winners impressed with your product. With this in mind, you may just want to design your contest to have as many winners as possible!

2. Check the Legal Requirements
No matter what kind of a contest you want to run, there are always going to be legal considerations (and there will probably always be some you never even thought about). Especially when you start building your contest around your Facebook or Twitter page, you’ll need to be acutely aware of the social media sites’ specific guidelines around contests.

Always make sure you do plenty of research. You can find easy-to-read guides online, such as this helpful article on the rules around Twitter contests. You should also become familiar with Facebook’s Page Guidelines (look under section III;E, the promotions portion) to better understand their rules and policies, and to avoid getting shut down in the middle of a contest.

3. Open it Up to Everyone
At minimum you should always plan on posting the details of your contest to your social media profiles. But if you want to see your contest get some real traction, you should expect to look into other forms of advertising over the life of the contest. You should look into listing ads in the newspaper, paying to sponsor your posts on Facebook, and even creating local television spots if appropriate.

This kind of advertising is most useful because it will in bring more people from all over, not simply from your immediate circles. You will be able to reach out to those who have never heard of your brand but are interested in participating in the contest. It will make your contest and brand relevant, and guarantee that it will be seen by the most people. If there’s one right way to spend your money when it comes to business contests, good marketing and advertising may just be it.

4. Ask For Something In Return
It’s up to you to determine the rules of your contest, and you may want to keep it to a simple name and phone number submission into a raffle drawing. But if you’d like to get the most out of your contest, you should ask for a little bit more from your players in return. Little things like “like our page,” “follow us,” “post a photo,” or “share this post with your friends” are easy for your users to manage in the name of possibly winning a great prize, and has obvious benefits for your business.

The more likes you have on your Facebook page, the more power every future post you make is going to have (Facebook will also organically increase your outreach if your individual posts have more likes). You will also see increased outreach if your contest includes requiring users to attach a themed photo in the comments of a Facebook post (while its more work for them, user-submitted content is almost always a positive for your business page). As long as you don’t ask too much, you can always take advantage of the engagement your contest will naturally bring to your web presence.

5. Check Your Metrics
There’s little point in conducting a contest if you aren’t actively tracking its success along the way. Such questions like “What is it doing well for us?” and “What could we change to see better results for future contests?” have valuable answers for business owners. These kind of data sets will help you better tailor your content and future contests for the best results possible.

You can either check these metrics through a series of other social media marketing tools, or you can ask contest winners to give you their opinion directly through surveys and polls (which can easily be made a mandatory step in the content submission). However you choose to collect this information, make sure you do it diligently to be able to prove the business worth of your contests.

6. Keep Them Coming
Assuming your first attempt at a contest goes well and you see a boost in all the areas you hoped for, you should plan on holding another contest. And another one. And another. If it makes good business sense, you should make steps to launch a new contest as soon as possible in the name of “consistency.”

The golden power of “consistency” is what will help you further develop a loyal following, and get more people excited about your brand. This consistency will consistently bring people back to your social media pages and your website for more. It will also help further a positive brand image; users will look at your brand as generous and interesting. If you can consistently offer contests in line with your identity and commitment to users, you will earn your users’ steadfast adoration and feel the data-measured love from it. Using tools like Website Rocket will also significantly help you in staying consistent – you’ll get reminders to schedule your social media contests at appropriate time intervals, which makes the process just that much easier.

If you’ve never tried a contest before, and can do so without breaking your budget, it may very well be worth a shot for you. You may be surprised at the type of results you see.