social media how toIs Instagram part of your social media marketing?

Do you want to run contests on Instagram?

Adding Instagram contests to your social media mix can quickly expand your reach.

In this article I’ll explain the different types, as well as how to create and run a successful Instagram contest for your brand or business.

Types of Instagram Contests

There are many kinds of Instagram contests. Here is a rundown of the top three:

run an instagram contest

Learn how to run 3 different kinds of contests on Insagram.

1. Like to Win Contests

In a “like to win” contest, simply ask for an Instagram user to like an update. All those who do so will be entered into the contest.

drinkwell instagram contest

Drinkwel does a weekly “like to win” contest that also asks entrants to tag a friend.


  • With a very low barrier to entry (participants just have to follow you and then like a post to enter), “like to win” contests are a simple way to increase your Instagram reach.
  • They are very easy to set up. Simply post an image and update on Instagram, which announces your double tap (or like) contest.


  • “Like to win” contests have both low engagement and low consumer connection levels.
  • Participants don’t have to spend much effort to enter, but they’re also not that invested in the brand.

Do a “like to win” contest as a one-off to test it out. Or come up with a weekly concept like Drinkwel did. Add a tagging request for a little more engagement.

2. Hashtag User-Generated Content Contests

For a hashtag user-generated content (UCG) contest, create a contest-specific hashtag and ask participants to share a photo or video using that hashtag to enter.

For example, Esprit hosts Instagram hashtag contests to generate engagement with their followers. All images tagged with #everydayamazing are shown in one stream. This brings a lifestyle feel to their brand through UGC.

esprit instagram contest

Esprit deepens the consumer connection with a hashtag photo contest.


  • A photo or video contest that engages your market by asking for content deepens the emotional connection between consumers and the brand.
  • A contest-specific hashtag spreads the campaign’s reach because when Instagram users post their entries, their friends and followers see it too.
  • The hashtag additionally provides a common place for viewing entries. Anyone who searches for the hashtag will see the UGC contest stream.
  • By creating a branded hashtag for your contest, you can effectively generate real, authentic marketing images created by and for your consumer.


  • Asking for users’ content increases the barrier to entry.
  • If the request is too detailed (take and upload a pic, use the hashtag AND tag friends) or the hashtag is too long, it may be even harder to get willing participants.

Add a sharable element like “vote to select a winner” to increase your promotion’s reach.

3. Email-Gated Contests

To run an email-gated Instagram contest, ask participants for their email address to enter. An email-gated contest can ask for a follow or UGC in addition to the email lead.

email gated instagram contest

An email-gated Instagram photo contest requires participants to provide an email address to enter.


  • This is an excellent way to build your email list.
  • If you ask for a photo or video, you’ll get UGC too.


  • But asking for an email is a barrier to entry and many Instagram users want a quick and seamless entry method.
  • A successful email-gated contest usually needs an enticing prize (such as an expensive trip, product or shopping spree).

Again, the main benefit of an email-gated contest is that you generate email leads. This enables you and your brand to keep in touch with your readers for future campaigns and promotions. Be sure to get permission to send ongoing emails. Just use an opt-in checkbox on your email form.

How to Create an Instagram Contest

It’s not difficult to create an Instagram contest. However, if you want one that meets or exceeds expectations, you must include proper planning, smart execution and follow-up. Follow these tips to create a remarkable Instagram contest.

#1: Plan Your Contest

Put in the time and effort to strategically plan your contest before it starts.

  • Set objectives. Before launching any social marketing campaign, write out your goals. The clearer they are, the better your chance of success. Your objective—whether it’s to increase Instagram followers by 15%, generate at least 200 @mentions of your Instagram handle or create a hashtag stream with more than 200 UCG photos—will influence your contest choice.
  • Do your homework. Before you fully commit to a plan of action, check out your competition and find related contests. Browse other current Instagram contests through sites like Iconosquare and search common contest hashtags like #contest, #win and #photocontest on Instagram.
iconosquare contest search

You can even search past contests using Iconosquare.

  • Define your target market. There are more than 35 million active Instagram users in the U.S., 69% of whom are within the age range of 18 to 44. Know what appeals to your market to best engage with them.
  • Choose the contest type. Decide if a “like to win,” hashtag UGC or email-gated contest will best achieve your objectives.
  • Create a theme. Your contest needs a theme, especially if you are hosting a photo or video promotion. This creates a collection of complementary UGC. The theme will tie into the hashtag, as demonstrated by the National Geographic #viewfromabove theme below.
national geographic instagram contest

National Geographic used the hashtag #viewfromabove for their themed photo contest of best in-flight Instagram photos.

  • Choose your contest hashtag. Hashtags are a major part of Instagram marketing. Choose and use a unique hashtag for your contest to create community and brand awareness. Research hashtags for free on sites like Websta, FindGram and Iconosquare.
  • Decide on a prize. Your prize is a key factor in what motivates a person to participate in your contest. Of course, there are other factors like ‘Instagram fame’ or sharing cool photos (if your theme connects extremely well with your particular market). But the prize you offer often teeters your demographic into taking the action you want: contest participation.Your prize should be about marketing your brand, whether it’s as overt as a product you sell, a gift card, exotic travel or even a more subtle experience you can’t get anywhere else (such as a job at your company or an introduction to a celebrity).
  • Determine if you’ll run on Instagram only or on multiple social platforms. Limiting your contest to Instagram only increases the exclusive feel for your followers. But expanding your contest to multiple platforms (like Smucker’s did in the following example) raises your reach and promotes your Instagram handle to your other social followers.
smuckers instagram contest

Smucker’s ran the same photo contest across Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and their website.

  • Decide if you will need a third-party app. If you plan to run a simple “like to win” campaign and have the staff resources to keep track of your metrics manually, you don’t need a third-party app. If, however, you are running a more complex campaign, it’s best to get the technical support of easy-to-use software to help you out. Votigo, Piqora and Wishpond (the company I work for) are all tools that make it easy to run Instagram contests.
  • Sort out your logistics. Plan out the contest details, like your contest duration and frequency (some of the most successful Instagram contests are run on a weekly basis or have a weekly vote). Set your budget. Determine how many winners you will have, the rules and regulations and also the logistics of shipping or sending your prize(s). For example, decide if you’ll ship overseas or give an online prize.
whistler black comb instagram contest

Keep followers engaged with weekly voting options on your contest.

#2: Build Your Contest

Once you have a solid plan, turn your ideas into a contest.

  • Come up with an attention-grabbing title. Keep your contest title short, witty and related to your promotion, market and business objectives.
  • Create appealing visuals. Instagram is all about visual marketing. The better you can present your contest elements, including the prize and promotional materials, the better it will succeed. Gather inspired photographs and/or videos to use in your promotion.
whotels instagram contest

Create visually appealing graphics to use in your Instagram contest promotional materials.

  • Use an app. If you decide to run a contest through a social contest application, follow the steps of the platform.

No App, No Problem

If you are not using an app, here are the basic steps to make your own Instagram “like to win” Contest:

  • Post an update on Instagram.
  • In your update, show that you are running a “like to win” contest.
  • Use digital image editing applications like Photoshop, GIMP or Paint.NET to create your image with a graphic overlay with simple instructions.
  • Give instructions and rules to enter in your contest update text.
  • Track your likes for the duration of the campaign.
  • At the end of the contest, randomly choose a winner.
  • Notify the winner by mentioning him or her on Instagram.

#3: Launch and Promote Your Contest

Once the contest is planned and built, just go for it. Post it on Instagram, as well as your website or blog, and then follow through with marketing in other ways. Here’s what you need to know to promote your contest.

  • Update your website and/or blog. Spread the word to your audience. Post about the contest on the company website and/or write an article on the blog. Include direct links to the contest to make it easy and enticing to enter.
  • Cross-promote to other social sites. Engage your brand’s audience from other social platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Post contest updates and information to get followers to interact with your brand on multiple platforms. For example, Buffalo Wings & Rings created a Facebook event to cross-promote their Instagram contest. 
buffalo wings and rings instagram contest cross promotion

Buffalo Wings & Rings shows how to enter their Instagram contests on Facebook.

  • Use Facebook ads. Facebook ads can be a targeted and inexpensive method of reaching new markets and expanding awareness of your Instagram contest.
  • Do email blasts. Send out personalized messages to targeted segments of your email list. Write concise subject lines that clearly indicate that you are inviting recipients to your Instagram contest. Include visuals of your contest banner and prizes.
  • Pitch guest blog posts. Reach out to influential bloggers in your industry or niche. Pitch them an article about your Instagram contest. Many niche bloggers have a lot of influence within a small network. They’re also often looking for good content to share with their readers.
  • Get earned media through a press release. Many businesses miss opportunities to potentially gain free promotion with a press release. Write a short release and pitch it to media sources read by your target market. If you have a strong local customer base (such as a restaurant), pitch your Instagram contest to your local print or online publication. Note: You can also send a press release after you announce the winner.
  • Promote in-store. If you have a brick-and-mortar store, go old-school. Make promotional material to post in your store that includes your contest details, hashtag, Instagram handle and a visual of your contest or prize. Instagram is a fully mobile site, so your customers can easily enter your contest while they are still in your shop. Use QR codes to make it easy to scan directly.

#4: Follow-up After the Contest Ends

A social marketing campaign shouldn’t stop when the Instagram contest closes. Here are post-contest musts so you can continue to build and nurture relationships with your audience.

forever21 blog instagram contest winner announcement instagram contest

Forever 21 posts the Instagram grand-prize winner’s name and video on their blog.

  • Choose and notify the winner. After the contest has closed, choose the winner, whether selected through public voting, random draws or a panel of judges. Notify the winner via email (if you can) and directly on Instagram with an @mention. Explain how to collect the prize.
  • Share the winning entry on Instagram. Give Instagram fame to the winner by sharing the winning photo or video on your company Instagram feed. Be sure to tag and give credit to the entrant.
  • Promote the grand-prize winner on your blog and social sites. Write a blog article about the lucky entrant and share the award-winning photo or video. Above is an example from Forever 21. Note: Make sure you have permission to share the entries; this is a disclaimer you can include in the contest’s official rules. Share a link to the contest rules in the post on Facebook, Twitter and other social sites.
  • Email all participants. If you email-gated your contest, send out an email to everyone who took part. Thank them for their efforts and talents in engaging, tell them who won and invite them to stay tuned for your next Instagram contest.

The best time to work on your next Instagram promotion is just before or right after your current contest ends. Put together a report of what did and didn’t work for your contest, and using that information, decide what to do next. Use the momentum from your contest to get your audience excited about the next one.

Over to You

Instagram contests add engagement and consumer interaction to your Instagram content. Choose your contest type, and then plan, build and execute it for optimal results.

Half of the world’s top 100 brands are on Instagram, 16 billion photos have been shared on the site and more than 200 million people are active users.

So if you haven’t done it already, jump on the Instagram bandwagon and launch a contest.

What do you think? Have you run an Instagram contest? What type did you try? What tips do you have for others who want to run Instagram contests? Please share your advice in the comments.

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  • I read a similar article on kissmetrics blog- I think it is great that you added in following up with the winner. Running contests can do wonders for your brand awareness.

  • Blender Babes

    Thanks for the article! Instagram contests have been a successful part of our marketing. We had a pretty small following, so the like to enter or tag to enter contests were most successful. We also like to mix and match the types of contest. Ex: Like to enter, tag 3 friends for an additional entry. This incentivizes increased engagement.

  • Lucy Parsons

    Thanks for this. It’s great to see the whole process broken down. What are realistic goals, based on your number of followers?

  • Thanks Elizabeth. For sure, I think following up with your entrants and winner is one of the keys to a successful contest. You can build momentum and really expand your reach on Instagram that way. Thanks for the comment.

  • Thanks for the comment and tips. Glad to hear that you’ve integrated contests into your Instagram marketing mix. Love how you added the tag 3 friends incentive. You clearly know what you’re doing! 🙂

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  • Thanks Lucy. Great question. Unfortunately I don’t have a definitive answer. It really depends on your business needs, budget and talent.

    There are many goals you can achieve by running Instagram contests. (Such as to increase the number of followers, brand mentions, likes, emails, community UGC, brand awareness, or even sales, etc.) How many you can get for your business can depend on factors like: number of email leads, how engaged your other social sites are (and how you promote on them), the prize you offer (and how well it resonates with your target market), etc.

    I have seen brands run consistent weekly contests who’ve gotten over 50,000 new followers in a month. I’ve also seen brands run contests (with less promotion and less enticing prizes) who gain a smaller number of followers (but sometimes those followers have a higher engagement rate and give the business more mentions).

    Hope that helps! 🙂

  • Great examples Krista. I love how you listed the types of contests to run on Instagram and all of the actionable items to take to get there. This will be a valuable post for a lot of users. Keep up the great work.

  • jaydj

    I think a “physical prize” is tricky, especially if you want to limit the participants to a certain country. On Instagram, anybody can easily join or like (without a 3rd party service) and you can’t determine their location. You may only find out if they win and it may be too late because you have the commitment to award the prize to them. Best prizes are those that can be given online but it hinders you from giving away a prize like a cool shirt.

  • I still feel that Instagram at present isn’t the best platform to run a contest on, unless you’re in the fashion/retail kind of industry. For most other industries, it doesn’t make that much sense to pull Instagram into your plan – especially in terms of contests and what not – feels like one is almost forcing the issue. Platforms like Facebook / Google+ or even a microsite are a lot easier to run contests on, they tend to be a little more interactive and especially with Facebook contests you have the opportunity to get those fans to sign-up for something, be part of your mailing list, re-targeting list, something.

  • Miranda

    Does anyone have any more examples of well executed cross-platform photo competitions? I want to setup a weekly fan photo friday type competition across different social media platforms and trying to figure out the best way to do it.

  • Contests are a hit or miss for me but the goal will always be the same and that is to let people know about your brand.

  • treb072410

    Thanks for sharing Krista.. Great read and info shared here..

  • Thanks for sharing, Avtar. I’d also love to hear from any others outside the fashion/retail industries to see how this works for them.

  • Thanks for sharing, Avtar. I’d also love to hear from any others outside the fashion/retail industries to see how this works for them.

  • Miranda, you might want to ask this question in our LinkedIn Group:

  • I’m always on the lookout @CindyKing:disqus! I saw a report from SimplyMeasured earlier I think, will dive into that soon and see if they have any information about contest usage and whether or not it was for specific industries. Will let you know if I come across something. 🙂

  • Thanks Christian!

  • Excellent point Jay! Unless you explicitly indicate your prize shipping policies in your contest rules (such as that you only ship in the US), you can make your prize logistics a lot simpler by offering an online reward. Thanks for sharing your insights!

  • Thanks for sharing Rob.

  • Thanks! Glad you liked the article and helpful tips.

  • Romain Ouzeau

    @beta21:disqus @CindyKing:disqus Well we’ve been working on Instagram contests with a lot of brands from different industries. Contests are a great way for them not only to engage their community, to increase reach and to generate high-value UGC that can be re-used for marketing purposes (with participants authorization).

    Here are couple of examples to get inspired by:

  • DonnaGilliland

    Krista, thank you for the great detail in your article. I have a question. A company in our community has an idea for a contest to bring awareness to 10 local companies. Each company will commit to a prize. Each participating company is required to @Tag one of the participating companies. People who like and comment on the post of each company will be entered in a drawing to win all 10 prizes at the close of the contest. Suggestions for success? It seems to me that a contest app to accomplish the goal would be best.

  • Thanks Donna. I love the contest idea. It brings together a community of businesses and extends the marketing reach/ brand awareness for each. Brilliant.

    Depending on the businesses and their Instagram savvy though, it could be a bit of a logistical challenge. To make it a bit more cohesive, I’d recommend you create a contest-specific hashtag (similar to #2 above – without the UGC) . Make it a requirement that each company post with the contest hashtag (and the @tag of one of the participating companies). With the common hashtag, all of the likes and comments are simple to find within the hashtag stream – and it increases awareness of the common contest.
    You can use a contest app for this (like Wishpond, iconosquare or many others) to make your life a bit more simple too!

    Hope that helps. All the best with your contest. Let us know how it goes!

  • Gaurav Kakkar

    Great article and the steps can be applied to the other channels like Facebook, Twitter.

  • Aina

    Very useful article. However I’m worried abloug the legal grounds. In Spain, at least, I think we must include a link to a webpage where the anyone could read the contest legal grounds. Do you know anythink about it?

  • Glad that you shared such an interesting article with us and I think there could not be a better explanation than this for running a Contest. To run a successful Contest on any Social Platform, you must have a precise strategy that needs to be well executed.

  • Nick Walz

    Do you know what program was used for Email-Gated Contests?

  • Krysta Belliston

    Very informative and up to date! Thank you. I will be using this in the near future for my Instagram for Greater Vista.

  • Sabrina Kizzie

    I find this article very informative. I just worked on a contest not too long ago and plan to use these tips for future contests. Thank you for posting!
    Sabrina Kizzie, Author & Social Media Lecturer
    -Twitter & Instagram: @Sabrinaonmove

  • James

    I’m a bit confused about the email gated technique. In order to do this they would have to learn about your Instagram contest via your website correct?

    I’d like to collect emails for my current instagram followers and new instagram followers, but how do you get them to your site?

    I’m thinking maybe use a simple easy to read URL shorten, and put that in an image describing the contest and where to go to enter…

    Is this what you are doing.

  • john

    Yes, do share

  • Thanks Gaurav. Thanks for your comment. Yes, these steps can definitely be used for Facebook and Twitter contests too!

  • Thanks Aina. Great question. Pretty much every country has their own rules and laws about contests. I’d suggest you consult with a local legal advisor with any concerns for your Instagram contests. Hope that helps!

  • Thanks Dave!

  • Hi Nick, thanks for the question. In the article examples, I was using the Wishpond platform. Other Instagram contest providers (which I personally am not as familiar with) include Iconosquare and votigo.

  • Excellent, thanks Sabrina. All the best with your future contests!

  • Hi James. Thanks for the question.

    The best way to run an email-gated Instagram contest is through a third-party app. It streamlines the process and enables you to host the contest via the Instagram platform. Good third-party contest providers (like Wishpond) also give you an email database through which you can collect, segment and send future emails to your contestants.

    You could try to run a contest on your website too, and simply use Instagram as a method to promote it. I’ve seen a lot of successes both ways.

    Hope that helps. Best with your future promotions.

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  • Caity

    HI All,

    Does anyone know whether there are any terms and conditions aligned with instagram competitions run by Business Accounts?

    Thank you/

  • Huy Kutis

    Thanks to the article. It makes my idea clearer. Is that ok if I conbine Facebook and Instagram fans in a contest?

  • Cherise

    My organization would like to run an Instagram contest and gather the entries via a hashtag. However, I’ve heard that if the users have their profile as private, I won’t be able to see their entry. Any suggestions for how to overcome this?

  • Genavieve

    And always put a legal disclaimer – this is NOT affiliated with IG and participants my be 13 years or older to enter (I’m an attorney for entrepreneurs in the US) 🙂

  • Thanks for this article. It is very complete and useful! regards, Carlos

  • erickkkk

    How do you pick random winners ??? ASAP


    Great article !

    I’m planning an Email-gated contest asking for UGC but I’m not sure how to manage the email address I’ll get and how to relate them to the images/videos posted by contestants and their Instagram user names what would you recommend on this case? 🙂

    Thanks in advance.

  • Anita

    Hi Krista. We are new to Instagram and was wondering how one creates a form to collect email addresses for a giveaway contest on Instagram?

  • Azeem Shah

    Hi Krista, I have a question regarding the impact of google ad words on e-commerce i need to make my research project on it. could you please help me in it.

  • Hi Krista! Thanks so much for the helpful tips! We just launched our first Hashtag user-generated contest. We plan on using a variety of contests to build our Instagram following, but we felt our first one really had to make a splash. We chose a user-generated contest because we wanted our fans to challenge themselves creatively and inspire others with their most epic travel photos. And we made the prize a free trip to Bali! So far engagement has been solid and we’ve gained a ton of new followers. You can check it out here! Will report back with stats when we’re done (it lasts 3 weeks). Cheers!

  • This was a good article with a lot of tips for a noobie at Instagram! We’ve had a lot of success on Facebook, but Instagram is a bit more tricky because it’s a completely visual platform.

  • LukeSays

    I’m wondering what the recent changes to Instagrams API has done to the Hashtag search? Will a search display all the hashtags or will they be displayed in order of relevance rather than date?

  • Grace Duffy

    According to Instagram, you can still search a specific hashtag using the Search & Explore bar. The search results you see in “Top Posts” are based on a variety of factors, including the people you follow, who you’re connected to and what photos and videos you like on Instagram. You can also view result based on “Most Recent”.