social media how toIs your company active on Instagram?

Want to host a contest to build excitement about your business?

Instagram makes it easy to run quick contests that engage your audience and build your fan base.

In this article you’ll discover four simple steps to host Instagram contests that build buzz for your brand.

run instagram contest

Discover 4 steps to running an Instagram contest.

Listen to this article:

#1: Choose the Type of Contest

The beauty of Instagram is that it doesn’t have as many promotion limitations as other platforms. That means you have the opportunity to be as creative with your contest concept as you’d like. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Like Contests

This is one of the easiest contests to host—simply ask users to like your photo to be entered to win. The benefit of this type of contest is that it’s so simple to enter that you can easily increase your engagement.

Restaurant Buffalo Jordan usually receives about 50 likes on each of their Instagram posts. When they hosted a series of Instagram Like giveaways, that average rose to about 200 likes per post.

buffalo jordan instagram contest image

Restaurant Buffalo Jordan quadrupled their Instagram followers when they hosted a like-to-win contest.

An additional perk of Like contests is the chance to show up on Instagram’s Discover page (formerly the Popular page). This is where Instagram shows users images based on people they follow, photos they’ve liked or images that are popular in their country.

When more people participate in your Instagram Like contest, it increases the chances of your giveaway being featured on the Discovery page. This is great exposure for your contest and account!

Comment Contests

Asking people to comment as an entry is similar to a Like contest and it’s just what it sounds like: let users know they have to comment on your photo to be entered to win a prize. If your goals are to gain valuable feedback and increase post engagement, a comment entry contest is the way to go.

You can also ask your followers to tag their friends in the comments for an entry. A contest that requires tagging helps your company get direct, organic traffic to your brand’s Instagram account, making it especially helpful for gaining new followers.

Photo Challenge Contests

A photo challenge is probably the most popular type of Instagram contest. Tell users who want to enter to win to post a photo on their personal account and use the specific hashtag you designate (so you can find and note the entry).

nasty gal instagram contest image

Edgy online retailer Nasty Gal asked fans to post #strangerselfies as an entry to win.

Selfies are ubiquitous on Instagram, and a lot of brands have been using that to their advantage by asking fans to post selfies in creative ways that incorporate their product, store, etc.

The retail company Nasty Gal issues a weekly photo challenge. In the example above, the challenge asks users to take a selfie with a stranger, then post it using the hashtags #StrangerSelfie and #NastyGalTruthorDare for the chance to win a Nasty Gal gift card.

Instead of asking users to take and post their own Instagram photo as an entry, you can follow the lead of Drop Dead Dollbaby Boutique and ask them to repost a specific Instagram image from your brand account. One benefit of this type of contest is that your brand can control the message and aesthetic of your giveaway.

drop dead dollbaby boutique instagram contest image

Drop Dead Dollbaby asked users to repost their contest image with the hashtag #DDDSUPASUNDAYS.

To repost, users can either take a screenshot or use a repost app. You’ll need to create and require a specific hashtag so you can track the entries.

#2: Share the Rules

Compared to social platforms like Facebook, Instagram doesn’t have very many promotion rules. You just need to do two things. First, acknowledge that the promotion isn’t sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with Instagram. Second, don’t inaccurately tag content or encourage users to inaccurately tag content.

With fewer limitations, your contest rules can be as loose or as structured as you want. Just be sure to make them obvious.

Contests that require a like, comment, tag or repost (or a combination of these) are pretty straightforward. If you’re hosting a contest like this that doesn’t require a lot of rules, then it’s best to display your rules in the caption of your Instagram image.

Here’s an example of a multi-step Instagram contest hosted by TurboTax. The tax-filing software isn’t exactly a sexy product, but the Instagram contest they’ve built around their service is fun and the rules are right up front.

turbotax instagram contest image

To put some fun into tax time, TurboTax issued a photo challenge with a designated hashtag.

In the example below, fashion blogger Mary Summers-Hafner has a more involved set of rules and disclaimers that she included in the image caption.

CLOSED – Whoever said that money can't buy happiness, simply didn't know where to shop! So I've teamed up with some fabulous bloggers to give you an opportunity to win a $750 gift card to one of our favorite retailers, Nordstrom! No reposting or commenting necessary, simply follow the instructions below! 1. Follow (@sothentheysayblog) and ALL bloggers/ shops 2. Like this post and everyone else's involved 3. Tap on the photo to see where to go next Once you've made your way back here, you have completed your entry! Please remember you must follow everyone in the loop to qualify. All entries must be submitted by 1/20 6pm CST. We ask that PRIVATE accounts are made PUBLIC during the giveaway in order to be entered. The winner will be announced on 1/21, we appreciate your patience while we verify all the entries. Good luck! Per Instagram rules, we must mention this is in no way sponsored, administered, or associated with Instagram, Inc. By entering, entrants confirm they are 13+ years of age, release Instagram of responsibility, and agree to Instagram's term of use.

A photo posted by Mary Summers-Hafner (@sothentheysayblog) on

The caption outlines the requirements, deadline and when winners will be announced. It also explains that the contest is not affiliated with Instagram itself:

Per Instagram rules, we must mention this is in no way sponsored, administered, or associated with Instagram, Inc. By entering, entrants confirm they are 13+ years of age, release Instagram of responsibility, and agree to Instagram’s term of use.

When you run a more rule-intensive contest like this one, you have a couple of alternatives for sharing your in-depth rules and/or terms and conditions if you don’t want to crowd your caption.

You can create a Rules page on your website. Birchbox, the company that ships out monthly boxes of beauty samples, frequently hosts contests on their social networks, including Instagram. To avoid the hassle of having to include rules and conditions in each post they share to announce a giveaway, they simply link to the Rules page on their website:

birchbox instagram contest rules image

Birchbox hosts their Instagram contest rules on a special landing page.

Another option is to create a campaign landing page that houses both your rules and your entry form. Third-party services like ShortStack, HubSpot or Lander are all good choices for this.

A major benefit to hosting your Instagram contest as a campaign is that it allows you to collect important data (like email addresses), so you can connect with your entrants after the promotion ends.

shortstach instagram contest link image

Promote your Instagram campaigns in your bio.

This type of campaign also lets you keep your Instagram posts short and sweet. Instead of fussing with excessively long caption copy, you can simply announce or promote your Instagram contest using a couple of witty sentences, and then saying, “Click the link in our bio to enter to win!” Super-simple—just make sure you update your Instagram bio to include your campaign’s URL.

#3: Choose a Relevant Prize

As with any social media contest, you don’t want just any followers, you want the right followers. The best way to find those people is to offer a prize that’s relevant to them as well as your brand.

Giving away an iPad or an iPhone might attract a lot of attention, but the entrants may not be your target audience. You’re more likely to attract users who are actually interested in your brand if you give away something that’s related to your product or service.

#4: Spread the Word

Using the right hashtags in your Instagram post and comment sections is key because it allows you to track entries easily. If you’re not sure what type of hashtags to use, here’s a good list to start with:

  • #(your brand’s name)
  • #Instagramcontest
  • #Instagramgiveaway
  • #contest
  • #giveaway
  • #instagood
rawthreads instagram contest

Raw Threads uses their company name as a hashtag for contests.

Hashtags aren’t just for tracking entries. They also help boost the exposure of your content to the most relevant people for your brand. The right combination of hashtags will give your contest the exposure it needs to succeed.

Just because you’re hosting your contest on Instagram doesn’t mean you can’t promote it elsewhere. In fact, you should promote it on all of your social channels. Post about it on Facebook, tweet the link, use Hello Bar on your website or blog and don’t forget to encourage your entrants to ask their friends to get involved too.


Instagram’s broad promotion guidelines give you the freedom to create and host giveaways without a lot of hassle.

To have the most success, be creative with the types of contests you run, choose the right prize and use popular related hashtags to attract the right audience.

What do you think? Have you hosted an Instagram contest? How did your audience respond? Let us know in the comment section below.

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  • Pingback: How to Run an Instagram Contest: Four Easy Steps | Fran Martin()

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  • I haven’t seen many Instagram contests yet, but I’m sure it will depend on what types of accounts you choose to follow. My only thought here is choosing a winner based on entries with Likes, Comments, etc will be difficult, unless there is an app out there that let’s you pick one similar to how we can with Timeline contests on Facebook.

  • ShortStack

    Thanks for reading Scott! ShortStack users have access to our Random Entry Picker but you could also use something like Random Picker. It will be interesting to see if IG contests really take off.

  • Pingback: How to Run an Instagram Contest: Four Easy Steps | Social Savvy Business()

  • Sure Profits

    I have learnt a lot from reading this post and there are many golden nuggets to take away. Truth be told, I have not been using Instagram for business but am now being convince more each day that this is the place to be as it is not as restrictive as Facebook and where the response is slow and almost nil. So I am going to give this platform a try. Thanks kindly for sharing these creative ways of engagement.

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  • Kasey

    Is there a third party tool that can export Likes & Comments from Instagram?

  • You’re welcome! If you need a third-party platform feel free to check out ShortStack we integrate with Instagram easily.

  • Sayan

    What if I have thousands of followers? How to track whether they have followed me or not? Shall I use my website for disclosing the terms and conditions of the contest rules?

  • cmb

    Thank you for sharing this immensely helpful article. Is there a way to know to know what are the top contests prevalent in the network.

  • AG

    Awesome post! Is there actually a tool to randomly generate a winner from your Instagram likers?

  • Padraig

    Good post 🙂 Thanks for sharing 🙂

  • saharaviolet

    I did it! I just posted our first ever instagram contest for our downtown San Diego salon. I used a graphic I made on Canva and the steps you laid out above and in the podcast. I’m pretty proud of myself, haha. Thank you so much for this helpful post! (Oh, you can see live right now on our instagram account @meridiansalon)

  • HP

    Hi there. I have a question regarding the tagging. The guidelines say “don’t inaccurately tag content or encourage users to inaccurately tag content.” Does this mean only tagging friends to the photos or also tagging friends to comments? You write “ask your followers to tag their friends in the comments for an entry”. But isn’t that basically against the guidelines?

  • That’s what I’m wondering too. Maybe some kind of bot that generates random numbers or something like that?

  • Fanny Wang

    I have the same doubt, too.

  • Samantha Josephine Lee

    Is it against the TOU if I require users to mention their friends in the comments in order to win? I am still unclear on this. I know TAGGING is now illegal, but what about mentioning in comments?

  • christycaplan

    If you choose to do a like contest – how do you pick the winner? So it’s fair?

  • Grace Duffy

    Tools like Random Hashtag ( or Woodbox ( can help you pick a winner at random for your Instagram contents.

  • Chris

    If I’m am running a like contest, what is the best way to choose a winner from the users who liked my photo?