Is posting videos and photos on Instagram not cutting it anymore for you? Do you want to try something different?

Posting great content is a powerful organic path to grow on Instagram. But there are limits to how quickly you can grow with it. A couple of alternatives are to use ads or influencer marketing. But they can turn out expensive.

One alternate technique that is affordable and can help you generate more brand impressions, followers and even grow your email list is an Instagram contest. Several businesses have had great success with it. Coconut Bowls, for example, was able to use contests to generate 41,820 email subscribers, 37,703 followers, and 222,263 pageviews for less than $1000.

If you too want to take advantage of contests and grow quickly, you should check out the below guide.


Here’s a step-by-step process for running an Instagram contest

Read the rules

Before you run a contest, you should read Instagram’s rules and adhere to them. They aren’t complicated. Instagram mainly created them to distance itself from any liabilities that might arise if a contest creator doesn’t follow through with their end of the deal.

You can read all about Instagram’s promotion guidelines here. But here’s a quick summary of the five main points.

  • It’s your responsibility to run a lawful contest. Follow the official terms and list eligibility requirements.
  • Don’t tag content incorrectly and don’t encourage participants to do the same.
  • Inform participants that the contest isn’t administered, endorsed, or sponsored by Instagram.
  • Instagram won’t assist you with the administration of your promotion.
  • If you use Instagram’s service to administer your promotion, you are doing so at your own risk.

Choose a single primary goal that complements your business goals

A common mistake people make while running contests is choosing multiple goals or setting superficial goals like gaining followers. Businesses that run the most successful contests focus on goals that match their overall business goals or their bottom line. As the point of a contest is to help your business grow, not just gain followers or likes.

A couple of good goals you can focus on are impressions and sales. If you’re a startup with good funding and you just want people to learn about your brand, you can set a goal such as impressions as the target, while if making money immediately is critical to your business’s success, you can focus on sales.

Gaining followers, likes, and comments can be secondary goals that complement the primary goal, but they can’t cannibalize it. You also need to calculate how much a follower, impression, or like is worth, i.e., how many followers or likes lead to a sale, so that you can decide how much you can invest in to pursue these outcomes.

For example, check out the results from the aforementioned contest from Coconut Bowls. It generated followers, but the primary focus was to generate sales and email subscribers.

That’s why people had to visit the website and sign up. This helped them generate 40,000+ email subscribers.

Determine the prize(s)

The prize you give away should depend on the target audience you want to attract. For example, if you want to attract people into fitness, you can give away fitness equipment. While to attract people interested in travel, you can give them a hotel room or flight tickets.

Your gift should be enticing enough to get people to participate, but it shouldn’t be so expensive that it harms your ROI.

Also, don’t ever try to give away an expensive gift such as an iPad, iPhone, or car. It’s because a gift like this will attract anyone and everyone, not just your target audience. You might get many people to sign up to your list or share a picture of your product or follow you, but they won’t buy from you. They’ll also be highly likely to unfollow you after the contest ends.

The best gifts are usually a product you sell or service you provide, as Pink Lime did here.

Pink Lime is a salon. Therefore, they simply gave the winners a $500 hairstyle and makeup makeover. Using your products will help attract a highly targeted audience, and it will also cost you less. People who take part will want the product, so they might buy it if they don’t win.

Choose an entry method

The entry method for the contest should be easy and fun. The number of steps participants need to take to get the product must depend on how much the product is worth.

If it is something cheap and easy to get, you should ask them to take a simple step such as like the post or sign up. While if the gift is expensive or unique, you can request more steps, such as taking part in an Instagram challenge and submitting a photo to enter.

Expensive and unique products also give you the liberty to do a bunch of different things such as ask them to sign up to your list, follow you, like a post, tag friends, etc.

For best results make it as simple as possible. This will help you attract maximum participants. The entry method you choose should mainly depend on your contest goals. For example, if you want more brand impressions, a challenge would be ideal, as you can get people to post pictures and tag your account. It can also drive some sales.

While if your goal is to make money, you can ask people to sign up, as an email list is a powerful weapon for generating sales.

When Marvel ran its contest, it asked people to take part by posting their favorite memories of superheroes such as Black Panther…

…and Captain America.

This requires some effort. People need to think about what their favorite memories are, find photos and share them. But Marvel asked for it as it was giving away a trip to the Avengers Infinity War premiere, a Captain Marvel set visit, and more. These prizes are priceless to a Marvel fan!

But when Cellucor ran its contest, it simply asked people to follow its account, like the post, and tag three friends.

It’s because the prize was just a pack of energy drinks.

Create a branded hashtag

An easy way to measure the effectiveness of your contest and find participants is through a branded hashtag exclusively made for the contest. You can ask everyone who posts a picture to use this branded hashtag in their posts. An example is this contest from Love One Today, where it asked everyone who took part to use the hashtag #avofruitfull.

You only need to ask them to use this hashtag if participants need to share a photo. If it’s a like a post or tag a friend contest, you only need to use it in the posts you publish. You also need to use other relevant hashtags in your post as they can improve reach.

You can quickly come up with a unique hashtag using an Instagram hashtag generator.

While measuring the contest’s effectiveness, make sure you use a good social listening tool to check brand impressions. As many people will forget to use the hashtag. With a listening tool, you can track keywords. You can use your brand name and other relevant words as keywords.

Create the content

Once you have a goal, entry method, and primary hashtag, you will have a basic plan on how the contest works. So, you can create content to promote the competition.

This should include a landing page where you quickly describe all the steps required to participate in the contest. You might also want to add a signup form here if building your email list is a goal. Also, write a blog post where you describe the contest in more detail. It should link to the landing page.

You also need to create content such as videos and images for in-feed posts, IGTV videos, Instagram stories, and reels.

In them, you can detail all the steps required to take part in the contest or briefly share them and ask participants to visit the landing page. You should create many versions of the content as you need to post them several times.

If you just post it once, not everyone will see it because of Instagram’s algorithm.

For an idea, check out the content for promoting the Spring Sister Giveaway from ColourPop. It includes a landing page that details the steps and rules.

And a post to promote the contest on Instagram.

There are many tools out there that make it easy to create the landing page and other promotional material. But if you want something unique, you can hire professionals from a site like Twine.

Launch the contest

Launch the contest by publishing the landing page first and the blog post next. After that, you can publish the Instagram content you created. Make sure you schedule the posts in advance with a good Instagram scheduling tool. You need to publish them at the best time and at regular intervals.

Also, your manager will need to monitor the post and respond to comments. As people will ask questions. Publish the posts at a time when the manager is available.

Promote it

You are promoting the contest when you take the above steps to launch it. But they aren’t sufficient. For best results, you need to combine them with other methods. They include…

Influencer outreach

As soon as you launch the contest, you should reach out to as many influencers as you can on and off Instagram and inform them about your new contest. These should include influencers on other networks and bloggers. Influencers are always on the lookout for things their followers want. So, many will share your contest for free. Some might ask for payment. If it’s worth it, you should pay. You could also create an affiliate program, where you pay an influencer a small fee for everyone who signs up or a percentage of the sale if a subscriber buys within a window.

There are also a lot of contest submission sites where you can submit your contests.

Influencer giveaways

You can give some of the prizes to influencers and ask them to run their own mini-contest as an influencer giveaway. This can generate more impressions. Also, ask them to inform people about the main giveaway that’s taking place on your account.


Ads cost more when selling products. But when it comes to contests, they cost less. As people get things for free more people will convert. Take some of the best performing posts you employed for organic promotion and use them in your Instagram ads. You can also share links in ads and send participants directly to the landing page.

If you don’t have the budget for an ad, you can stick to organic methods. But if you have more than 10,000 followers, you can focus on using more stories as you can share links there. But if you have less than 10k followers, you can implement these Instagram story swipe up alternatives to share links.

You can even add a countdown timer sticker to your story on the last day of the contest as the FOMO can convince more people to sign up.

If you have an email list, you should invite everybody on it. As email marketing is one of the best organic ways to promote your Instagram contest – check out this guide on how to do just that. The people on your list trust you. They will not only take part but will also invite their friends.

If you don’t have a list, you can rent one or reach out to bloggers with extensive lists and ask them to join the affiliate program and promote your contest.

Take promotion very seriously. You should spend more time promoting your contest than you spend creating it. Creating the contest will take a few days, but after launching, you should give people ample time to sign up. This should range from 2 to 4 weeks. During this period, promote it every single day.


Running an Instagram contest is like any other campaign. Different contests will work for different businesses. This is why you should experiment with various tactics to see which one works best for you. Here are some ideas you can try out.

Instagram challenges

An Instagram challenge is similar to the ubiquitous ice bucket challenge. Where someone takes part in a challenge and creates a video or photo and tags their friend and asks them to do the same. It leads to a chain of events where a lot of people take part. It can generate a lot of user-generated content and brand impressions.

This is why you, too, should create Instagram challenges. Developing and running a challenge is a fun experience for you and your followers. Instagram knows this. This is why they even made a challenge sticker for stories.

Challenges require a bit more effort from participants. To tempt them into participating, you should offer a generous prize or donate a significant amount to a charity your audience likes. The prize you offer should depend on what your audience wants. An example of a challenge is the contest from Oris.

Participants had to take photos and post them with a hashtag. It led to a lot of UGC. But it would have been a lot higher if they asked all participants to challenge friends to take part in the captions.

Tag a friend

Tag, a friend, is a simple contest where participants need to follow you and tag a friend in the comments. It’s simple and takes a few seconds. Many people will do it. It will generate a lot of followers, and word of mouth as the people that get tagged will check out the post and take part in the contest.

For best results, ask people to tag friends who will be interested only. For an idea, check out this one from @lifeboxfoodco.

Sign up

A sign up contest is where people need to sign up to your list to take part. They work great if your goal is to generate more sales as email is better than Instagram when it comes to customer acquisition. You simply need to set up a landing page with information about the contest and sign up forms and send traffic to it.

Like and comment to win

Like or comment to win contests are similar to tag a friend contests. But in this type, participants don’t need to tag someone. The post won’t reach as many people as a tag a friend contest, but it will reach plenty as all those likes will help your post rank higher in the feed and on the explore page. If you use the right hashtags, you will also rank for them.

Caption contest

A caption contest is where you publish a photo or illustration and ask participants to come up with a funny caption and type it in the comments. You can give the prize to the person with the funniest caption. You could also make this into a full-fledged challenge and ask participants to repost the photo on their account along with the caption overlayed on the image.

For an idea, check out this caption contest from Sudbury Wolves Hockey Club.


Instagram contests are a powerful marketing method for amassing UGC, impressions, sales, followers, and engagement quickly. But you won’t automatically enjoy all these benefits if you just publish a contest whimsically and hope for the best. You need to be very strategic to attract maximum participants and get the exact results you crave.

Therefore, make sure you use all the tips above and get strategic about running your contest.

About the author

Rachel Bowland is the content manager at Social Marketing Writing and Creatiwitt. She likes to write about marketing and design.

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