9 Instagram Contest Rules You Should Never Ignore

Learn how to effectively use contests to boost your Instagram account and increase brand awareness and engagement.

By Will Blunt ・5 min read
Best Practices
Campaign & Contest Ideas
Social Media

Are you eager to give your Instagram account a boost?A simple contest could be a super-effective tool for increasing your brand awareness and engagement on Instagram. According to a study from Tailwind that analyzed over 60,000 Instagram posts, accounts that hold contests grow their follower base 70 percent more quickly than those that strictly opt for standard posts.

Accounts that hold contests grow their follower base 70 percent more quickly than those that strictly opt for standard posts.

It's easy to see why: the barrier for entry is low and users love the combination of minimal effort and big prizes.Contests may be an effective social media marketing tactic, but they aren't as straightforward as they appear. While it may seem tempting to post a last-minute contest with whatever prize and rules you think will draw followers, you could spark big trouble from both the social media platform and the government if you mess up. After all, despite their virtual nature, Instagram contests are governed by the same rules that apply to all corporate sweepstakes. Additionally, Instagram maintains its own set of rules.The good news? Instagram's contest rules are easy to follow, especially when compared to other social media platforms.Still, it's worth your while to take a close look not only at Instagram's rules but also at federal and state requirements. No matter the nature of your contest, make sure you pay attention to these key rules:

1. Instagram's Lack of Endorsement

All giveaways must explicitly mention that Instagram is no way involved in developing the contest's rules. This requirement is surprisingly easy to fulfill; simply include a disclaimer stating something like, "This contest is not endorsed by Instagram."

Instagrams lack of Endorsement for Instagram Contest Rules You Should Never Ignore

A statement from Instagram's Promotion Guidelines regarding endorsement.

2. Terms of Use and Release of Responsibility

Your contest should acknowledge that not only does Instagram not endorse the promotion, but the platform is also not responsible for anything that may happen to followers who participate in a particular contest. This is a key reason why your contest terms should be written as a legal contract between your business and any contest participants so that you are protected from litigation. Likewise, contest-based posts must require participants to acknowledge that they abide by Instagram's terms.

3. Inaccurately Tagged Content

Many brands attempt to increase contest visibility and engagement by mandating that followers tag posts or images - even if followers aren't featured in the highlighted photos. This tactic is in direct violation of Instagram's rules, which prohibit inaccurate tagging.Instead of encouraging followers to incorrectly tag themselves, request that they use branded hashtags.

4. Correct Hashtags

Typically, contest participants denote their involvement through the use of a specifically designed hashtag. In the FAQ included in its Endorsement Guidelines, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) strongly recommends that all promotions clearly designate their status in hashtags by including either the term 'contest' or 'sweepstakes.' According to the FTC, even a hashtag that includes 'sweeps' is not specific enough, as people might not automatically recognize that the term refers to a contest.Here is an example from Nikon where they have created the unique hashtag #nikonphotocontest for their contest:

Correct Hashtags for Instagram Contest Rules You Should Never Ignore

An Instagram post highlighing the correct use of contest hashtags.

5. Reporting Prizes to the IRS

Depending on the value ofthe prize, it may be necessary to take extra action with the IRS (if of course, your contest is hosted in the USA).Prizes valued at over $600 reach the minimum threshold required for IRS Form W-9, which winners must be willing to complete. Additionally, those who win prizes valued at over $600 must be willing to provide their Social Security Number. Contest participants should be informed of the potential for reporting to the IRS in advance. They should also be alerted to the deadline for completing necessary documentation.

6. Identifying Sponsoring Brands

Brand sponsorship or influencer promotion can dramatically increase contest visibility, while also reducing overhead costs for the promotion. However, when sponsors get involved, additional rules and protocol come into play. Sponsors and influencers should always be tagged and clearly identified in all contest-related posts.

Identifying Sponsoring Brands for Instagram Contest Rules You Should Never Ignore

An Instagram post using a hashtag to show that it has been sponsored.

7. Local Rules

Contest rules vary considerably not only from one nation to the next but also between states. A contest that is perfectly acceptable in, say, Virginia, may look radically different than what abides by legislation in New York.Examples of state-based stipulations include the following:Bonded and Registered PrizesSome states require registration of all prizes over a certain monetary value (typically $5,000, although Rhode Island sets a limit of just $500). In Florida, prize registration must occur at least one week before the contest begins; in California, registration is required a full month in advance.Physical Location RequirementsIn Virginia, contest eligibility cannot be determined based on whether users have visited a brand's physical location. In other words, in-store contests (in which followers visit a physical location, take a picture, and tag it) are out of the question in Virginia.Purchase RequirementsSome states prohibit purchase requirements as part of social media sweepstakes. In Vermont, for example, purchase requirements are banned, even if winner selection depends on demonstrating a specific skill.Many states have been known to crack down on businesses that incorrectly implement Instagram contests. When in doubt, check with your state to ensure you follow all local rules.

8. Separate Websites for Displaying Contest Rules

Technically, website-based lists of contest rules are not required - but they are advisable, as they can increase your likelihood of following through with required notifications and clarifications.Rule-intensive giveaways can quickly become cluttered with text, so many Instagram contests instead link to outside websites that outline rules in a more user-friendly manner. This approach is perfectly acceptable and, in many cases, may prove preferable. Below is an ebatesshopping contest that shows how this could be done from an Instagram post:

Separate Websites for Displaying Contest Rules for Instagram Contest Rules You Should Never Ignore

An Instagram post providing a link to full contest Terms and Conditions.As another example, Birchbox frequently hosts Instagram sweepstakes, with each contest post linking to the website's official rules page.

birchbox for Instagram Contest Rules You Should Never Ignore

An example of contest Terms on a website.

9. No Support From Instagram

Instagram makes it abundantly clear: the platform will not come to your assistance if you struggle with administering your contest. Furthermore, the platform's rules state that Instagram "cannot advise you on whether consent is required for use of user content or on how to obtain any necessary consent."Basically, they wipe their hands clean of any obligation or support to the outcomes (both positive and negative) of your contests. So you need to be legally in-the-know before running a contest on Instagram.


With so many brands breaking even the most basic contest rules on Instagram, it stands to reason - Why put so much effort into compliance?Trust us; it's important to play ball, even if it feels like a hassle. The risks of breaking the rules could be far more significant than you suspect; not only could you face penalization (or even page suspension) from Instagram, you may run into trouble with the FTC or the IRS.A little due diligence is more than worth your while.

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About the author

By Will Blunt ・5 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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