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Social Media Marketing for Business

Jenn Herman


May 31, 2016

Everything You Need to Run a Successful Instagram Contest

Instagram contests are a secret weapon that many businesses neglect to use. You may be unsure of how to run a contest, concerned about the rules (we’re all a little scarred from Facebook contest rules), or just unaware of their power to help your business.

That’s why this post has everything you need to understand why Instagram contests are a good idea, what rules are associated with a contest, and the exact steps you should implement to set up a successful contest every time.

instagram contest

Why Instagram Contests Are Beneficial

I love Instagram contests for a lot of reasons. First and foremost, they instantly boost your engagement. You will get more likes and comments immediately (depending on your entry criteria). And, with the Instagram algorithm now rolling out, engagement is more important than ever. If you have a way to improve that engagement and increase your ranking in your audience’s feeds, wouldn’t you want to take full advantage?

Beyond this initial boost in engagement, contests also help you grow your audience. But more importantly, when executed properly, a good contest will help you grow a strong, targeted audience full of potential new customers. The key here is to ensure that your contest is centered around your brand and your products or services. For example, you don’t want to give away an Amazon gift card as a prize if you have a physical store where you can’t use an Amazon gift card. Not to mention that a popular, generic prize is going to attract the masses, not your ideal audience.

Instead, your prize should be something related to your business that your ideal customer would be happy to receive. You may not get as many participants in the contest, but those who enter are more likely to stay in your audience and be converted to paying customers.

You can also use contests on Instagram to encourage your audience to create user generated content (UGC). These are images (and/or videos) that you can repurpose by sharing to your account. This rewards your customers with public exposure and a shout out they’re likely excited to receive. And, you get a bunch of content that you can build into your content strategy. That’s a win-win. As a side note, you always want to ask permission to repost someone’s content in order to avoid any copyright infringement issues.

instagram contest, dunkin donuts

Finally, Instagram contests can also help you drive traffic to your website. And, in the long run, isn’t this what all of us want?

Depending on your contest requirements (you could require they fill out a form on your website), or your notification process (you could announce winners on your website), you have the option to drive traffic to your site. Even after the contest is over, if you’ve done a good job getting new followers, the posts you share following the contest period can encourage Instagram followers to visit your website.

Rules for Hosting Contests on Instagram

In general, running an Instagram contest is relatively unrestricted.

You can run a contest to get your audience to like your photo, leave comments on your post, “tag” friends in the comments, follow your account, or post content using a specific hashtag. You can be creative with your entry requirements as Instagram really doesn’t restrict these conditions.

There are, however, a few rules and restrictions you need to adhere to. Instagram requires that you MUST include all of these conditions in your contest posts:

  1. The official contest rules.
  2. Offer terms and eligibility requirements (for example: age or residency restrictions).
  3. Compliance with applicable rules and regulations governing the promotion and the prizes.
  4. A statement releasing Instagram from any affiliation with the campaign. Use this verbiage: “Per Instagram rules, this promotion is in no way sponsored, administered, or associated with Instagram, Inc. By entering, entrants confirm that they are 13+ years of age, release Instagram of responsibility, and agree to Instagram’s terms of use.

instagram contest

Instagram also prohibits users from inaccurately tagging themselves or others in a post. Therefore, you cannot ask people to tag themselves in your post or another unless they are actually in the photo. You can, however, ask them to “tag” (or @ mention) their friends in the comments of the post.

To protect yourself legally, you should also consider adding a statement like “Void where prohibited by law” and/or “No purchase necessary”.

The 11 Steps to Setting Up Your Instagram Contest

It sounds like a lot, but these eleven steps are all very important to achieving successful results from contests on Instagram. Once you’ve done this a few times, you’ll see how well these steps work together and the process will flow smoothly.

  1. Define the end state. Do you want likes and comments on your posts? Are you looking to attract new followers? Do you want to increase opt-ins (webinar, email list, etc.)? Or are you asking your audience to create user generated content?
  2. Choose a prize. As discussed earlier, this should be something related to your business. It should be something your audience actually wants and that they would find value in. The value of the prize should match the level of participation requirement. For example, if you want likes on your post, a low cost prize is ideal. If you’re asking your audience to share photos with your hashtag, this is time consuming and highly active on their part, so the prize should be of high value and worth their effort.
  3. Define the entry requirements. How many steps will you require for participants to enter? Choose from options such as: like the post, follow your account, @ mention (tag) a specific number of people in the comments (usually no more than 3 people but this is a really good way to grow your audience organically!), post a photo with your hashtag, or complete a form on your website. Remember that the easier the steps and requirements, the better! You can also include multiple criteria where you ask them to like the post, follow your account, and tag 2 people in the comments. You want to ensure you limit the steps to no more than 3 or 4 though.
  4. Define the rules and conditions. Take into account the restrictions and rules mentioned above. Then determine if there are any restrictions you will impose for your business reasons: age restrictions, geographical restrictions, number of entries, etc.
  5. Define the time frame for the contest. How long will your contest run (days, weeks, etc.)? Then determine the start date and end date for the contest.
  6. Determine the promotional schedule. This will depend on how long your contest will run but you need to decide how many times per day/week you will promote the contest with posts on Instagram. If it’s a one day contest, one or two times that day is sufficient. If it lasts a few days, once a day would be good.
  7. Choose a hashtag for your campaign. Each contest should have its own unique hashtag so that you can accurately track traffic around that campaign. The hashtag should be related to your contest, the topic, your business, and/or your industry. The hashtag can also be longer than usual since you’re using it in a limited capacity. And, you want to make sure that no one else is already using that hashtag!
  8. Design your image(s). It is Instagram after all, and you want a powerful image that will draw in more contest participants. The image should announce that it’s a contest or giveaway. The image should include the hashtag. And, the image should be related to the theme of the contest and your brand.
  9. Decide on the winning criteria. How will the contest be judged (best image, most creativity, favorite photo)? Will the winner be randomly generated, and if so, what method will you use? How will you notify the winners? As a side note, I always recommend you notify the winners privately first (via direct message or email if you have it) before publicly announcing the winners on your account.
  10. Write your post caption. Yes, your photo should announce that it is a contest, but your post caption has to take everything into consideration. The first line (even the first words) of the caption should define that this is a contest. You need to include all of the entry requirements, rules, disclaimers, prize notification details, etc. as outline above. You want to keep it fun, and personal too! I recommend you write this up in a note app on your mobile device so that you can copy and paste it into each post you use to promote the contest.
  11. Define the analysis details. Now that you have everything ready for the contest itself, how will you determine if it was a success? What tools and tactics will you use to monitor engagement, reactions, and participation? It’s also a good idea to keep a spreadsheet or data record of each contest so that you can compare one contest to all of the others you run. This will allow you to measure performance across all of your campaigns.

instagram contest

Now that you have all of these tips and strategies in place, you are all set for your next Instagram contest!

But if you really want to maximize the results from your contest, plan out your posts immediately following your contest as well. If you’re successfully drawing in new followers to your account, you want to ensure that the posts immediately following the contest period are of top quality and planned for best possible conversion. Provide high quality images, be responsive to the comments and your community, and think about ways to use calls-to-action to drive traffic to your website, email list, opt-in, or sales pages.

Jenn Herman


Since starting Jenn’s Trends in 2013, Jenn has become a globally recognized expert in Instagram marketing. Her blog, Jenn's Trends has been awarded a Top 10 Social Media Blog three years in a row: 2014, 2015, and 2016.