How To Host an Awesome Instagram Contest


Written by Sarah York

This article is the third in a series about marketing on Instagram.

Do you want to boost your Instagram marketing effort? Attract more fans and engage existing followers? Host an Instagram contest! 70% of Instagram users have already participated in a contest on Instagram or would be willing to do so (according to the Iconosquare 2015 Instagram study). Instagrammers enjoy engaging with brands and appreciate companies who value customer interaction. It’s easy to overlook an Instagram contest, but it has proven valuable for small business marketing.

Why host an Instagram contest?

Hosting a contest can increase your followers, likes, and overall engagement. A creative, thoughtful giveaway will reach your target audience and increase your Instagram stats. One contest can create the same interest and engagement as months of your regularly scheduled content. It can also get your customers creating interesting and relevant content for you.

The benefits of a well-executed contest will extend beyond the length of the contest, so it’s important to create a clear plan.

Step 1: Create and plan

Choose the target market, prize, type of contest, and theme.

Target Market: Get a clear idea of who will be interested in your contest, and who you want to participate. Once you have the ideal contest participant in your head, research what they post on Instagram and which hashtags they use to guide you. Targeting the right audience is vital to your contest success.

Prize: Give away an awesome prize. Choose something your followers are going to get really excited about. To keep the focus on your business, make sure the prize is related to you. If you’re a company with one product/service, give that away. If you have a lot of products/services, give a gift card or a dollar value to spend at your business. Webware clients can give away coupon codes and Loyalty Reward Points. This ensures your contest entrants are genuinely interested in your brand. Other options include tickets to trade shows and industry-related events. Decide how the winner will be selected (public/private vote, random selection, your favourite, etc). To continue reaping rewards after the contest is finished, you want to attract those who have potential to be interested in your brand (not someone who is only interested in winning an iPad). 

Contest Rules & Structure: Think about how the rules of your contest can help with your marketing strategy.  Here are some ideas we recommend.

1. Select an interesting theme related to your business or industry. Get creative with your theme and encourage your followers to have fun. 

2. Choose a brand or contest-relevant hashtag that participants must use to enter their posts. This is the best way to have all submissions organized in one place for reposting entries, selecting winners and for people to view all submissions.

3. Content that your customer creates for you has high value. If you want to take advantage of this precious resource, make user-generated content a mandatory qualifier for your contest. 

You can host a contest based on likes and/or follows, which means that users who “like” your photo or “follow” you are automatically entered into the contest. This is an easy way to host a contest and doesn’t require much planning. Because it’s simple to enter, it will get you likes and followers. The drawbacks to like/follow contests are that they will attract people who aren’t members of your target audience, and that contestants aren’t creating any content for you to use. This type of contest may not create future engagement on your Instagram feed or in your community. 

Other types of contests include reposting or comment-based entry. Entrants must repost your contest photo or comment on one of your posts to qualify for your giveaway. These entry methods have more interaction than like/follow contests but don’t come with the valuable user-created content of a photo contest. You can also use a combination of requirements for entry into your contest. For example, contest entrants must like a photo, follow your brand AND comment on the contest post. However, one of the most common reasons why contests fail is that there are too many requirements for entry. Find a sweet spot between too easy and too difficult to ensure maximum, quality entries. 

Helpful Tip - No matter what kind of contest you host, always require a “follow” for entry. This is a simple yet effective way to increase your potential future engagement. 

Step 2: Prep fans 

Once you've decided on the type of contest, a fun theme and a cool prize, let your customers and followers know about the upcoming opportunity. In the weeks leading up to your contest, give your fans the heads up that soon they can participate to win an amazing prize. Before launch, advertise the contest regularly on social media, email campaigns, your website, and in-store. Use your Instagram bio space to promote the contest while it’s happening. To create some buzz, encourage your fans to spread the word or offer an added incentive to anyone who shares your contest post.  

Step 3: Launch

Before you start your contest, ask a friend or two to go through the contest steps from start to finish. How easy or difficult was the entry process? Did you understand the rules and how to qualify? Was the prize motivating? Do you know when it starts, ends, and how the winner is chosen? This will give you an idea of how your contest is received by others and how you can make it easier and more lucrative to participate. On day one of your Instagram contest, give your followers all the info they need to enter. Create an eye-catching post with a high-quality photo of the prize. If you’re giving away a gift card, get creative to keep it interesting! In addition to the prize photo, the post should also include start/end date, qualifications for entry, rules, winner selection, hashtags, and other contest details. Another reason for an unsuccessful contest is misunderstanding how to enter. To avoid losing participants, clearly state how to enter and what to expect.

In addition to the contest-entry hashtag, the launch post should also include other fitting hashtags. Refer to your target audience research in the planning phase to ensure your contest execution is on track. If you’ve been hash tagging for a while, you may already know which general hashtags your target audience follows and uses. Add popular/keyword hashtags relevant to your contest and frequently used by the Instagrammers you want to engage. You can also include general contest hashtags but keep in mind this may attract contest-seekers only. You’ll have more success with general contest hashtags if your contest is easy to enter or appeals to a broad audience. Popular general hashtags are: #contest #photocontest #giveaway #entertowin #contestgram #contestgiveaway #contestday. More on Instagram hashtags for marketing here.

This Instagram contest was hosted by Webware customer My Envy Box, and is a great example of a well hash-tagged contest.


Click here to read Instagram’s requirements for hosting promotions on their app. 

Step 4: Maintenance 

Give the contest enough running time to garner attention and entries, but not so long that people lose interest. Two to four weeks is the general guideline for an average contest, ensuring ample promotion before the start date. If you’re running a photo contest, you can promote throughout the contest by reposting submissions. Continue to repost even after the winner has been announced, to show appreciation and maintain the connection you established with your fans during the contest. 


Carefully crafting and hosting an Instagram contest can boost your social media stats. Get creative and have fun with your followers. Instagrammers appreciate brands who want to get connected and see the world from their customers’ view. Find your like-minded fans and get them thoughtfully engaged with a fun contest!


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