7 Winning Instagram Contest Ideas (And How to Run Your Own)

Instagram contest rules


Learning the Instagram contest rules is not the most exciting part of launching an Instagram contest. But understanding and following the rules is one of the most important things you can do to ensure the success of your contest, and protect your brand.

Here are the dos and don’t of running an Instagram giveaway.


Do follow the law

Sure, this sounds obvious, and most brands don’t intentionally set out to break the law when they run an Instagram sweepstakes. But laws and regulations governing contests and giveaways con be complex—especially on a platform where your contest could be seen by people from all around the world.

Make sure you understand the laws and regulations in your area. If you plan to allow entries from people outside of your area, and especially outside of your country, you’re wading into complicated legal territory and you might want to ask a lawyer to help you draft your Instagram contest rules.

If you work with influencers on an Instagram giveaway (for example, by giving them a sample of your product to offer as a prize), make sure you follow the appropriate disclosure rules.


Do create a clear set of official rules

And make them easy to find.

For example, you could post your Instagram contest rules on your website and include a link in your Instagram profile for the duration of your contest.

You could also post them as the first comment on your post. Either way, be sure to tell people where to find the full rules.

If your contest is only open to people in a specific geographic area, you may wish to include that information right in the post, since it will eliminate a lot of unqualified entries from people who do not bother to read the rest of your rules.

No matter where you post your Instagram contest rules, they must include a statement that releases Instagram from any responsibility for the contest.


Do make it clear that Instagram is not involved in the contest

According to Instagram’s promotion guidelines, you must advise potential entrants that your contest “is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Instagram.”


Do not encourage inaccurate tagging

It’s okay to ask people to tag themselves or a friend in the comments on a post, but you cannot ask them to add inaccurate tags to a photo.

For instance, you cannot ask someone to tag your brand in a photo that does not include your products or services. (Ask them to use a branded hashtag instead.) You also can’t ask them to tag a friend in a photo unless the friend actually appears in that photo. (Again, tagging friends in comments is okay.)


Do not request Instagram support

Instagram is pretty clear on this one: If you choose to use their platform for a contest, you need to figure things out yourself. They specifically say they “will not assist you in the administration of your promotion and cannot advise you on whether consent is required for use of user content or on how to obtain any necessary consent.”

You’re also on the hook if any problems arise: “If you use our service to administer your promotion, you do so at your own risk.”


Instagram contest ideas


Now that you know the rules of how to run and Instagram contest, you need consider what type of contest makes the most sense for your brand, and your goals for this particular Instagram promotion.


1. Like and/or comment to win

This is one of the most common Instagram contest idea. It’s also one of the easiest for people to enter—especially if a Like is all that’s required. It’s easy for you to moderate as well, not requiring you to track hashtags or review incoming entries.

The Italian lingerie brand Cosabella runs a weekly giveaway contest on their Instagram account, usually asking people to like the photo and follow their account, plus comment on something related to the photo.


The ease of entering this kind of contest can actually present a challenge for marketers. If you’re using a contest as a lead-generation strategy, you could bring in a large number of leads, but they may not be very good quality, especially if all you ask for is a Like.

Asking for a comment directly related to the photo, as in the Cosabella example above, will help ensure people learn something about your brand through the contest, and may weed out people who are just hunting for Instagram sweepstakes to enter.


2. Photo caption contest

It’s human nature to want to show off our wit and humor. A photo caption contest allows fans to do just that while also showing their loyalty to your brand.

All you need is an interesting or unusual photo. Post it on your Instagram feed and ask fans to post their caption in the comments.

The Sudbury Wolves OHL hockey team used this strategy to get fans excited about their first game of the season, offering a chance to win two tickets to the opening game for the person who commented with the best caption for this photo.


3. Tag-a-friend

A tag-a-friend contest can be a great way to expose your brand to people who may not have heard of you before, or who may not yet be following you on Instagram. The concept is simple: ask users to tag their friends in the comments of your post for a chance to win a prize.

Each person who is tagged will get a notification and will likely click through and see your post. If they like what they see, you may end up with a new follower.

St. Francis Xavier University asked students to tag three friends for a chance to win a $200 deposit on their school ring. With nearly 350 entrants tagging three friends each, the school’s X-Ring Store account was promoted to at least 1,000 students—an impressive result for a specialized account that has less than 1,000 followers.

4. Trivia or skill-based contest

A trivia contest can be a great way to bring in a lot of brand love, as people respond to questions and show how much they know about your and your products or services. You could also ask trivia questions about a subject related to your brand—for example, a travel company could ask questions about an area where they sell packages, rather than asking questions about the packages themselves.

People who don’t know a lot about your brand already may end up researching the answers and learning about your brand in the process.

Asking fans to show off a skill related to your product or brand is another great option, especially if you offer products or resources that help people learn or develop those same skills. The entries that come in can serve as social proof of how well your products work.

BeatJunkies.TV posts regular challenges on their Instagram account, encouraging followers to show off their DJing skills for a chance to win a month’s membership to their service. Rather than simply picking a winner at random, they choose the person who showed the best skill. When they announce the winner, they always say what about the entry made it stand out.

The videos regularly get thousands of views.


5. User-generated content contest

An Instagram contest is a great way to collect content from fans that you can share across your social channels. Make sure it’s clear in your contest terms that you may share the photos and text that people submit.

You could ask users to show themselves using your product, share a story of how your product or service has improved their life, or simply post photos that are related to your product or service (like photos from their run for an athletics apparel company, or photos from their travels for a travel brand).

The freelancing platform Upwork asked followers to share their freelancing success stories using the hashtag #UpworkSuccess, with a $1,000 visa gift card as the prize.

Contest entries gave Upwork a great source of user-generated content talking about how well their service works and what a positive effect it can have on people’s lives.

That’s better publicity than any house-crafted ad.


6. Instagram Stories contest

Don’t neglect Instagram Stories when thinking about how to run an Instagram contest. You can run a 24-hour contest from your Story using the questions feature to collect entries. Use a good prompt to get users engaged.

You can also run a contest that lasts longer than 24 hours using Instagram Stories ads.

The German car manufacturer Opel used carousel ads in Instagram Stories to encourage users to take a test to learn which model of Opel’s ADAM car best fit their personality.

In just two weeks, they received more than 1,800 entries.

Opel contest on Instagram Stories


7. Scavenger hunt contest

A scavenger hunt can be a fun way to get your Instagram community involved with your brand. You can use your Instagram feed to provide clues that people need to follow to find a prize, or give people a list of photo tasks to complete and post on their own Instagram feed or Instagram Story.

The coding training center DevMountain Dallas took a neat approach to an Instagram scavenger hunt by asking people to screenshot toys hidden in the Google Street View of their campus. They asked people to send their entries in by Instagram DM, but you could also ask people to post directly on Instagram or Instagram Stories.


This was a clever way to get people exploring the DevMountain campus.

How to run an Instagram contest


Set clear goals

Knowing what you want to accomplish with your contest is the first step. Do you want to expose your account to new potential fans? Get more Instagram followers?  Build a library of user-generated content to post later? Or simply learn more about how your customers use your products?

The answer to this question will help determine what kind of Instagram contest to run, and allow you to measure your results.

Like goals for any marketing strategy, your Instagram contest goals should be S.M.A.R.T.: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely.


Plan out the details

Once you have clear and measurable goals, you can create a plan to reach them. Here are some key questions to consider

  • What do you want entrants to do? Once you know the answer to this question, write a simple statement to explain how people can enter. For example, if you want users to share a photo with a specific hashtag, say so.
  • What are the rules and parameters? Make the complete rules of the contest available online. You could link to a contest landing page or a blog about the contest.
  • How long will your contest run? Set a start date and an end date. Make sure these dates are clearly stated.
  • Will you use a campaign hashtag? A hashtag will make it easy to track entries to your Instagram contest. If you plan to use one, include it on every piece of promotional content. Triple check your spelling. And do an Instagram search to make sure the hashtag is not already in use by another brand.
  • How will you notify the winner? Think carefully about whether it makes sense to announce the winner, or simply announce that a winner has been chosen. For example, if your entrants are under 18, you may choose to announce that a winner has been chosen but not the name of the winner. Either way, make it clear how you will notify the winner—for example, by direct message or through a tagged post.


Make it easy for people to enter

Remember that Instagram is primarily a mobile social network. That means people are tapping on mobile screens rather than typing on computer keyboards, so your contest entry process needs to be simple. Minimize the amount of taps and typing required to maximize your number of entries.


Choose an appropriate prize

Your prize should be valuable enough that it motivates people to enter your contest but not so valuable that it encourages entries from people who have no real interest in your brand. A sample product or trial of your service could be a good Instagram giveaway that specifically interests people who might be interested in purchasing form you in the future.

The independent EastSiders TV series offered the chance to be an extra in one of the show’s episodes as a prize for an Instagram contest—and not in just any scene, but the wedding scene much anticipated by the show’s fans.

That prize doesn’t have much monetary value, but it would be of huge value to the show’s dedicated fanbase.


Cross-promote on other channels

Make sure fans know about your contest even if they’re not yet following you on Instagram. Promote your giveaway on your other social channels to reach the broadest possible audience and maximize the number of entries. This is also a great way to make sure people who already follow you on other social channels know about your Instagram account and give them a nudge to follow you there.

When you mention the contest on other channels, be sure to provide a link to make it easy for people to find. This may sound obvious, but it’s surprisingly common for businesses to promote Instagram contests on Twitter without providing a link. Even if your handle is the same, providing a link makes it much more likely people will actually click through and enter your contest.


Reach more potential entrants with Instagram ads

Promoting your contest with Instagram ads ensures you reach the exact target market you’re aiming to reach with your contest.


Measure your results

Decide on your key metrics and how often you’ll track them. For example, you might consider:

  • Number of entrants and comments
  • Engagement levels
  • Follower count
  • Website or landing page traffic
  • Product trials or purchases
  • Positive and negative sentiment

If you’re running an annual contest, don’t forget to look at year-over-year comparisons.

You might also want to analyze the kinds of comments and questions you got. For example, did people understand how to enter? What was the quality of the content your received? Did you learn anything about your potential customers?

This type of information can tell you how to improve your contest for next time.


Use custom audiences to follow up after your contest

You’ll likely see more interaction with your Instagram account than usual during the time you’re running a contest. You can use all those extra interactions to build a custom audience for Instagram ads once your contest is over to make sure you stay visible to people who may have liked or commented on your contest post but not followed your brand account.

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