The Secrets of Hosting Your Own Instagram Contest (and Exploding Your Follower Count)

The Secrets of Hosting Your Own Instagram Contest and Exploding Your Follower Count
Thinking about hosting your own Instagram contest for the holidays?

For many marketers, Instagram is the most desirable marketing platform. With over 1 billion users, searchable hashtags, and a format that emphasizes large colorful pictures, it’s little wonder that businesses are flocking to it. But it isn’t enough to set up an account on Instagram and wait for people to follow you — especially if you don’t have the clout of a major brand-name behind your account.

One of the quickest ways to engage with your audience, no matter who they are, is to host an Instagram contest! After all, everyone loves a chance at getting free stuff. If you’re not “hip” with Instagram trends, hosting a contest can be daunting. In fact, if you’re not careful, you could end up breaking the law (seriously!)

Read on for the dos and don’ts of hosting a successful Instagram contest to increase your audience engagement in no time, ultimately leading to increased sales.


Create a goal and a plan. If you launch straight into running an Instagram contest, it won’t be as effective as if you’ve planned it out — as well as decided on a goal, or what you want this contest to accomplish. For example, your contest will look different depending on whether your goal is brand exposure, lead acquisition, customer engagement, growing your follower count, or making more sales. Also, planning out your social media posts is good practice in general — it allows for a consistent posting schedule, which leads to more engagement.

Make a highly visible, thorough set of official rules. In your rules, be sure to at least include the following: what people have a chance to win, how to enter the contest, and what location the prize can be shipped to. These rules should be highly visible, posted on your account and also hosted on your website, perhaps with a link in your Instagram bio.

Follow the law. Breaking a law with an Instagram contest? Say it isn’t so! Depending on your product, you want to be entirely sure that it can be safely shipped and consumed in your target area. That’s why many contests focus only on the continental United States — other countries have complex laws about contests, winning, and what kinds of goods can be handled in that country. Only ship internationally if you have a legal team ready and willing to help you craft a set of rules.

Create a branded hashtag. It helps generate more buzz about your Instagram contest. Bonus points if it’s clever and memorable. As always, ensure that your hashtag is easy to read and spell.

Make it clear that Instagram isn’t involved in the contest. Instagram doesn’t want to be held liable for the thousands of contests that happen on the platform every day. If you look at other people’s rules, you’ll quickly see the same disclaimer: that Instagram isn’t involved or associated with the contest in any way.

Make the price something worthwhile. Remember, you’re trying to cut through a roaring sea of static with your contest! In order to ensure that your brand is getting the most exposure or leads, try offering something really major, valuable, or interesting as your prize.


Don’t use influencers without their consent. Every niche has a handful of accounts that help influence the purchasing decisions of your tribe. Partnering with these accounts is often a good idea — but make sure it’s done with the influencer’s consent! They should also disclose whether or not you’ve provided the product to them or if they’ve been compensated for their time.

Don’t renege on promises or change the rules. Changing the rules never ends well. People who have already entered will feel as if they’ve been tricked. It can also generate additional confusion. If you’ve left something important out, but it’s not a legal matter, learn from it and incorporate it into your next Instagram contest.

Don’t encourage inaccurate picture tagging. Instagram states that your brand can’t be tagged in photos that it doesn’t appear in. Stay on Instagram’s good side by not encouraging customers to tag your brand in pictures where your product doesn’t appear.

Alright, now that you’ve gotten the do’s and don’ts down, what kind of contest should you run?

Most Instagram contests fall into one of these four types:

The “branded photo” contest. Players enter by taking a photo with your product and using a few branded hashtags. You can select someone by random or choose the most interesting picture. For added spice, include in your terms that your social media team now owns the rights to the photo, and can repost it on your main account with attribution.

The caption contest. Let everyone show off their creativity by captioning a funny photo. Choose randomly or have fun choosing the funniest caption. Consider throwback holiday photos, nostalgia is a powerful psychological trigger to incite action.

Some variation of like, follow and comment to win. Making players like your photo, comment on it, and follow your account reduces the number of entrants — but it does help cement your brand’s relationship with their social media account.

Tag two friends in the comments. Also a variation on “like, follow, and/or comment,” tagging two friends in the comments exposes your brand to people who likely haven’t heard of it — and dramatically increases your reach.

Still overwhelmed? Moving Targets can help. Click the button below to discover how you can achieve measurable marketing results, no matter which platform you use!


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