One of the best ways to drive engagement and build word of mouth traffic about your brand is to run a contest via social media channels. Not only does it engage consumers with your brand in a fun and exciting way, it results in a treasure-trove of customer information, preferences, and feedback you can then mine to improve your business. And, best of all, launching an online contest can be very inexpensive.

However, there is a subtle art to social contests. Your brand needs to appear neither too “cheesy” nor too “salesy,” and you must deliver a prize that people really want. This can be a standard product or gift card, or a “notoriety” prize, such as publishing a winner’s video. What’s more, the contest itself has to be fun and easy to participate in. Few prizes are worth doing something extremely boring, monotonous, or complicated.

Here are five specific strategies you can follow to launch and manage a social contest, and leverage it to deliver real business value:

1.Define the marketing goal:Every contest you launch should meet a specific marketing goal. Do you want to drive awareness of a new product or service? Collect a list of customers interested in a specific product segment? Encourage new participants to use your company’s social networking channels? There are many valid reasons to launch a contest, but it’s important to know ahead of time what you’re trying to accomplish.

2.Get Creative:

Here’s the fun part: Creating your contest. The sky’s the limit when it comes to the type of contests you can launch. Here are a few ideas:

– A video contest inviting users to create a new commercial for one of your products

– A user-generated content contest that awards the best ‘personal experience stories’

– A photo contest related to your product or service

– A product invention contest with a large cash prize.

3.Leverage  Social Channels: The best part about online contests is how easy it is to take them viral, encourage participation, and link them into your social marketing activities. Promote your contest via Facebook, Twitter, your company blog, and all other social channels, as well as via traditional marketing channels such as print, e-mail, and in-store signage.

4.Finish the Contest: Everyone loves a winner, so make sure you don’t let your contest drag on too long. A typical social contest runs about four weeks –- longer.hen the winner is chosen, do a PR push to publicize their win. Of course, use Facebook and Twitter to promote the winner like mad. Go back to your social media tracking software and find out which people and social sites are talking most about the winner, then post comments on those networks to drive even more interest in the winner.

5.Measure the Contest:Of course launching a contest wasn’t just for fun, it was to achieve a specific marketing goal. So after the contest is done, you need to measure the impact it had on brand engagement, clickthrough to your site, conversion, and bottom-line sales. Again, you can use your social media tracking tool to measure all of these success metrics. Find out whether your contest drove as much traffic to your site as you had hoped, and whether this traffic resulted in conversion.