Example Rules for Hashtag Contests -- Including Best Practices

Learn how hashtag contests can increase your followers on social media platforms and enhance engagement among your followers.

By Will Blunt ・7 min read
Best Practices
Campaign & Contest Ideas
Social Media

Here’s a stat that should make you pay attention: Accounts that hold Instagram contests increase their followers 70% faster than accounts that don't - and that's just on one social media platform.Hashtag contests make up the majority of these Instagram contests, but they're applicable across many different social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest and more. Wherever you can use a hashtag, you can hold a hashtag contest.Hashtag contests are just part of a greater overall trend toward more interactive social media experiences. For example, both Twitter and Instagram recently added a poll feature that allows users to survey their audience and receive real-time, valuable feedback. Instagram also implemented a Stories question feature that enables users to ask and answer questions, creating more pointed and meaningful engagements online.

Hashtag contest

AirBnB often uses quizzes as a marketing play. There are many ways you can leverage these features in your daily life to enhance engagement among your followers, whether it’s for a personal or business account. However, this post will discuss specifically how you can set up and optimize hashtag contests.Let's start at the beginning.

What exactly are hashtag contests?

Although you may not have participated in one, it's very likely - especially if you follow popular celebrity accounts - that you have at least scrolled past a hashtag contest.A hashtag contest is a promotion that asks participants to post on social media using a specific hashtag during a set timeframe. For example, a pet food company might hold a contest that asks you to post a picture of your dog with the hashtag #mansbestfriend and an explanation as to why your dog deserves to win a free one-year supply of this particular brand of pet food.Each post that uses the hashtag is essentially an entry into the contest, which simplifies the process of selecting a winner by requiring the contest creator to simply click the hashtag and scroll through the entries.The benefit of this social media marketing method is twofold: you can increase follower engagement, thus encouraging brand loyalty, AND simultaneously promote your brand to the follower lists of each contest participant.

Best Practices for Hashtag Contests

One of the perks of hashtag contests is that you can get pretty creative with the hashtag itself and the goal for the contest. However, there are certain best practices that you'll want to stick to when creating a hashtag contest of your own.

Choose a unique hashtag

A fitness franchise or a personal trainer might create a hashtag contest, revolving around progress toward fitness and weight loss goals, by asking participants to post a picture of themselves from a year ago juxtaposed to a picture from today with the hashtag #throwbackthursday.This is an excellent idea on the surface… people love sharing their own progress and getting motivated by seeing others make progress. However, there is just one issue - #throwbackthursday is one of the most popular hashtags of all time, meaning your contest participants will simply get lost in the flood of posts.

#throwbackthursday for hashtag contest

#throwbackthursday is one of the most enduring and popular hashtags on Instagram. Before choosing a hashtag for your contest, make sure it isn't already being used excessively. Typically, it helps to add the name of your brand to keep it unique.

#lululemonaddict for hashtag contest

#lululemonaddict gets a lot of attention from fans of the brand.

Recognize the winner

Of course, no one likes to lose competitions, but even worse than the feeling of losing is the feeling of being cheated out of your time and effort.Make sure you recognize the winner of the contest and, ideally, have the winning contestant create a follow-up post about his or her prize to demonstrate that you kept up with your end of the deal.

Recognize the winner for hashtag contest

Diyaonline also uses surveys to learn more about their followers.This not only ensures that your followers will trust you when future contests arise, but also makes the prize look more appealing, since people tend to trust customer endorsements of products over brand endorsements - for obvious reasons.

Explain the parameters clearly

Your followers could also feel cheated if they don’t fully understand the terms of the competition, so you'll want to make sure you provide a clear explanation.Will the winner be chosen randomly, or will it be based on which post receives the most likes? Exactly how long do your followers have to post? Can they enter more than once?All of these questions will need to be answered when you first announce the contest. Generally speaking, choosing a winner at random is good practice because it encourages more participants - even the ones who are less familiar with your brand - to get involved.

Hashtag Contest Examples

Hypotheticals can be helpful when determining your approach to hashtag contests, but there is nothing quite like a few real-world examples.

The Container Store #containyourselfcontest

The Container Store #containyourselfcontest for hashtag contest

The Container Store uses #containyourself and #containyourselfcontest to .... contain all their UGCIf you have a propensity for organization, it's likely that The Container Store is your go-to shop when clutter starts building up.A leader in specialty storage and organization products, The Container Store has innovative solutions for everything from a kindergarten classroom to a small kitchen pantry.In 2016, the brand decided it wanted to reward its customers for showcasing some of their more creative uses of their storage and organization products, while simultaneously advertising the diverse uses for their products.The company partnered with Olapic to allow users to upload photos through various social media platforms that would post directly to the brand's website using the hashtag #containyourselfcontest. The winner would receive one of two $500 store gift cards enabling him or her to put their talents to good use.In a little over a month, The Container Store received over 200 photos and gained 10,000 additional impressions on their content gallery.

Mindzai Creative #MindzaiContest

Mindzai Creative #MindzaiContest for hashtag contest

Mindzai Creative uses hashtags as a crowdsourcing tool. When you're in a creative industry, you can never have too many ideas. Hashtag contests are a great way to both crowdsource ideas and advertise your brand.This competition from Mindzai Creative ran as follows;

  • Design two color screen print t-shirts for the contest
  • Follow @mindzaicreative on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter
  • Upload the designs to Instagram and tag @mindzaicreative
  • Include the hashtag #minzaicontest.

The two winners selected would receive $500 each and have their t-shirt design featured on Mindzai merchandise. One winner was selected by a Mindzai staff member, while the other by popular vote from users on the platform. This is a nice tactic to encourage user-generated content and trust in your winner selection process.

Valdo #whatsinyourvaldo

Valdo #whatsinyourvaldo for hashtag contest

Fans of the proseco brand Valdo had the chance to win a prize when they shared a photo of their favorite cocktail.Valdo reeled users in by offering a chance to win a trip for two to Italy for simply sharing a picture of their favorite cocktail made with Valdo Prosecco, using the hashtag #whatsinyourvaldo.Users posted the snap, the recipe, the hashtag, and followed the Valdo Instagram account in order to qualify. From there, the 25 recipes with the most votes were judged by the Valdo team before declaring an official winner.Requiring the crowd to vote in the competition allowed users to continually engage with the brand and get their voices heard in the contest. More importantly, it encouraged users to share their posts with friends to generate more engagement from potential customers.

Rules and legal implications for hashtag contests

One thing you will definitely want to consider for your next hashtag contest is the rules you establish and any legal issues involved.The FTC has established strict guidelines regarding use of the words "contest," "ad," and "sweepstakes" in your pitch, as well as in the hashtag itself. Plus, you are legally required to write the full official hashtag contest rules on a public post that anyone can access.Below is a screenshot of the rules for a contest by Jack Stack Barbecue:

Official Rules, Terms and Conditions for hashtag contest

Jack Stack wrote very specific rules for their contest. Which hashtag contest rules are most important to be aware of? Here is a short overview:

  • Include clear rules for how and when the contest will be run, as well as the start and end date of the contest (including timezone information).
  • Make it obvious how a winner is selected and when they will be notified.
  • Provide an in-depth description of the prize(s) so that there is no confusion for any participants.
  • Be careful not to advertise prizes from other brands without their documented consent.
  • Ensure that participants aren’t required to make a purchase to enter the contest.
  • Avoid favoring participants, and selecting a winner, based on their tendency to make a purchase or other non-objective means.
  • Remove human error from the winner selection process by using automated contest software.
  • Allow participants to opt out of any contest or future marketing communication at their own discretion.
  • Clearly show contact details for the contest host so that participants can get in touch if they need to.
  • Hold onto contest records and participant data for at least two years after the contest.

Ignorance of the law will not protect you from an FTC investigation or lawsuit, so it might be best to consult a legal expert if you are at all unsure.For an example rule template for social media contests check out this post.


Rules and legalities aside, there are virtually unlimited possibilities when it comes to hashtag contests and the benefits they can offer to your business.As social media evolves, there will continue to be even more opportunities to engage with users in contest formats, including custom Snapchat filters for your brand.Don't be afraid to experiment with different platforms to expand your target market and stay on the cutting edge.

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About the author

By Will Blunt ・7 min read

Will Blunt is the founder of Sidekick Digital by Will Blunt - B2B Marketing Expert - Sidekick Digital, a publishing business that launches, manages, and grows brands with content marketing.

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