Jenn Herman
October 23, 2014

How to Run Successful Instagram Contests

instagram contests

This is the tenth post in a 12 month series on the use of Instagram for businesses.

If you’re using Instagram for your business, you definitely want more, targeted fans, you want better interactions and engagement, and you want to reward your followers. Fortunately, Instagram contest are the best way to do this!

And, on top of it all, Instagram contests are so easy to run, so easy to manage, and insanely rewarding!

This is because, Instagram doesn’t have contest rules like Facebook and some other sites. You can run a contest without fear of Instagram locking your account, or structuring how you run your contest.

But, this also means that many people struggle with Instagram contests because they don’t have clear guidelines, leaving the options endless, and the opportunities for mis-steps many.

But, that’s why I’m writing this post – to show you exactly what works in Instagram contests!

Provide and Promote a Relevant Prize

I’ve said it a million times, and I’ll say it here too. Giving away iPads or other generic (albeit popular) prizes does not serve your business well (unless you sell iPads). Don’t use these tactics.

Instead, your prize should be relevant and beneficial to your target customers. It should be something that will attract new – targeted – customers and reward existing customers.

The contest should similarly be related to your business. For example, if you are an ice cream parlor, your contest should have something to do with staying cool in the summer heat. Not something about favorite footwear.

Be Clear It’s a Contest

Don’t let your contest posts get lost in the feed. Make sure people know it’s a contest!

Include text overlays on your image stating that it’s a contest. Put the word CONTEST in capital letters in your post caption. Use emojis or symbols to enhance the word CONTEST and make it stand out even more.

Create a Custom Hashtag

The best way to handle a contest is by using a custom hashtag. You can even have more than one. You can have one that you use on every contest or a unique hashtag for each unique contest.

The hashtag should be related to your company, your product, your service, the contest, the contest theme, and/or the contest prize.

Include the hashtag on all of your promotions for the contest and require entrants to include the hashtag on their entries.

You can track the hashtag in Instagram but I also recommend using Tagboard to monitor and track hashtags for contest entries.

Clearly State the Requirements to Enter

Whatever you determine the terms to enter the contest to be, make sure they are stated clearly on your Instagram post.

Do you want them to follow your account? Do you want them to tag their posts with a certain hashtag? Do you want them to tag or @ mention your account in their post? Do you want them to include a description or certain information in their entry?

Since there are no requirements from Instagram, you’re pretty much free to set your contest terms. Just don’t make it too complicated or you won’t get too many entries.

Clearly State the Deadline and Terms

People need to know how long the contest will run. Is it a daily contest, weekly challenge, or a monthly contest? Be sure to include the day and date of the deadline.

You also need to protect yourself legally with your terms. List the terms of the contest including how the winner will be notified and if there are any exclusions or legal requirements. If your terms are highly complicated and detailed, you can refer people to your website for a full list of terms and conditions.

Promote the Contest Multiple Times

You can’t just post about the contest once and then let it go. You need to stay on top of it and promote it repeatedly.

Promote it on other social media accounts, inviting your fans there to come and participate on Instagram. Post it multiple times to Instagram to reach maximum numbers of people (the longer the contest runs, the more you’ll want to promote it).

Actively Engage with Contest Entrants

Whether it’s liking an entry, commenting on an entrant post, thanking someone for their entry, or resharing an entry post, be active with your community. The more you engage and support the contest participants, the more positive participation you will see.

I don’t just want to leave you hanging with these tips so I want to show two examples of good Instagram contests.

The first one is from PetBox. This company does Instagram really well and they frequently incorporate contests into their strategy.

instagram contest - petbox

You can see they generated a lot of likes! But most importantly, they’ve included the tips listed above.

The photo is relevant to the contest and promotes the hashtag and contest. The contest and the prize are highly targeted to their ideal audience. The caption tells us that this is a contest and this is also a reminder – meaning it’s a repeated promotion of the contest. They clearly state how to enter and how the contest will be determined and awarded.

But it’s also important to show that they keep the post fun and relative to their brand voice. Even though there are terms and conditions listed, it doesn’t sound overly “legal” and their personality still shines through.

Another example is from Shape Magazine.

instagram contest - shape

The photo itself clearly announces the contest and includes relevant details including the hashtag and the prize as well as the sponsor company. The caption tells you what to do and what you could win. Even though the terms and deadlines aren’t included here, they do state to visit their website for full details.

I also like how they are showcasing other entries in the contest promotions and giving the shout out to that customer! This is just one more way to reward your contest entrants without actually handing out a prize.


So, now you’re ready to get out there and run an Instagram contest! Don’t be afraid to mix it up and try different contests, run them for different time intervals, and offer different prizes. Find out what works well for you and your audience to ensure the best success with Instagram contests!

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Jenn Herman is a social media strategist and Instagram advocate who writes a blog focused on understanding trends in social media management. She provides tips, resources, and training for small to medium sized businesses that need to structure their social media strategies for success. Her business background includes Administration, Sales, Human Resources, and Marketing. If you would like to learn more about how to use Instagram, you can download "The Ultimate Beginner's Guide to Instagram" here.