What are the Best Instagram Contest Ideas to Increase Followers + Get More Customers?

Learn how award-winning Instagram contests can help your business gain more followers and engagement on the platform.

By Jessica Ann ・4 min read
Best Practices
Campaign & Contest Ideas
ShortStack Tips & Tricks
Social Media

Since Instagram contests bring in followers – one industry study showed a +70% increase in followers for accounts using contests – we wanted to share some ideas that any business could try.In this post, we’ll look at award-winning contests, examine why they were successful and identify key elements that drove their appeal.

Award-Winning Instagram Contests

Sawhorse Media, a software and media company, hosts The Shorty Awards to recognize standout social media campaigns. The annual awards include content that has been featured on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Tumblr, Musically, and Snapchat. The organization selects winners based on votes from the public and scores from the Real Time Academy, a group of leaders in technology, journalism, business and culture.Here are some noteworthy contests selected at The Shorty Awards over the past few years.

Anthropologie’s Summer in a Snap Contest

In May 2015, Anthropologie launched the #SummerinaSnap contest, asking users to share photos of their summertime, Anthropologie-fueled adventures. The prize? One of five $500 shopping sprees, with awards given before the end of July. The results? +73% increase in followers.The contest was run again in 2017 with a smaller prize value, but 33 winners were selected.Why was the Anthropologie contest successful?

  • Contests encouraging people to create and share user-generated-content are effective because they foster creativity. And we like to create – just engaging in a creative process relieves stress, improves our mood, and spurs us to engage with the world around us which in turn makes us happier.
  • This contest also tapped into a specific season – summer – but with the broad guideline to share ‘inspired Anthropologie summer moments,’ giving direction to anchor entrants but with latitude to express themselves and show their experiences.
Anthropologie's summer contest

You could do a contest like Anthropologie's and collect leads at the same time using ShortStack's Instagram Photo Upload Contest.

Expedia’s Throwback Thursday Contest

2014 marked the launch of Expedia’s Throwback Thursday contest. The #tbt hashtag fad started in 2006, but Expedia made it unique for their followers by linking it to travel. Entrants sent in a photo of a favorite memory for a chance to travel back to that place and recreate it.

Expedia's Throwback contest

Run a hashtag contest using ShortStack's Hashtag Giveaway TemplateWinners were selected each week of the 10-week campaign. The results? Instagram followers were up +96%.What drove engagement?

  • The #tbt hashtag has been effective because it evokes the positive emotions of nostalgia. Nostalgia makes us feel good. Why? Because looking back at fond memories helps us feel loved and valued, particularly when we’re feeling stressed about life’s current schedules and responsibilities. Happy memories help us reconnect and find renewed optimism. By asking entrants to submit a ‘favorite summer memory,’ Expedia became linked to the happiness of those experiences. And the possibility of reliving that happy moment was compelling.
  • Providing a weekly winner kept entrants engaged, as did the opportunity to see others’ photos and video entries.

Hillside Beach Club’s CIO (Chief Instagram Officer) Contest

This user-generated-content event launched in 2015, with a relatively unknown beachside hotel in Turkey striving for global awareness. After posting a ‘job description’ on LinkedIn, seeking a Chief Instagram Officer, Hillside directed ‘applicants’ to an Instagram account and asked them to share creative summer photos. Entries were judged by Hillside using 10 criteria.

The job? Spending a week at the resort and managing the hotel’s Instagram account. Six winners were selected. The results? Followers increased +64% and Hillside became one of the largest hotel accounts on Instagram.How did Hillside Beach Resort break through?

  • In addition to encouraging creativity, the Hillside Beach Resort contest also engaged participation with the offer of ‘job’ with autonomy. Not only did winners get a week’s vacation at a luxury resort, but they were were also given the responsibility (and freedom) to showcase the resort on Instagram. Hillside understood that when people are able to their own decisions, they have greater engagement in the challenge and more satisfaction with the outcome.

Applebee’s Fantographer Contest

In this example, Applebee’s rewarded entrants for an already popular behavior – taking photos of food – with a chance to win a gift card and have their photo of an Applebee’s meal published on the restaurant’s Instagram account. They committed to 365 days of fan photo postings. The results? Followers increased +32% between launch in July and September 2014, with annual follower count up exponentially.

Applebee's Fantographer campaign

If you're in a food-related industry, try hosting your own UGC contest using our Recipe Contest Template.Why did Applebee’s succeed, with a relatively small prize value?

  • The creative opportunity that user-generated-content provides remains a theme throughout the successful Instagram contests. But Applebee’s also linked their contest to another important human need – our desire to be recognized. Posting entrants’ photos for the Instagram world to view provided entrants with validation that their photo was valued. Recognition links with our self-esteem and entrants responded for the opportunity to be acknowledged.

Recent Instagram Contests

These recent Instagram contests, from large brands and newcomers, also boosted engagement. Here are some additional ideas to think about as you plan your Instagram promotion.

boohoo Clothing Acknowledges Followers

In this contest, boohoo notes they’ve reached a targeted follower count (3 million) and as a thank you, offered entrants the chance to win a tropical vacation. Although follower count increase isn’t yet available, the contest drew more than 30,000 entries.

boohoo Clothing Acknowledges Followers

Bluenotes’ Jeans Ties in with International ‘Holiday’

We have thousands of days devoted to acknowledging various products, behaviors, and events.Bluenotes’ Jeans celebrated National Sweatpants Day (yes this is real, it was January 21st) with a contest. Follower gains haven’t been tabulated, but the account, with 21,000 followers, had 14% engagement with the two-day event.

Bluenotes’ Jeans celebrated National Sweatpants Day

Like a Mountain Girl partners to Build Followers

Like a Mountain Girl, an online retailer of mountain-inspired apparel and jewelry, partnered with a regional artist, Werrell Woodworks, and an online community love_the_room. Although the contest had multiple sponsors, entry was straightforward. Engagement for Like a Mountain Girl was up +5% -- for the partners, who had a smaller Instagram presence, participation gains were more significant.

Like a Mountain Girl partners to Build Followers

Increasing followers with your Instagram contest is less about the prize value and more about the experience you provide. Evoking a memory, encouraging creativity, offering acknowledgment, expressing gratitude, or simply delivering fun can all attract new followers.

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About the author

By Jessica Ann ・4 min read

Jessica Ann is the Founder and Creative Director of Jessica Ann Media, a content marketing agency that humanizes business for Fortune 500 companies and top-tier brands. She's a digital native with a writing background, specializing in creating content at the intersection of marketing, business, and technology for the media. She has pioneered new content initiatives at top brands like Sirius XM Radio, Adobe, and Getty Images. Her book, Humanize Your Brand, is available on Amazonand Audible. You can reach Jessica Ann on Jessica Ann Media (JAM) Supporting B2B and Blockchain Companies.

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