As you build your social media marketing strategy on Instagram, don’t overlook the potential of contests. Not only are Instagram contests a fantastic way to quickly grow brand awareness and increase your reach, they’re also an extremely effective tool for generating engagement.

This guide will show you how to create and run a successful Instagram contest, plus some tips and tricks for getting lasting results from the interest you’ve generated.

Instagram Contest Guide: How To Make Your Campaign a Success

Developing Your Contest

When it comes to Instagram contests, planning is everything. A half-baked contest can do more than just fizzle, it can make your marketing seem incompetent. That’s never a good thing. Thankfully, the biggest mistakes are also the easiest to avoid with just a little prep work.

What are you looking for?

What result do you want to see from your contest? Is the end goal just to grow your number of followers, or are you trying to building buzz (in the form of shares and likes) around a new product?

With the end goal in mind, it’s much easier to build an effective contest.

The more precise you can be with these goals (like a 30% growth in new follows, for instance), the better. It’s also a good idea to take note of any relevant Instagram metrics, so you can compare them with the post-contest numbers.

Once you decide on your objectives, you can choose the type of contest you would like to run.

Types of Instagram Contests

There are two broad categories for these kinds of Instagram promotions: Contests and Sweepstakes. Contest winners are chosen for subjective reasons, like taking the best photo or creating the funniest hashtag. Sweepstakes winners, on the other hand, are chosen at random.

Instagram contests can take several forms, and each one will result in a specific kind of result. The contest you go with should always match your specific campaign and marketing goals.

“Like-To-Win,” “Follow-to-Win,” or “Comment-to-Win” Sweepstakes

While these are technically three different type of contests, the basis behind all three is the same – the winners interact with the brand on Instagram. The winner is generally decided at random, either by arbitrarily picking them from the list of likes, comments, or follows, or by using a random number generator. In the example below, The Shoe Closet, a shoe boutique from Wichita Falls, TX, put up a simple like-to-win campaign that chose one of the first 20 likers as their winner:

This is a great option for a last-minute, spur-of-the-moment kind of contest, requiring nothing more to set up than an image and some text explaining how to enter. The downside is these kinds of contests have a very low barrier to entry, and rarely generate any lasting effects beyond a brief spike in engagement.

Hashtag-Driven Content Contests

This contest works by asking users to share a video or photo tagged with a contest-specific hashtag. By following the hashtag, it’s possible to see all of this user-generated content in a single stream, creating the impression of an entire community driven by their connection with the brand. Contest winners can be decided randomly, chosen by the brand team, or even “voted on” by the Instagram community by highest number of likes.

There are many benefits to this kind of contest, and one of the biggest is that everyone who participates is also advertising the hashtag, as well as the brand, to their followers. This means that every entry is essentially a piece of grassroots advertising. An excellent example of a hashtag contest is Madewell’s #everydaymadewell campaign. To enter this campaign, users must take a picture of their Madewell products and hashtag #everydaymadewell and Madewell will pick one winner every day for the month of September. This already popular hashtag has resulted in thousands of beautiful user generated image:

The big downside to this approach is that it can create a relatively high barrier to entry depending on the contest guidelines. Another slight concern is that the hashtag can be hijacked by trolls, or even by competitors, so use this one mindfully.

Pick A Prize Worth Fighting For

For the participants, contests are all about the prizes. For a contest with a low entry barrier, something as simple as getting recognition from the brand for contributing a great photo might be enough to drive participation. For high-quality user-generated content, however, you’ll need something more substantial. This often takes the form of winning brand-related products. Gift certificates, free trips, and cold, hard cash are also great motivators.

Check out other contests, and the competition

It’s always a good idea to see what the most effective Instagram contests are, and what kinds of user-generated content contests are generating big results. You should also take the time to check out what kinds of contests your competition is running, and what kind of results they’re getting. Iconosquare has a constantly-updated list of Instagram contests, so you can quickly see what campaigns are running at a given time:

While not all of the campaigns will be related to – or in competition with – your contest, discovering new campaigns can provide some serious inspiration.

Does the contest make sense for your target market?

This is an extremely important question to ask. Always build your contests to be as engaging as possible to the target audience. An outdoor hiking brand probably won’t have much success with a contest themed around photos of makeup tips, video game screenshots or images of urban nightlife, for instance. Images of glorious sunsets, casual campfire parties or wildlife in action, however, speak directly to their audience – and will be Instagram gold.

Create attention-grabbing contest images

Instagram is an image-focused social network, and the more compelling the visuals, the better the response you’ll get. Branding that image with the contest title is also a great idea. For example, Mt. Brave Wines created an Instagram image for their #GearRequired contest that both explains the contest they’re running and includes beautiful visuals:

Keep the title short, catchy and memorable, and place it prominently within the contest images.

Write short, informative text

Be as concise and informative as possible in the text that accompanies your image. Make sure to include the basic rules and any relevant hashtags. If you need to provide more complex rules or additional information, use a service like to create a short, easily remembered, custom URL.

Publicize Your Contest

Now that you’ve created the contest, it’s time to publicize it. How do you launch it? Simple. Just post your contest image and text to Instagram.

Launching the contest is the easy part. A truly successful contest requires more than just a little social media traction. Now you need to promote it. Use the following tips to supercharge your contest participation.

Cross-promote your contest

Even if your contest is strictly limited to Instagram, there’s no reason you can’t share it with your Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest followers. If your company blog or website has an appropriate place to advertise the contest, do it! If your brand has a promotion-friendly email list, this is also a great channel to publicize your contest.

Reach out to influencers and the media

A surprising number of influential people and media outlets will be willing to share your contest if it’s relevant to their followers. In fact, many of the biggest influencers, blogs and websites are constantly searching for new content just like this to share. Even something as simple as sending out a short press release about the contest to a few key influencers can result in a massive boost in participation. Who know, you could even get Manny The Frenchie to promote your contest!

Brick-and-mortar promotion

If your brand has a retail location, consider adding in-store promotional materials for the contest. Depending on the scope of the contest and the foot traffic of the store, this can yield a massive gain in contest participants, as well as a boost to overall Instagram followers.

After the Contest

Now that you’ve learned how to launch your Instagram contest, it’s time to talk about ending it. This doesn’t just mean notifying the winners and distributing the prizes, although it’s important to get that part right. It also means squeezing a few extra bits of promotional juice from the attention and interest the contest has generated.

Contact the winner and get their story

This can be as simple as contacting them directly on Instagram, but spending even a few minutes talking with them can yield a ton of great PR information. Getting the winner’s real name, occupation and other key details turn them from just a random Instagram user into something much more compelling: A story. Ask them what it means to win the contest, and how they plan to use the prize.

Once you have their story, you could even create a press release around it. By putting the winner’s story into press release, you now have something new to send to those influencers, bloggers and websites who helped you promote the contest. This can easily result in additional coverage in the form of a follow-up post.

Promote the winner on Instagram

Give the winner a few moments of Instagram fame, tagging them with the contest hashtag and announcing their accomplishment to all of your followers. Schlotzsky’s gave the winner of their Top 66 Sounds of Summer contest:

If they created some content as part of the contest, share that too, and share it across your other platforms. The more attention you lavish on them, the more likely it is that your next contest will see even higher levels of participation.

Thank the other participants

Create a thank-you image and post it to Instagram, making sure to include the contest hashtag in the text. If the contest was a gated-email contest, send out an email thanking everyone who participated.

Track the results

One of the most important parts of the post-contest process is gathering all the data about what worked, and what didn’t. Creating a report about the contest results and lessons learned can only help to make the next contest that much more effective. Include your pre-contest goals, and any analytics gathered before and after the contest.

What are you waiting for? It’s time to get out there and test these Instagram contest tips for yourself!