How to Run a Successful Instagram Contest | Hootsuite Blog
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How to Run a Successful Instagram Contest

If I offered you a free flight to your next holiday destination—and all you had to do was post a cool photo of yourself on vacation—would you do it?

I know I would.

That’s the seductive play of the Instagram contest. With very minimal effort, your customers can potentially win cool stuff and maybe show off a little too. In exchange, you get to connect with your audience and get people excited about your brand.

In this post, we’ve outlined easy steps you can follow to run a successful Instagram contest, along with Instagram contest ideas to give you inspiration.

How to create, manage, and measure Instagram contests

1. Set your goals

In order to measure the success of your Instagram contest, you need to set tangible goals with relevant metrics. Depending on what type of contest you run and the goals you set for yourself, you may need to measure totally different things.

For example, if you’re running a contest with the goal of brand awareness, you’ll measure things like follower count, engagement, and website traffic. If you’re running an annual sale associated with the contest, you’ll measure product purchases, year-over-year engagement, and landing page traffic. If you’re not sure where to start, check out our guide on How to Set Strategic Goals for Your Business on Instagram.

2. Choose a contest type

Like to win

The beauty of this contest lies in its simplicity. A like-to-win contest is when you ask users to Like an Instagram photo your brand has posted in order to be entered to win a prize.

Comment to win

A comment-to-win contest is when you ask users to comment on a photo uploaded by your brand for a chance to win a prize. It’s an opportunity for your audience to get creative. For example, brands can pose a question to their audience and choose the best answer as the winner, like you do in a caption contest.


A reposting contest is when you ask users to regram Instagram content onto their own feeds for a chance to win a prize.

Tag a friend

A tag-a-friend contest is when you ask users to tag their friend in the comment thread of your brand’s photo for a chance to win a prize.

Photo challenge/user generated content (UGC)

This contest is by far one of the most popular on Instagram. All you have to do is ask users to post a photo on their personal account and use the contest hashtag or tag the brand for a chance to win a prize.

3. Get Instagram contest ideas

Share a memory

Playtex Baby ran a giveaway contest where users could win a $1,000 gift card if they shared their favorite moments with their baby and tagged the brand @Playtexbabyca with the hashtag #PlaytexBabyWIN.

Show brand love

British Columbia tourism company Sea To Sky Gondola asked users to post a photo showing why they wanted an annual pass to the Sea to Sky Gondola with the hashtag #AnnualPassesAreBack. They also did daily giveaways of MEC gear to increase engagement.

Celebrate the season

Starbucks runs a seasonal campaign called the “Red Cup Contest,” where they ask customers to draw designs on their red Starbucks holiday cups and submit photos of them on Instagram with the hashtag #RedCupArt. Participants have a chance to win a $500 eGift card to Starbucks. In five days Starbucks received over 24,000 entries.

Find the prize

As a sponsor of the U.S. Open, Heineken ran an Instagram scavenger hunt during the tournament, which gave its participants a chance to win tickets to the U.S. Open Men’s Final. Users had to follow @Crack_the_US_Open to follow clues and play.

4. Choose a relevant prize

Just like the contest itself, you should choose a prize that makes sense for your business. As you might have noticed with the examples above, all of the giveaways have a relation to the brand, whether it’s an event, product, or outdoor experience.

Think about something you can offer your customers that would make them excited to use your product or service. If you’re struggling with ideas, think about your buyer personas. What’s an offer that would excite and entertain them?

5. Know the rules

When you run a contest on Instagram, you have to adhere to Instagram’s Promotion Guidelines. As the document points out, you are liable and responsible for the outcome and any risk associated with your contest.

6. Set the guidelines

It’s important that you set the internal and external guidelines for your contest. For internal guidelines, you need to assign roles and responsibilities, key dates, prize packs, how you’ll get in touch with the winner, and any other rules you need to get in place.

External guidelines are the rules of the contest that you share with your followers, customers, and anyone else who wants to join in. It should cover:

  • What the contest is. State the ‘ask’ of the contest and be clear about how people can enter. For example, if you want users to share a memory with a specific hashtag, then state that.
  • The rules and parameters. You should have the complete rules of the contest available online, whether that’s on a separate webpage or a blog about the contest.
  • Your contest dates. Set a start date and an end date. If it’s relevant to share that timeline with your audience, then make sure you do.
  • The campaign hashtag. Clearly state your hashtag on every piece of promotional content. Triple check your spelling.
  • The winner announcement. Think carefully about whether it makes sense to announce the winner, or simply announce that a winner has been chosen. For example, if your entrants are under 18, you may choose to announce that a winner has been chosen but not the name of the winner.

7. Choose the right hashtag

Hashtags are an excellent way to tie together your contest. In some contests, users are disqualified if they don’t use the campaign hashtag.

Don’t underestimate the power of a good hashtag. It needs to be clear, effective, and exciting all the same time. It should be memorable and it should be easy to share. That’s no small challenge. Check out The Complete Instagram Hashtag Guide for Business to learn how to create the best hashtag for your campaign. Be careful to research your contest hashtag beforehand to make sure that it isn’t already in use for something else.

8. Plan your promotion strategy

A key part of your contest’s success will depend on how you choose to promote it. You’ll be doing promotion before, during, and after the contest, so make sure that you give yourself enough lead time to get your strategy together.

Keep in mind the following before you get started:

  • Hook: What’s your campaign or contest theme? What will get people interested?
  • Channels: How will you promote your Instagram contest across your other social channels?
  • People: Are there relevant influencers or events you can tie the contest to?
  • Timing: What are your promotion dates? Is this part of a broader campaign or is it a standalone contest? Is it a seasonal campaign or a regular campaign?
  • Internal roles: Who is involved and what will they do?
  • Barriers: Are there any foreseen blockers or risks? Do you have a mitigation plan?
  • Contest momentum: How will you keep the momentum going during the contest?

9. Manage your contest

Hootsuite can help you monitor your Instagram contest. By setting up streams, you can quickly and easily keep track of entries and engage with comments and questions.

Learn how to get even more out of Hootsuite with free social media training from Hootsuite Academy.

It’s extremely useful to have a hashtag that grounds your campaign, because it makes it easier to track and manage entries through a single source.

If you’re running your contest across multiple locations, use GeoPiq for Hootsuite to monitor and engage users that are posting in specific geographic areas.

10. Measure and report

If you laid out goals at the outset of the contest, then you should know how to measure the success of those goals. Decide on your key metrics and how often you’ll track them. For starters, you might want to look at:

  • Number of entrants and comments
  • Engagement levels
  • Follower count
  • Website or landing page traffic
  • Product trials or purchases
  • Positive and negative sentiment

If you’re running an annual contest, don’t forget to look at year-over-year comparisons.

You might also want to look at qualitative data like the comments and questions (i.e. were people confused?) along with the quality of entries. This type of information can tell you how to improve your communication for next time.

Run your own Instagram contest

Instagram contests are a great way to increase engagement and drum up excitement about your brand. Hootsuite can help you run your Instagram contests from a single dashboard, making it easier to keep track of participants and respond to comments quickly.

Learn how to get even more out of Hootsuite with free social media training from Hootsuite Academy.

Hootsuite Campaigns can help you build beautiful social media contests in a matter of minutes. Get started for free today.

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