September 22, 2014

I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t personally used contests on Instagram. Maybe that’s why I haven’t written about them yet. Even though I am acutely aware of their power and success, and I frequently recommend clients and others to use contests. So, I figured it was finally time to show you how to run successful contests on Instagram and understand why they are so rewarding.

First and foremost, why would you want to run an Instagram contest?

There are a few good reasons.

How about increased engagement? Instagram already generates a lot of quality engagement, but a contest can drastically increase your engagement. You’ll get more likes and more comments with little additional effort!

And, you’ll see a big boost in your number of followers! Most contests require following the account as a part of the contest requirements so you can easily attract new followers this way. And when done right, these new followers are actually your target audience!

I’ve written before about the power of user generated content and how to incorporate it into your Instagram strategy. Contests are a great way to generate tons of user generated content for you to use!

And, of course, contests provide a way to reward your amazing customers! Not only do the people who win get a reward, but incorporating your fan content into the contest and participating in the conversations with your followers is a big reward for many customers.

And finally, Instagram doesn’t have any crazy contest rules like you see on Facebook. There are no restrictions as to what you post, how you run the contest, and how you notify the winner(s).

Ok. So now you know why you should use contests on Instagram. Let’s talk about how to do them well!

Provide and Promote a Relevant Prize

I’ve said it a million times, and I’ll say it here too. Giving away iPads or other generic (albeit popular) prizes does not serve your business well (unless you sell iPads). Don’t use these tactics.

Instead, your prize should be relevant and beneficial to your target customers. It should be something that will attract new – targeted – customers and reward existing customers.

The contest should similarly be related to your business. For example, if you are an ice cream parlor, your contest should have something to do with staying cool in the summer heat. Not something about favorite footwear.

Be Clear It’s a Contest

Don’t let your contest posts get lost in the feed. Make sure people know it’s a contest!

Include text overlays on your image stating that it’s a contest. Put the word CONTEST in capital letters in your post caption. Use emojis or symbols to enhance the word CONTEST and make it stand out even more.

Create a Custom Hashtag

The best way to handle a contest is by using a custom hashtag. You can even have more than one. You can have one that you use on every contest or a unique hashtag for each unique contest.

The hashtag should be related to your company, your product, your service, the contest, the contest theme, and/or the contest prize.

Include the hashtag on all of your promotions for the contest and require entrants to include the hashtag on their entries.

You can track the hashtag in Instagram but I also recommend using Tagboard to monitor and track hashtags for contest entries.

Clearly State the Requirements to Enter

Whatever you determine the terms to enter the contest to be, make sure they are stated clearly on your Instagram post.

Do you want them to follow your account? Do you want them to tag their posts with a certain hashtag? Do you want them to tag or @ mention your account in their post? Do you want them to include a description or certain information in their entry?

Since there are no requirements from Instagram, you’re pretty much free to set your contest terms. Just don’t make it too complicated or you won’t get too many entries.

Clearly State the Deadline and Terms

People need to know how long the contest will run. Is it a daily contest, weekly challenge, or a monthly contest? Be sure to include the day and date of the deadline.

You also need to protect yourself legally with your terms. List the terms of the contest including how the winner will be notified and if there are any exclusions or legal requirements. If your terms are highly complicated and detailed, you can refer people to your website for a full list of terms and conditions.

Promote the Contest Multiple Times

You can’t just post about the contest once and then let it go. You need to stay on top of it and promote it repeatedly.

Promote it on other social media accounts, inviting your fans there to come and participate on Instagram. Post it multiple times to Instagram to reach maximum numbers of people (the longer the contest runs, the more you’ll want to promote it).

Actively Engage with Contest Entrants

Whether it’s liking an entry, commenting on an entrant post, thanking someone for their entry, or resharing an entry post, be active with your community. The more you engage and support the contest participants, the more positive participation you will see.


I don’t just want to leave you hanging with these tips so I want to show two examples of good Instagram contests.

The first one is from PetBox. This company does Instagram really well and they frequently incorporate contests into their strategy.

You can see they generated a lot of likes! But most importantly, they’ve included the tips listed above.

The photo is relevant to the contest and promotes the hashtag and contest. The contest and the prize are highly targeted to their ideal audience. The caption tells us that this is a contest and this is also a reminder – meaning it’s a repeated promotion of the contest. They clearly state how to enter and how the contest will be determined and awarded.

But it’s also important to show that they keep the post fun and relative to their brand voice. Even though there are terms and conditions listed, it doesn’t sound overly “legal” and their personality still shines through.

Another example is from Shape Magazine.

The photo itself clearly announces the contest and includes relevant details including the hashtag and the prize as well as the sponsor company. The caption tells you what to do and what you could win. Even though the terms and deadlines aren’t included here, they do state to visit their website for full details.

I also like how they are showcasing other entries in the contest promotions and giving the shout out to that customer! This is just one more way to reward your contest entrants without actually handing out a prize.


So, there you have my best tips for running successful contests on Instagram. They’re easy to do, easy to manage, and fun to do. And they can be highly rewarding!

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