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How to run an Instagram contest: A 10 step guide

How to run an Instagram contest: A 10 step guide

With more than 1 billion monthly active users, Instagram has established itself as an obvious platform for brands looking to expand their reach and connect with their audience.

How to start a successful Instagram contest, however, is much less obvious. Sure, it sounds like an effective strategy to spark conversation - it leverages user-generated content (UGC) and usually requires very little commitment from participants. But where do you start? And how can you be sure you're covering all the bases?

The 10-step guide:

To give you some guidance, we've put together a detailed list of steps to go through when planning an engaging Instagram contest. From setting goals to monitoring submissions, we've covered all the bases below - and included some inspiring examples along the way. Check it out ...

Disclaimer: This blog post contains some information on legal issues related to internet marketing, but legal information is not the same as legal advice - the application of the law to a particular issue. We have done research to ensure that our information is accurate and useful, but we insist that you speak with an attorney if you want professional assurance that our information and your interpretation of it is accurate. In short, you should not rely on this information as legal advice or as a recommendation or endorsement of any particular understanding of the law, and you should instead view the information in this post for entertainment purposes only.

1. plan goals and objectives.

Before you jump into an Instagram marketing contest, it's important to plan it out first. The key to running a successful contest is to have a purpose - one that aligns with the interests and behaviors of your target audience.

Whether you're looking to grow your brand presence on Instagram or build a list of followers, it's important to set a specific goal so you're not left in doubt about whether or not you've been successful in the end.

To narrow your focus, think about the audience you want to reach: What types of posts do they like to see on your account? What types of posts do they like to see in their own feeds? How do they engage on the platform? If you want to drive a lot of engagement, focus your goals and purposes on content that your audience actually wants to post and engage with.

Don't forget to set a timeline and budget for your contest, as establishing these logistical details in advance will help you create a more effective contest.

Create an input method.

Although the most effective and engaging Instagram contests are the ones that actually ask your audience to post their own photos, there are a number of different ways brands can create contests on Instagram. For this reason, it's important to determine and highlight what your audience needs to actually enter the contest.

Here are some ideas on how your audience could participate in your contest:

  • Have your audience post a photo or video on Instagram with a specific hashtag and topic.
  • Have your audience follow you exclusively or do this in addition to creating a post.
  • Have your audience tag your brand in their post.
  • Have your audience like or comment on one of your posts.

(For more ideas, click here).

Make sure you set the guidelines for entering the contest and make that clear on your promotional materials. Maybe your contest is about a hashtag that doesn't include your brand name. If you still want your brand to be hashtagged to gain recognition, you need to make that clear in your rules.


3. find the perfect hashtag.

A good hashtag is key to any engaging Instagram contest. Without it, there is no connection between the contest and the content generated. In other words, hashtags help create brand and/or contest recognition by serving as a mechanism to share and encourage participation.

The problem is that creating the perfect hashtag can be difficult. If your contest is going to have a time frame (and it should), you want to create a hashtag that you don't want to use over and over again. Not to mention, there are tons of hashtags created every day, making it difficult to land on something unique and catchy.

To help you find the best solution, consider these guidelines for contest hashtags:

  • Briefly: Create a hashtag that sticks in people's minds. The more readable and identifiable your hashtag is, the better it is for your contest.
  • Relevant: Make sure you create a hashtag that is very clearly related to your brand name, product or service. If you opt for a generic, cluttered hashtag like #ThrowbackThursday, it's likely to be difficult to figure out who your subscribers actually are.
  • Unforgettable: Users will likely see promotions for your contest before they actually post the content. This means that your hashtag needs to be catchy enough for users to think about it once and remember to take action sometime later. Try to make your hashtag catchy, easy to search, and easy to write. Avoid weird spellings and confusing word choices.
  • Universal: Think about your audience. Does everyone speak the same language or use similar words? If you have an international audience, make sure you don't use slang words or region-specific terms that might confuse people.
  • Rare: Do a search before you choose a hashtag. Are there many users using your ideal hashtag for other purposes? If so, you might want to go back to the drawing board.

An example of an effective, engaging hashtag:, an online personal budgeting and financial management company, hosted the #MyMintMoment contest.

MintMoments Instagram Hashtag

The contest was well designed for a number of reasons, one of which is its hashtag. The hashtag - #MyMintMoment - is simple, short, memorable and easy to understand. It stayed on brand and had a clear theme.

The goal of the contest was to get users to post about the things they save for. Participants posted pictures of tattoos, vacations, weddings, kids, cars - you name it.

How to run an Instagram contest: A 10 Step Guide 1
This is a great example of an effective hashtag, but it's also a great example of how UGC can be used to guide marketing decisions. Think about it: Mint asked participants to post about things they save for. That sounds like an easy way to gain insight into the unique motivations and interests that drive usage of their service, right?

4. clearly define a topic.

Since most Instagram contests are UGC-based, it's important to choose a theme so your users know what types of images and videos to post.

Ideally, you want to choose a theme that aligns with your market, product, or services. But you can also use holidays, seasons, and events that fit your product or brand.

Decide how the winners will be selected.

Part of a well-designed contest is informing your entrants how the winner will be chosen. Most contests are determined in one of two ways: by a vote or by a panel of judges. Let's explore how both options work ...


A great way to increase the virality of your contest is to have participants compete for the most likes. If the prize is valuable enough, your participants are likely to share their posts with their friends through various channels to get as many likes as possible.

This strategy helps maximize the reach of your audience. At the same time, it can be detrimental to your competition, as problems can arise with people using "like bots" to get artificial likes. To avoid complications here, you should establish very specific rules that govern the use of this type of bypass.


For the sake of quality and overall fairness, the jury method is the clear winner. With the jury method, you select a group of experts to decide the winner instead of relying on a voting system.

There are pros and cons to voting or judging, but whatever you decide, make sure you clearly outline your method so your users know what they're competing for. Many brands opt for a mixed method and use a combination of voting and judging to determine the winner.

6. choose a suitable price

When determining how to price your competition, you need to consider your target audience, your budget constraints, and the aggressiveness of your goals.

Remember that when you ask your audience to enter the contest, you are asking them to take action. As with any effort like this, the value of the prize must outweigh the cost and energy required to enter the contest. While people will probably gladly accept the opportunity to win a free t-shirt, they're probably more willing to jump through a few hoops for something like a free trip.

Your prize should match the participation promotion, but it should also match the interests of your target audience. Ask yourself: What would my target audience like to have? The list of your answers to that - budget not considered - could be huge. Sure, everyone wants that free trip we mentioned earlier, but that's not the point. The goal is to find a prize that is both valuable and relevant to your brand.

Gift cards, freebies, coupons, giveaways, and product bags are all common prizes that brands use for contests, but we're always in favor of getting creative as well.

Example of the prize of a creative contest:

One of our favorite examples of contest prizes was Sperry's Photo Real Design Contest. Sperry encouraged users to post "epic photos" that depicted an "odyssey".

Participants then submitted photos of all sorts of things - nature shots, colorful art, real people, etc. - to be judged on creativity and the number of likes they received.How to run an Instagram contest: A 10 Step Guide 2

The winner who was selected received a unique pair of Sperry shoes with their photo. So much for the creative award, right? Not to mention it's a great example of how brands can use competitions to inspire real product ideas.

7. create terms and conditions.

Remember that if you are running a contest with a prize, you must follow the legal guidelines. Which laws apply to you depends on where you are located and who you allow to enter your contest. Therefore, contact your attorney for assistance in drafting your conditions of participation. Creating an eligibility page is a must.

Here are some commonly used terms:

  • The name and contact details of the advertising brand
  • The data of the competition
  • The rules on who can enter (such as age and employee restrictions).
  • The guidelines for the entry of persons
  • The guidelines for selecting a winner
  • Date and manner of announcement of winners
  • Date and manner in which the winner will be informed
  • The time limit the winner has to respond and claim their prize
  • The specificity of the prize (including number of prizes,
  • description of the prices and any reservations)
  • The details of the award ceremony
  • Acknowledge that the Promotion is not sponsored, endorsed, administered by, or affiliated with Instagram or any other social media used during the Contest.

Note: Take a look at the Instagram's promotion guidelines and make sure you follow their rules.

8. advertise like crazy.

Now that you have a solid plan in place, it's time to promote your competition.

Where is the best place to start publicizing? The possibilities are seemingly endless, but here are a few ideas to inspire you in your promotional efforts:

  • Your blog. Write a post on your website detailing the contest and use it as a starting point for your contest landing page.
  • Social Media. What better place to launch a contest on social media than on social media? Point your existing followers to the contest by including a shortened link in your bio and referencing that link in your promotional posts.
  • Email. Extend the invitation to join to your email subscribers by sending a quick and friendly email announcing the offer.

9. monitor submissions.

Monitoring both your promotional efforts and participation during your contest is essential to achieving your goals and creating a plan to follow up on your contest.

Make sure you determine what metrics you want to use and how you will keep track of them. Here are some metrics you should use:

  • Number of submissions - Total number of entries submitted in accordance with your eligibility requirements.
  • Likes per submission - Helps you keep track of potential winners when your contest is decided by voting.
  • number of participants - If users can submit more than one entry, how many individual entrants have contributed to your contest?
  • Top participants - Who shared the most content during your campaign? When you keep track, you can better connect with your biggest fans.
  • Total Likes - Measures the total number of likes of all submissions in your contest.
  • Total range - Captures the number of followers of your subscribers at the time of submission. Should show you the potential reach of your campaign.
  • Follower growth during the contest - Measures how much your followers have increased during the contest period.

If your current audience is relatively small and you don't expect more than 30 submissions to your contest, you can choose to monitor your contest manually. To do this, assign someone the task of tracking submissions each day. At the end of the contest, someone needs to go through each submission and measure and write down the results of each submission.

If you monitor your competition manually, try using a tool like Tagboard or Google Alerts to track when your hashtag is mentioned online to help you keep track of submissions.

However, if you're expecting well over 30 submissions, you can imagine how difficult it might be to monitor your submissions. If that's the case, you should use an Instagram-specific tool like Iconosquare use.

10. follow up accordingly.

When the contest is over, don't forget to follow the rules you originally set. Remember your terms and conditions when reviewing submissions to ensure you are 100 % fair in your judging.

This is another reason why setting your terms and conditions early is so important, as it gives you a documented plan for selecting, contacting and awarding the winner.

Once you have selected and notified the winner, don't forget to make the announcement public. 

Instagram Contest Ideas

Now that you know how to run a contest, you need to think of ways to make your contest interesting, compelling, and appropriate for your brands. Here are some of the best contest ideas for Instagram:

1. caption contest

The perfect caption can make or break an Instagram post. So why not encourage creativity in your audience and get a few laughs in the process?

The caption contest is a great choice for Instagram because it allows your audience to stop and think about the contest (and indeed, your brand) while providing a low-friction way to enter.

2. user generated content

User-generated content - or content produced by unpaid contributors - is a win-win for a brand. You can participate and potentially win prizes; you can enjoy greater reach by engaging your audience's audience (say, tenfold). Not to mention, your brand benefits from the social proof of the de facto testimonials of their participation.

And to get even more reach from the contest, you can ask entrants for permission to share their content on your channels, giving you more content to promote.

3. trivia contest

With a trivia contest, you challenge your audience to demonstrate what they know. This encourages engagement in your posts and creates awareness of your brand and/or the topic you're shining the spotlight on. All you need to do is ask a question and reward those who get the right answer. This reward can be in the form of a prize or as an entry to win a prize.

4. engage to win

These types of contests are perhaps one of the most popular on Instagram because they solicit direct participation as a way to enter. This can be in the form of liking, following, sharing, or tagging people. When you do this, you get a lot of engagement as a result of the incentive, and this can increase your brand reach.

5. 1 Like = 1 Vote

This contest usually relies on user-generated content, but goes a step further. The content is promoted and the audience is asked to vote (with a "like") on the best entry, whether it's a song, drawing, selfie, or other demonstration of talent and personality. Because of this, your "contestants" get another incentive to promote your contest to their audience.

6. raffle or game

A raffle is just as possible online as it is in person. You can instruct your audience to participate in any way they choose, pick a random number, or receive a raffle ticket. At the end, use a random number generator to choose the winner. You can also run games like "Guess how many marbles are in the jar" or "How many differences can you find in these two pictures" as a win/win for participants.

7. offline challenge

Just because you're spreading the word of your contest through Instagram doesn't mean it has to be Instagram-based or held on Instagram. You can encourage your audience to do something outdoors, participate in a fitness contest, or do some other activity.

Ready to run a contest on Instagram?

Now that you know everything it takes to run a successful, engaging Instagram contest, you can put your knowledge to work for your brand.

In the end, you'll not only engage and grow your audience, but also get great new content that you can use as inspiration for future content and contests.

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