All the Ways to Run a Contest on Instagram

Learn how to run a contest on Instagram, including timeline contests, hashtag contests, and upload contests. Get started today!

By Jessica Miller-McNatt ・5 min read
Best Practices
Social Media

“How do I run a contest on Instagram?”It’s a question my colleagues and I hear all day, everyday.And, although it sounds like a harmless enough question, it’s impossible to answer without knowing a little bit more about a business’s end-goal. For example, my follow-up questions might include, “Are you looking to build your email list? Get new followers? Engage with your audience?”People are a bit caught off guard by these follow-up questions because they were expecting more of a “here’s how to do it” response. The trouble is that there are many ways you can run a contest on Instagram, and the more I explain the differences of each, the more questions it can raise.In this article, we’ll dispel the confusion by going over the different types of Instagram contests as well as talk about the benefits and drawbacks of each. So, without further ado, let’s jump right in.

Instagram Timeline Contest

A timeline contest is a contest or giveaway that is announced and executed right from an Instagram post. You’ve surely seen a million of them - they look like this.

Instagram Timeline contestThis type of contest is hugely popular for several reasons - it’s quick and easy to set up, it can score you some new followers, and it can bring a little extra attention to your profile.The timeline contest is very straightforward. All you need is a prize, an image and some rules. From there, you can add your own spin as to how you’d like participants to submit an entry. For example, you can require participants to follow your profile, and/or tag friends in a comment to enter.There are a few drawbacks to the ever popular timeline contest. First and foremost, you’re very limited in the data you can collect from participants. For example, when someone tags their friend to enter, that tagged person may enter and follow your profile, but that’s where the benefits end. There isn’t a great way to reach out to let them know about new sales, coupons, news, or events. In other words, you have nothing to help you convert them to an actual paying customer. The channel of communication is essentially cut off. And because of the Instagram algorithm, your new followers aren’t even guaranteed to see your future Instagram posts.Another drawback is the amount of manual work that may be required to choose your winner. In the example above, those eligible to win must be following the three mentioned profiles, they must tag three friends, and those three tagged friends must also be following the three profiles. On top of that, before a winner is selected, bonus entries need to be awarded to all of the participants that commented on two of the profile’s photos. For the person selecting a winner, checking all of the eligibility requirements and awarding bonus entries sounds like a ton of extra work.Some contest app-building platforms like ShortStack have tools to help you choose a winner. With ShortStack, you can import post comments into a list and choose a winner at random. You’ll still need to double check that each participant follows your profile (if you had required that) but the actual collecting of entries and selecting of a winner can be a much easier process.

Import from Instagram comments using ShortStack

Instagram Hashtag Contest

A fun way to collect what is known as user-generated content (UGC) is via a hashtag contest. Ask participants to post a photo or video using one or more hashtags. To choose a winner, search for your hashtag to see all those who participated. At least one of your required hashtags will need to be a unique, branded hashtag so your search results don’t include a bunch of arbitrary posts.UGC is a powerful marketing tool because, similar to word of mouth or referral marketing, the content that is generated comes directly from your audience and customers. With permission from the poster, businesses can reuse the content collected in future marketing campaigns. Here’s a great example - take a look at this swimwear company using UGC to show how real women (not models) look in their swimwear.

Instagram Hashtag contestThe drawbacks of this type of contest are similar to that of a timeline contest. There is some manual work involved when choosing a winner. Contest apps like ShortStack have tools to help with this as well. Pull your hashtag feed into a gallery of entries. This will allow you to choose a winner at random. ShortStack’s Rights Management tools also help with obtaining rights to use UGC for further marketing.

Instgram Hashtag contest gallery built using ShortStack

Upload from Instagram with a Required Hashtag Contest

This sounds a bit complicated, but it’s pretty straightforward. In this type of photo or video contest, the participant will upload their photo or video into an entry from their Instagram profile. If they upload a photo from their Instagram profile, the photo is required to have your designated hashtag.This type of Instagram contest offers the benefits of running a contest on Instagram with the data collection benefits of using an entry form. Because participants will need to use a specific hashtag with their post, you’ll still be promoting your brand’s visibility on Instagram. When they upload the entry to your form, use the opportunity to 1.) collect an opt-in to your email list, and 2.) collect a name, email address, and whatever other data may help you with your future marketing such as a birthday or a zip code. The more you know about your audience the better equipped you’ll be to convert that participant into a future customer.

Here’s How to Make Any Contest an Instagram Contest

Why limit yourself to likes and hashtagged photos? With contest-building apps like ShortStack, you can take advantage of an array of contest configurations like a “vote to enter” giveaway, a trivia quiz, or even an “instant win” game, just to name a few examples.If you’ve built a contest or giveaway completely autonomous from Instagram, there are a couple ways you can drive your Instagram followers to it so they can participate.

Add a link to your profile

When you’ve built your beautiful, highly engaging contest or giveaway, you can publish it as a landing page. Then, link to the landing page from the bio section of your Instagram profile (the only place Instagram allows you to use a live link). The last step is to drive traffic to your profile by creating posts that say something like “Enter our giveaway! Click the link in our profile.”

Link to your bio from your Instagram contest post

Link to a Story

Instagram stories are more popular than you might think. 50% of all businesses on Instagram post a story at least once a month to help them enrich their profile with engaging content.When I mentioned Instagram’s one live link allowance (located in the bio section of your profile), I wasn’t painting the whole picture. Instagram offers one other spot to use a live link, but it’s only available to certain Instagram profiles. If you have more than 10,000 followers, or a verified Instagram profile, you can add outside links to Instagram stories by using the ‘swipe up’ feature.

Add a link in your Instagram StoryThe drawback of stories is that they are very temporary. A story you post will disappear after 24 hours. You can make them more permanent by saving them to the Highlights section of your profile, but the space here is limited, and you’d still have to find a way to drive traffic to your profile. If you plan to use stories to promote your contest or giveaway, make sure you’re posting stories regularly and also pairing this promotional content with other methods.If Facebook is like WalMart - loud and cluttered, mostly consisting of over-shared junky memes - then Instagram is like a high-end shopping mall - filled with beautiful things, thoughtfully curated and displayed to make a quick scroll or even a deep dive feel like a treat. This may be why more than 500 million Instagram accounts are accessed every single day. Take advantage of the drawing power of Instagram and give one of these contest methods a try.

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About the author

By Jessica Miller-McNatt ・5 min read

Jessica Miller-McNatt has been with ShortStack for over a decade and has served in every role from Marketing Team Lead to Customer Success. Her journey in martech continues to fuel her fascination for what drives growth. Jessica's favorite weekends are spent in the North Georgia mountains, chasing waterfalls and exploring with her family.

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