How to Host a Holiday Contest on Instagram

Get your business ready for the holidays by hosting an Instagram contest to engage existing customers and attract new followers.

By Ana Gotter ・5 min read
Campaign & Contest Ideas
ShortStack Tips & Tricks
Social Media

The holidays are almost here! Is your business ready?If one of your challenges is figuring out how to compete for consumers' attention and engagement (not to mention their dollars!), consider hosting a contest. Instagram contests are hot right now, and are one way to get in front of your existing customers, plus bring new followers.Instagram’s visual focus and high engagement levels make it an ideal platform to host holiday hashtag contests on, and contests do particularly well when combined with hashtags. To help you get the best results possible this holiday season, we’re going to take a look at some solid strategies for how to host a holiday contest on Instagram so you can get the results you want.

1. Embrace Experiences

The holidays are exciting for most people; whether it’s Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, or New Year's, most of us celebrate something during this time of year. And many of us celebrate in a specific way, year after year. Whether that means watching football on Thanksgiving or bantering with grandma about why you're not married, plenty of us have deep-rooted experiences and traditions.


Since many of us also love sharing our experiences and traditions, a user-generated content (UGC) contest that's focused on sharing can bring massive engagement. User-generated content contests can be built around plenty of themes, including:

  • Recipes
  • Gifts
  • Celebrations
  • Home

Think about how people use your products and services and build questions around those ideas:

  • What’s your must-have dish for Thanksgiving?
  • Stocking stuffers or boxes under the tree -- which presents are better?
  • How do you ring in the New Year?
  • What's your favorite place to decorate?

A business that sells culinary tools or dishware, for example, could ask users to share a picture of how they use the brand’s tools to serve their must-have Thanksgiving dish, or even for a picture of their festive Thanksgiving dinner table. A brand that sells furniture and accessories could ask users to share photos of holiday decor. Think about how people use your products and services and build questions around those ideas.The fun of sharing a holiday tradition is enough motivation for some users to participate. Since they likely take pictures anyway, a UGC contest is relatively easy to put together. You can also use the content your users share with you for future marketing efforts.


2. Pick a Specific, Branded Hashtag

If you’re using a photo contest on Instagram (or Twitter) to generate engagement and conversation, you’ll need to be able to locate all the entries your participants are sharing. The best way to do this is by requiring that participants use a specific hashtag for your contest. While contest software like Shortstack makes it easy for you to evaluate all entries, the hashtag also can capture the attention of other users, too.You want your contest hashtag to have a holiday theme, just like the contest itself. This time of year, the right hashtags can raise engagement. You don’t, however, want the entire to hashtag to be without branding.

Starbuck’s Red Cup Contest is a unique contest with a well-known, branded hashtag.[/caption]A common mistake that many brands make is choosing a generic holiday term and using that as their branded hashtag. The problem with this, which many don’t realize until it’s too late, is that generic hashtags won't bring awareness to your brand, and it’s nearly impossible to easily evaluate the entries. Instead of just choosing #stockingstuffer, go with #LOFTstockingstuffer. This will keep your contest front and center, and you'll be able to keep better track of your followers. Another option is to use two hashtags, one generic and one specific.

3. Pick a Relevant Prize of Value

Picking a great prize is always an essential ingredient for social media contests, but a relevant prize for the holidays is especially important.While everyone gets into the holiday spirit, it’s also a chaotic time for a lot of people, so it’s harder to get their attention. It’s also a central marketing time for most brands, too, so there’s likely to be a fair number of holiday contests going on at the same time. With competition running high, choosing the right prize is essential.


Your prize should be of interest and value to your ideal customers. Apple would do well to raffle off an iPad, for example, but a $25 gift card is sufficient from brands with lower-priced products and services. If at all possible, the prize should also either be relevant to the time of year, or framed in a way that it feels relevant. Some brands will offer “Christmas Collections” of special edition items, for example, while others will refer to low-priced items as “stocking stuffers” to boost sales.


Epic Dance Center had a contest where everyone got a small prize and one winner got something extra special. Some brands will offer one big grand prize, knowing something valuable can draw in a lot of attention. Other brands, however, will offer multiple gifts, awarded across a period of a few days or weeks. This keeps engagement up, and can sometimes increase engagement if users think they have more of a shot at winning. With themes like "12 days of Christmas" and "8 days of Hanukkah," multi-day giveaways are easy to incorporate into your contest.


ShortStack's Holiday Giveaway template is designed for multi-day giveaways.

4. Have a Holiday-Themed Landing Page

The success of your contest depends on how you promote it. Sharing information about your contest on your site, through email, and on other social platforms can drive up participation quickly. If you want to collect information like email, phone number, or address (which users wouldn’t share publicly on social media) consider linking from your social bios to a landing page with a form.A landing page is a great place to drive home the holiday theme of the contest, which can appeal to an enormous audience and increase engagement and participation. You can link to the landing page from your Instagram bio and promote it on your website, blog and other social networks.

5. Use Instagram Ads to Boost Visibility

If you want to use your Instagram holiday contest to connect with new followers, Instagram Ads is a great way to boost the visibility—and results—of your contest.


Instagram Ads uses Facebook’s ad system, meaning it comes with their targeting features. You can target users based on interest, buying behavior, and Pages they’re connected with. Local businesses can also target local audiences, which will ensure that they’re connecting with the right audience. You can use Instagram Ads to promote your contest before it starts, but it’s particularly effective to promote your contest once participants can submit entries; this increases the likelihood that users will take action and submit an entry themselves, instead of having to come back later.You still have plenty of time to pull together holiday contests and to get your brand seen by the people you want to see it. Happy Holidays! Ana Gotter is a writer who contributes often to the ShortStack blog, as well as Social Media Examiner and AdEspresso.

About the author

By Ana Gotter ・5 min read

Ana Gotter is a regular contributor to the ShortStack blog. She also writes for sites including Social Media Examiner, Business 2 Community and Adspresso. Find her at Expert Business Writer - Ana Gotter.

Get marketing tips straight to your inbox

Thank you!
Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
We’ll email you 1-3 times per week—and never share your info.