4 Things You Must Do Before Hosting an Instagram Contest

Learn how to host an Instagram contest and attract more followers with these four simple steps. Get started today!

By Dana Kilroy ・8 min read
Campaign & Contest Ideas
Customer Data & Engagement
Social Media

Have you taken your brand for a spin on Instagram yet? Are you wondering how you can market on the photo-sharing website -- which now has more than 300 million users -- and stay true to the platform’s noncommercial roots? We’re seeing more and more businesses starting to use Instagram for the kinds of contests and giveaways that have been popular on Facebook for years. If you’ve been thinking about hosting an Instagram contest, here are four things you need to do first.

#1. Decide on the type of photo contest you want to host

The beauty of Instagram is that you're not limited by as many promotion guidelines as you are on some other platforms (more on this later) and you’re free to be as creative with your contest concept as you’d like:

Here are some of the most popular Instagram contest ideas:

• Like-to-win: A like-to-win contest is when you ask users to “Like” an Instagram photo you’ve posted for a chance to enter to win a prize from your brand. Around this time last year, the restaurant Buffalo Jordan hosted a series like-to-win giveaways on their Instagram account. Normally they receive an average of 50 likes on each post they share, but when Buffalo Jordan hosted a like-to-win contest that average quadrupled to about 200 likes per post.

Instagram contest

A while ago Instagram did away with their “Popular” page and replaced it with what people are calling the “Discover page.” This is where Instagram shows you images based on people you follow, photos you've liked, or images that are popular in your country. The benefit of a like-to-win contest is that when several users like your brand’s photo to enter to win, it’s increases the chances of your photo contest being featured on the discovery page. This is great exposure for your contest and account!

• Comment-to-win: A comment-to-win contest, similar to a like-to-win contest, is just what it sounds like: Users have to comment on your contest’s photo in order to be entered to win a prize from your brand.If your goals are to gain valuable feedback and increase post engagement amongst your Instagram followers, a comment-to-win Instagram contest is the way to go.

• Tag-to-win: To incentivize your Instagram followers to lead their friends directly to your brand’s Instagram content/account, host a tag-to-win contest. The rules are simple: Users have to tag a friend (using the “@” symbol) in the comment section of your brand’s Instagram contest post to be entered to win a prize from your company.A tag-to-win contest helps your company get direct, organic traffic to your brand’s Instagram account. Because of this, this type of contest is especially helpful for gaining new followers.

• Photo challenge: This is likely the most popular type of Instagram contest. To enter to win, a user has to post a photo on their personal account using a specific hashtag created by the brand.Lots of brands have been hosting selfie photo challenges or photo challenges that inspire their users to feature their product(s) and/or store in a creative way. The retail company Nasty Gal has taken both of these ideas to a unique new level with their weekly #NastyGalTruthorDare photo challenges. Here’s one example from the brand in which they ask their users to post their #StrangerSelfie and hashtag #NastyGalTruthorDare for the chance to win a Nasty Gal gift card.

Instagram contest

• Repost-to-win: Instead of asking users to take and post their own Instagram photo to enter to win a prize, a repost-to-win contest requires users to repost a specific Instagram image your brand shares. You can ask your followers to share a screenshot or use a repost app. Again, as with the photo challenge, your brand will need to create a specific hashtag for your entrants to use so that you can track your contest’s entries. One benefit of a repost-to-win contest is that it allows your brand to control the message and aesthetic of your giveaway. There’s a downside though: Your brand’s aesthetic might not align with the entrants you’re trying to engage with. If this is the case, those folks will choose to opt out of your contest.Here’s an example of a repost-to-win contest from the Australian fashion boutique Drop Dead Dollbaby. To enter to win, users have to repost the image they shared below with their hashtag #DDDSUPASUNDAYS, and follow their account.

Instagram contest

#2. Write your contest rules

Instagram, at least when compared to Facebook, does not have very many promotion rules. The only rules businesses have to abide by are:

1.) acknowledge (usually in the giveaway post’s caption copy) that the business’s promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Instagram, and

2.) not inaccurately tag content or encourage users to inaccurately tag content.This means businesses can make their contest rules as loose or as structured as they want.Contests that only require users to perform one task (like, comment, tag, etc.) to enter to win are basic, but most brands that host Instagram contests, like to require their entrants do more than one thing to enter. This could mean that to be entered to win, an entrant will have to like the photo, follow the brand’s account and comment on the brand’s photo.Here’s an example of a multi-step Instagram contest hosted by TurboTax. The tax-filing software, isn’t exactly a sexy product, but the contest they’ve built around their offer of letting people file both federal and state taxes for free is fun. For their #Absolute0 contest -- which features a $500 prize -- Turbotax is asking people to do two simple things: follow @turbotax and post a picture depicting three zeroes. The brand has a modest number of followers (1,647 on February 2, 2015) but 388 entries. That’s a pretty impressive ratio.

Instagram contest

Here’s another example of a multi-step Instagram contest hosted on the fashion blogger Mary Summers-Hafner’s Instagram account “sothentheysayblog”:

Instagram contest

Here’s the full caption copy since you can’t see it in the screenshot:

“Whoever said that money can't buy happiness, simply didn't know where to shop! So I've teamed up with some fabulous bloggers to give you an opportunity to win a $750 gift card to one of our favorite retailers, Nordstrom! No reposting or commenting necessary, simply follow the instructions below!1. Follow (@sothentheysayblog) and ALL bloggers/ shops2. Like this post and everyone else's involved3. Tap on the photo to see where to go next Once you've made your way back here, you have completed your entry! Please remember you must follow everyone in the loop to qualify. All entries must be submitted by 1/20 6pm CST. We ask that PRIVATE accounts are made PUBLIC during the giveaway in order to be entered. The winner will be announced on 1/21, we appreciate your patience while we verify all the entries. Good luck! Per Instagram rules, we must mention this is in no way sponsored, administered, or associated with Instagram, Inc. By entering, entrants confirm they are 13+ years of age, release Instagram of responsibility, and agree to Instagram's term of use.”

Where to host your Instagram rules?

If you’ve decided to host a simple Instagram contest that doesn’t require a lot of rules, then it’s best to display your rules in the caption copy of your Instagram post. If you’ve decided to host a more rule-intensive contest, then you have a couple options for where you can host your in-depth rules and/or terms of conditions:

1. Create a rules page on your website: Birchbox, the company that ships out monthly boxes of beauty samples, frequently hosts contests on their social networks networks, including Instagram. To avoid the hassle of having to include them in each post they share to announce their latest giveaway, they simply link to their rules page: Birchbox.

Instagram contest

2. Host your rules on a Campaign: If you don’t want to create an entirely new page on your website devoted to hosting contest rules, an even better option is to create a landing page for your Instagram contest, which can host your contest’s rules and entries using a tool like ShortStack, HubSpot, or Lander. A major benefit to hosting your Instagram contest as a Campaign is that it allows you to collect important data, like email addresses, so you can connect with your Instagram contest entrants after your promotion ends. Another benefit is instead of fussing with excessively long caption copy, you can simply announce and/or promote your Instagram contest using a couple fun or witty sentences then say “Click the link in our bio to enter to win!” That’s it, super simple (just make sure you update your Instagram’s bio section to include your Campaign’s URL).


#3. Give away a relevant prize

Now that you’ve determined the type of photo contest you want to host and the rules you want to implement, it’s time to settle on a contest prize. As with any social media contest, your goal should be to attract the right followers to your brand, not just any followers. The best way to do that is to a offer a prize that’s relevant to your brand.Giving away an iPad or an iPhone might attract a lot of attention, but you’re more likely to attract users who will actually use your product if you give away something that’s related to your product and/or service. So if you own Bob’s Brewery & Restaurant, try giving away a giftcard for a lunch for two at your establishment. If you’re a software company, try giving away a tech gadget that you know your customer’s like to use with your product.

#4. Spread the word

When you’re just getting started, using the right hashtags in your Instagram post’s caption and comment section is key. Not sure what type of hashtags to use? Here’s a good list to start with: #(your brand’s name) #(the name of your prize) #Instagramcontest #Instagramgiveaway #contest#giveaway #instagoodHashtags are not just for tracking entries, they’re for associating the content you share with other like content. They’re also for helping the boost exposure of your content to the most relevant types of people for your brand. The right combination of hashtags will give your contest the exposure it needs to succeed in the way you hope it will.In addition to using relevant hashtags on your Instagram contest’s post, the best way to get the word out about your contest is to promote it on all your social media channels. Just because you’re hosting your contest on Instagram doesn’t mean you can’t promote it elsewhere. In fact, you should promote it everywhere. Post about it on Facebook, tweet the link, use a Hello Bar on your website or blog to get the word out, and don’t forget to encourage your entrants to ask their friends to get involved, too.


The beauty of Instagram is that it’s a creative platform. That said, if your business is looking to have an impact with this community, it’s important to follow the app’s lead and be creative with your posts and the type of contest you run. Readers, have you ever hosted an Instagram contest on your brand’s account? If so, what kind and what were your results? Let me know in the comment section below.A version of this article originally appeared on Social Media Examiner.

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About the author

By Dana Kilroy ・8 min read

Dana Sullivan Kilroy is a communications professional with more than 20 years of experience delivering compelling content. Her work has appeared in national, award-winning publications and sites, including: The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and Fast Company, Inc.

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