So, you want to run a contest on your social media channels? We don’t blame you. Contests tend to be one of the most cost-effective ways to gain followers, increase overall engagement and acquire email addresses. But, as with every piece of the social marketing puzzle, there’s certainly a right and wrong way to go about running one. Follow our tips below to ensure your business launches a campaign followers (and potential future followers) won’t be able to refuse.

Timing. As they say, it’s everything. Make sure you give yourself enough time to advertise a contest. This includes a teaser before the contest starts to build interest, several reminders to enter during the life of the contest, and a “last chance” opportunity for people to enter when the contest is almost over. The greater the grand prize is worth, the longer the time frame you should establish for promotion.

Relevant Prize. Think about the contests you enter of your own volition. I’ll enter pretty much any contest that promises an Apple product or hundreds of dollars worth of cash I can spend without restrictions. But the point of a contest is to gain relevant followers. After a contest is over, you can expect some churn as people unfollow – and that’s okay. You don’t want those people following you if they’re never going to be customers. If the prize involves your product, say 6 months of free services or a free meal for two at your restaurant (for example), a person would have to really want the prize in question to spend the time entering. It’s important to also make sure the prize itself is worth winning from your customers’ point of view and provides enough value for the time involved to enter.

Make it Easy. Make sure the barrier to entry for any given contest takes into consideration the platform it’s being launched on and prize being won. A contest needs at least one field: a person’s email address. Anything past that is an excuse someone can make to themselves to skip entering. A way to get more information or promotion out of entrants is to offer bonus entries for additional actions. Some potential bonus entry categories are: blog comments, tweets, social profile visits, and sharing with a friend.

Follow the Rules. In the past, some contests required that a person “Like” their Facebook page in order to gain entrance. This is a now-illegal practice known as “Like-gating” that can get you in trouble. You can require a person visit your Facebook page, but that’s the limit of what you can enforce. Furthermore, make sure to include “No purchase necessary” in the fine print. A person should never be required to purchase something to be able to enter a contest, although you could structure the contest so that it could potentially get them additional entries. The fine print won’t just protect your entrants but your business as well, so make sure to lay the rules out with high level detail.

Have a Clear Goal. Are you trying to grow your Twitter following? Get emails? More positive Yelp reviews? Whatever the goal is, make sure to define it and construct the contest around it. Benchmark your success as the contest goes on to make sure you’re heading in the right direction to accomplish your goal, and change your strategy if you’re not achieving the desired results.

Choose a Contest App. There are plenty of awesome applications you can use to run your contest. Rafflecopter, Woobox, and Shortstack are all industry favorites that each support specific features and offer their own pricing plans. I personally like Rafflecopter because it has a very comprehensive FREE plan.

Reaching the Right People. While running the contest through a third-party will cost money, in addition to the prize itself, you should also be factoring in the cost of Facebook ads to promote the contest. You may want to involve your existing fan base, but it’s more than likely you’ll want to reach new people too, and can do so by using different Facebook targeting mechanisms. A great way to achieve organic reach on an Instagram contest is to require people to tag friends as an entry. Another favorite of successful contest hosts is to require votes to determine the winner. Imagine the organic reach your page will get when the people who’ve entered your contest are doing promotions for you!

Now that you’ve got a blueprint for running a successful contest, what’s your next move? Start out small, experiment, and take things to the next level.