How to Run a Successful Instagram Contest

With over 1 billion active monthly accounts and 90% of them following at least one brand, Instagram has quickly positioned itself as one of the best social media platforms for brands looking to connect with their audience and skyrocket their engagement. 

And while your brand may have already figured out the ins and outs of content, metrics, and KPIs, you may be neglecting one of the best ways to engage your established audience and reach new people – the Instagram contest

What is an Instagram Contest? 

So what does an Instagram contest look like specifically? At its core, it’s all about sparking inspiration or a dialogue of some sort with your followers (and giving away a great prize, too!)

A great Instagram contest utilizes user-generated content and, once started, requires little upkeep to work effectively and get you the results you’re looking for.  

But before we dig into the nitty gritty, let’s look at some key benefits of tapping into Instagram contests as a part of your overall digital marketing and social media strategy. 

Benefits of Using Instagram Contests


As we’ve already mentioned, there’s no lack of people on Instagram. And one of the great things about running Instagram contests is, that no matter the size of your brand’s account, you’re going to drive new eyes to your brand. 

Think about it like this: if you require every person who enters to tag a friend (or two!), and 1000 people enter, that’s up to 2000 people who will potentially be curious and check out or follow your brand. 

User-Generated Content

All Instagram contests run on UGC to some capacity. Whether that’s leaving a comment, submitting a picture, or producing a remix of your own content, this ability to leverage user-generated content can benefit brands who are looking to shake up their content mix. 

Just make sure your incentive is good enough to inspire people to actually join in and participate! 

It’s Where Your Audience Is

Over half of American adults enter at least one contest or sweepstakes each year.

Additionally, over 60% of Instagram users use Instagram to discover new products or services, meaning there’s a lot of untapped potential to turn people onto your brand and convert them into devoted followers. 

At the end of the day, Instagram is where people are at. And with a well-executed Instagram contest, you can meet them right there. 

Now we’re ready to dive into the details of how to brainstorm, plan, and execute a great Instagram contest. 

How to Run a Successful Instagram Contest

To help you and your brand create the best possible outcome for your Instagram contest, we’ve laid out each step you should take – with a few noteworthy examples to help guide and inspire you. 

Plan Ahead & Set Concrete Goals

Just as with any digital marketing or social media initiative, you don’t want to rush into anything blindly. Ask yourself,

  • Why do I want to run an Instagram contest?
  • What do I hope to achieve?

You need to have a concrete purpose behind your idea. Know your WHY.

Are you looking to grow brand awareness? Grow your follower count? Or perhaps you want to capitalize on gaining UGC to supplement your content mix. Knowing this will not only guide your process, but help you evaluate your success once everything is said and done.

Once you understand why you want to run your contest, you’re ready to begin setting goals. Whatever the reason, set realistic and concrete goals to accompany them, like gaining X amount of new followers or hitting X amount of web traffic. 

When you reach the end of this stage, it’s time to go ahead and set up a budget and time frame for your Instagram contest.  

Choose Your Medium

Back in the day, Instagram was exclusively a place to share photos, and that was it. Nowadays, the social media platform has morphed into a place to share all kinds of visual content like pictures, videos, Instagram Stories, or IGTV. 

The kind of content that does the best with your specific audience should be the content you primarily use to advertise your contest.

RELATED: Use Instagram Insights to Understand Your Audience

Choose How Participants Will Enter

How will people enter to win? Will you require them to upload a photo with a specific hashtag, like and comment, click the link in your bio, or a mix of these? 

When deciding on an entry method, think back to your goals. If one of your biggest goals is to drive traffic back to your website, you should make clicking the link in your bio and submitting a form on your website your entry method. 

No matter how you want people to enter, make sure you’re crystal clear on what you expect from them. No one wants to enter a contest with vague requirements only to find out their entry didn’t count! 

Choose Your Prize

You can’t have a successful contest without a great prize! When determining the right prize, think about what your audience would want, and more importantly, what kind of prize embodies your brand. 

A great example would be Copenhagen Grooming, who created an Instagram contest to give away a full-size beard kit with some of their best selling products – an offering that wouldn’t only excite men with beards, but those looking to start one, as well as SOs looking to surprise their partners too. 

Decide on the Voting Process

Once you’ve secured a drool-worthy prize, it’s time to decide how you’ll choose the lucky winner. There are a couple of different ways you can go about this, but two of the most common ways are voting and what’s called a “jury selection”. 

You can elect to have your contest participants vote on the winner themselves through likes, with the submission with the most likes winning. This can be a great way to expand your reach, as many people will ask family and friends to vote on their submission. 

But be forewarned, this method of voting can also attract cheaters who use “like bots” to artificially inflate their like count. 

Perhaps the easiest way to judge your Instagram contest is by a jury selection, which just means that you elect a small team to evaluate submissions and choose a winner. This eliminates any worry or confusion over bot accounts, and ensures an overall fair process.

Whether you decide to use voting, jury selection, or a combination of both, make sure you clearly disclose how your winner(s) will be chosen. 

Set Your Contest Theme

Now we’re moving on to the actual content. One of the first things you want to begin creating is the overall theme of your Instagram contest. 

Use your brand story and mission as inspiration. What are the core values of your brand, and how can you translate them into a contest theme? 

Here’s a good example of a theme in action. Love One Today created an Instagram contest based on the overarching theme of their company – loving avocados. They then invited users to submit their favorite avocado recipes with a branded hashtag. 

By sticking to a theme that clearly evokes your brand, your Instagram contest will feel to your audience like a natural progression of your social media presence, which means you’re more likely to gain participants and submissions. 

Create a Winning Hashtag

Think of a good hashtag as the bridge between your contest and the UGC people are submitting. The only trouble with hashtags is, they can be quite #tricky to generate effectively. 

A good rule of thumb is to keep your hashtags short, memorable, unique, and on-brand. Think of a hashtag almost like a slogan – it should have the impact and memorability of something like “Got Milk?” but also be share-worthy, since people will be asked to use this hashtag to join your contest.’s #FranceFromAWindow provides a simple yet effective example to follow.  

Think you’ve created the perfect hashtag? Before you commit to one, run a quick search to make sure it (or something similar) isn’t already in use. 


Once you hit publish on your Instagram contest, the work isn’t over. To get the maximum return on investment, you’re going to want to promote the heck out of your contest. 

Now’s the time to leverage Instagram Stories, IGTV, and whatever other kinds of content you can to drive people to your contest. What’s more – you should be cross-promoting your contest on your other social media platforms and website. Go wherever your audience already is to maximize the amount of engagement you’ll get. It’s also a great way to alert people that didn’t know you had an Instagram that yes, you do have an Instagram!

How to Follow Up

So you’ve held your contest, picked a deserving winner, and met your goals. Now what? 

Of course, you’ll want to create a new post announcing the winner, inviting them to DM or otherwise contact your brand. Bonus points if you send the winner a personalized follow up email or DM thanking them for entering!

To effectively ride the wave of new engagement and followers you’re likely experiencing, it’s also a good idea to double down on your digital marketing strategy and market your products/services on Instagram. Now’s the time to use those awesome pieces of UGC you received!

Along with your new content marketing strategy, you should prioritize engaging with your followers. Responding to comments, answering questions, and sparking discussions are all great ways to form genuine connections with your audience and ensure the hype generated by your Instagram contest doesn’t fizzle out as soon as it’s over. 

A Few Notes on Legality

You’re probably not looking to break the law by starting an Instagram contest (if so, we have questions). But sometimes it can be tricky knowing exactly what is legally allowed and what isn’t. 

Although we aren’t legal experts, here are a few things to bear in mind when it comes to making sure your Instagram contest is legally sound. 

  • Don’t involve Instagram – like at all. Disclose to contest participants that Instagram is not in any way affiliated with your contest, and don’t ask IG for support either. 
  • Don’t allow inaccurate tagging. Basically what this means is, no tagging your brand in photos that don’t actually show your product or service. 
  • Make your official contest rules clear and easy to find, whether that’s in the post itself or on your website. 

Now that we’ve given you the know-how on how to build and execute a successful Instagram contest, it’s time to put that knowledge into action! Let your creative juices flow, and don’t be afraid to think outside of the box – the more memorable your contest, the better! 

Not only will a well-designed contest bring valuable new engagement and activity to your brand, but you’ll be able to leverage a new swath of user generated content too. 

Interested in naturally expanding outreach in your local area? Learn how to organically grow your brand through authentic reviews and social media posts.

How Businesses are Navigating the COVID-19 Pandemic

Saying these past couple of weeks have been slightly unnerving would be the understatement of the year. From government mandated closures to possible mandatory quarantines, businesses across America are struggling to survive during a time when everything is seemingly...

Instagram Story Takeover 101

The What, Why, and How of It. Recently, we gave you an inside look into the world of Instagram Stories and offered some tips on how to implement stories successfully to grow your business. This week, we’re expanding on a particular area of interest - the Instagram...

Marketing to Generation Z in 2020

A few weeks ago, we posted an article summarizing effective marketing strategies for each generation. This week we’re diving deeper into the fastest growing consumer population in the U.S., Generation Z (also known as Centennials or iGen). In this article, we’ll go...

Your Marketing Guide to Instagram Stories

Social media is a constantly-evolving aspect of digital marketing making it tricky to master. The number of popular social platforms alone poses enough challenges - not to mention the ever-changing landscape of app-specific features and trends. When you put it all...

5 Ways to Build a Better Instagram Ad Campaign

So, you’re killing it on Instagram. You’ve got a beautifully curated feed, you post consistently, and you’ve learned how to leverage user-generated content from local influencers to grow your brand. Now’s the time to take your social media marketing game to a new...

Is a TikTok Marketing Strategy Right for Your Brand?

TikTok, like its predecessor Vine, is emerging as one of the most popular social media platforms among young millennials and Gen-Z. Its newfound popularity has lit a fire in the marketing world to quickly integrate the growing platform into their digital marketing...

How to Run a Successful Instagram Contest

With over 1 billion active monthly accounts and 90% of them following at least one brand, Instagram has quickly positioned itself as one of the best social media platforms for brands looking to connect with their audience and skyrocket their engagement.  And while...

Rebranding Strategies for Your Business

Is Your Business in Need of a Makeover? The average business updates its brand every 7-10 years. A brand isn't just a slogan or logo, it's the foundation of what a business is built on. It involves a mission statement, a set of values, and the overall culture of a...

How to Increase UGC Through Social Media

What is UGC? User-generated content is content produced by people who use a brand's product. UGC is more than social media platforms. It can be blogs, podcasts, review sites, and more. Social media is an effective tool to boost UGC for your business. The ability to...

Generational Marketing for Social Media

What is Generational Marketing? Generational marketing is the process of marketing to specific age groups such as Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millenials, and Centennials. It involves several steps. First, you must analyze your target audience. Instagram Insights...