Eye on the Prize: How to Run a Successful Instagram Contest

July 7, 2016


To capture the interest of fickle consumers who live with the constant blare of social media traffic, you’ve got to be creative, enterprising and make them an offer they can’t refuse. Enter the Instagram contest.

With more than 400 million users worldwide (53 per cent of whom are in the coveted 18-29 demographic), Instagram is the perfect platform to build brand awareness, loyalty and create excitement. Ready to build your first contest? Here are the steps to do so.

Design a Contest that Complements Your Brand

Before you even begin to brainstorm the type of contest you’ll run, it’s critical to outline its purpose and the demographic it targets. It’s helpful to identify specific and measurable goals you wish to achieve. They might include:

  • An increase in the number of followers
  • More user engagement post-contest
  • Specific amount of user-generated content (UGC)
  • An increase in sales

Only when you’ve determined what you want to achieve—and how you’re going to measure results—can you select the right format for your contest.

Popular Types of Instagram Contests

There are a number of options to choose from when it comes to running an Instagram contest. These formats tend to be the most popular:

  • Follow to win: Users must follow your Instagram page to be entered
  • Like to win: To enter, users “like” a photo you’ve posted
  • Comment to win: Users must leave a comment answering a question in order to enter to win
  • Tag to win: Get users to tell their friends about your contest (and, by extension, your brand) by asking them to tag their friends to enter
  • Share a photo to win: Arguably the most popular, this one asks users to post a photo on their personal account based on the theme you’ve identified and using the hashtag you’ve created for the contest (see the Select the Perfect Hashtag section below)
  • Re-post to win: Users must re-post an Instagram image your brand has already shared and use the hashtag you’ve identified for the contest

Pick the Most Suitable Prize

The prize might just be the most important element! It’s a contest, afterall. Not only do you want to choose a prize that will have entrants beaming with enthusiasm, but it should also contribute to the contest’s goal and your overall business objectives.

For instance, Netflix ran a successful Instagram photo contest with simple rules: follow Netflix’s Instagram account, choose three original photos that show off your photography skills and tag the contest). The prize was a two-week trip to Europe and the Middle East to snap photos on Netflix TV and film sets.

As a bonus, the four winners were paid $4,000 to do it. Not only did Netflix gain four brand ambassadors with stellar photography skills, their journey travelling to Netflix film sets will be chronicled all over Instagram.

When selecting a prize for your contest, the key is to ensure it aligns with your business and serves your brand. Then, take the time to showcase the prize on Instagram (followed by great copy) to make it even more covetable for entrants.

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Be Clear in Communicating Rules

Instagram makes it pretty easy for businesses to run contests. They only ask that you make it clear that it’s not sponsored or affiliated with Instagram and that you don’t incorrectly tag content—or ask other users to do that. Even though it’s a wide open field, you should aim for a contest that is simple and elegant with as few stipulations as possible.

When setting the rules, go back to your goals to be sure that you’re in line with what you want to achieve. It’s a no-brainer that entrants should have to follow your Instagram account to enter—but what you ask them to do after that (like to win, re-post, post a photo, etc.) will depend on how you’ll measure the success of the contest. If you’re planning to use the UGC you generate, be sure to insert the right legalese to make it legit. Your rules should also include the beginning and end dates of the contest and a date for announcing the winner.

Select the Perfect Hashtag

There’s something poetic about a great hashtag. And people love them. Your contest hashtag should share the spirit of your contest. Grab a team and set to work brainstorming. There are no bad ideas when coming up with a hashtag; often, the more outrageous the better. Factors to consider when dreaming up the perfect hashtag:

  • The audience you’re targeting
  • The nature of your contest
  • Brevity (It should be three words or less)
  • Ideas, words, pictures that symbolize or embody your brand
  • No punctuation or symbols—letters and numbers only


Promote, Promote, Promote

You’ve done it! Your Instagram contest is live and you eagerly wait for your target market to enter. The fun is just beginning. Now’s the time to get on every other social media platform, your brand’s website, blog and even direct emails to cross-promote your Instagram contest. Ensure there are direct links to the contest everywhere you can get them. You might even consider earned media like old-fashioned press releases to get the message out there, particularly if your contest is specific to your community.

Google and Facebook ads that are geo-targeted are a great, fairly inexpensive way to get more eyeballs on your contest. Other ideas include putting QR codes on printed promotions and posting on contesting websites.

Measure Your Success

It’s critical to track your results in real time using the metrics you set out from the beginning. You’ll know when you’re on track and results may inform how you continue to promote the contest while it’s in progress. You may need to add better keywords to describe your Instagram contest, or update it with better visuals of your prize. You can also monitor its success using Google Alerts and Analytics.



Learn for Your Next Contest

When the contest has run its course, the ecstatic winner has received his or her prize and you’ve celebrated the results far and wide online, it’s time to regroup with a thorough postmortem of the contest.

Compile a list of what went well and what didn’t with an eye on determining the top takeaways from the experience. Take time to fold the UGC you collected into your brand marketing campaign and website and start planning your next Instagram contest!


about the author

Freelance Contributor Heather Hudson is an accomplished freelance writer and journalist based in Toronto. She writes for a number of publishing, corporate and agency clients who depend on her to deliver high-quality, on-brand content and journalism with a fresh perspective. Learn more about her work at heatherhudson.ca.