HomeBlogInstagram Contests – 7 tips to successfully leverage contests

Instagram Contests – 7 tips to successfully leverage contests

A few years ago, brands may have written off Instagram as just another app for hipsters or foodies or fashionistas. Serious Instagram contests were off the picture. Not anymore. With a global community of 400 million active monthly users, 80 million photos shared daily and 3.5 billion likes per day, Instagram is a force to […]

A few years ago, brands may have written off Instagram as just another app for hipsters or foodies or fashionistas. Serious Instagram contests were off the picture.

Not anymore.

With a global community of 400 million active monthly users, 80 million photos shared daily and 3.5 billion likes per day, Instagram is a force to be reckoned with. Its user base is growing steadily stronger, with 26% of online adults using it (up from 17% in late 2013). And 53% of young adults, ages 18-29, are Instagram users.

Instagram is important, and brands should be utilizing it and taking advantage of its natural strengths – and creating Instagram contests is one way of doing just that.

The Value of Instagram Contests

Instagram lends itself perfectly to user-generated content campaigns. Users are already sharing their photos and videos on the platform. If your brand can find a way to direct those existing interests and habits, you can engage Instagram users in a fun and meaningful way.

Incorporating Instagram contests into your marketing strategy can help you expand your reach, increase your followers and build loyal brand ambassadors. In this article, we’ll dive deeper into what makes an Instagram contest successful – and how you can apply the best practices to benefit your brand.


DOWNLOAD: 26 top Instagram marketing tools for your ecommerce business [Ebook]

How to Design a Successful Instagram Contest

Keep these seven tips in mind as you start to plan an Instagram contest, and set yourself up for success.

1. Ask why.

So you want to launch an awesome Instagram contest. Fantastic!


This may seem like an obvious question, but you’d be surprised by how often it gets neglected until far too late in the planning process.

Why exactly do you want to host this contest? Are you just aiming to increase Instagram followers, or do you have another goal in mind? How do you plan to reach these goals?

Now is the time to be specific. Don’t just say, “We’re going to get a lot of followers and build a ton of brand awareness!” Set concrete, measurable goals; you won’t know if your Instagram contest is successful unless you can define what success looks like.

The answer of this question will guide you through the rest of the strategy. For example, you might want to engage with your local community and find beautiful content for your brand. Then you launch a contest inviting local artists  to share images related to your brand offering them exposure and the opportunity of becoming brand’s ambassadors. It’s not only about finding new followers, is about engaging and creating a win-win situation between your followers and your brand.


2. Pick the type of contest.

Even though the platform is simple and straightforward, Instagram offers a lot of room for creativity in contests. Decide what kind of Instagram contest will best align with your brand’s goals.

Here are a few examples of how you could structure a photo contest:

  • Follower contest: Encourage Instagram users to follow your brand’s account during a set period of time to be entered to win.
  • Like/comment contest: Ask users to like or comment on your photo to be entered to win.
  • Photo challenge contest: Tell users to post photos to their Instagram accounts that fit a certain theme, sharing with a contest-specific hashtag.

Define your audience, and make sure that this contest also fits their interests. What would catch their attention? What’s in it for them? Why would they want to participate?

Choose a prize carefully. It obviously has to be realistic for your budget and resources, but it should also make sense for your brand and customers.

For example, a trendy clothing boutique probably wouldn’t want to host a fashion photo contest and give away video games as a prize. If Instagram users don’t get it at first glance, they won’t bother reading further.


3. Define the rules clearly.

Write out the rules for participation. How long and complicated are they? Could you explain them in 15 seconds to someone who knows nothing about your contest? If not, simplify them until they’re easy to understand and explain quickly. Remember that you only have a limited amount of space to get your message across, and Instagram users have a short attention span.

Go back to your contest goals yet again, and make sure your rules are still on track. No matter what your other guidelines are, it’s smart to make it a requirement that participants follow your Instagram account to enter. That way, you start off building followers as a baseline, and you can increase engagement from there.

Set the dates for your Instagram contest. Is it a one-time competition? A weekly giveaway? An annual event? When will you announce the winners?

Create two versions of your contest rules: one that’s a quick, at-a-glance overview you could put into a graphic or post; one that’s a thorough outline that will keep your lawyers happy. Double-check that you meet Instagram’s requirements as well:

  • Acknowledge that the contest is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Instagram
  • Don’t inaccurately tag content or encourage users to do so


4. Pick a hashtag.

Creating a unique hashtag for your Instagram contest is essential. You want a hashtag that’s clear, branded and memorable, so users can recall it easily and you can track it accurately.

Find out more about How to create a hashtag for your brand [7 experts weigh in]


5. Launch and promote.

Once the design is done and the marketing plan is in place, you’re ready for takeoff. Make the contest live, and promote it like crazy – on your website, on all your social channels, through your email list, through your PR people.

Look for ways to give back to participants and keep building on engagement. For example, regram a few entries a day, or start a Pinterest board with all the photos people have posted.


6. Track results.

Using the metrics for success you laid out in the very beginning as guidelines, track and analyze your contest’s progress. Are people engaging the way you hoped they would? Are you going to meet your projected goals?


7. Celebrate and follow-up.

Once you choose a winner, shout it from the social media rooftops. Announce it on Instagram first, then on your company blog and other social platforms. Make it a big deal so your winner feels special (and encouraged to become your brand ambassador in turn).

To finally integrate all of the collected UGC into your brand marketing campaign and even directly into your website, a visual marketing platform such as Photoslurp is commonly used, that simplifies the whole process allowing you to get the most out of your UGC contest.

Do an internal debrief right after the contest is over. What went well? What could be better next time? What did you learn?


Download The Checklist To Successfully Organize Instagram Contests

6 Well-Designed Instagram Contests

A successful Instagram contest may look simple – but it takes careful planning and execution to get it just right. Here are six examples of brands that did it well.


This past month, Netflix created a lot of buzz by launching an Instagram contest pretty much everybody wanted to win. The prize? Spending two weeks traveling throughout Europe and the Middle East to take pictures on Netflix TV and film sets and getting paid $4,000 for the privilege.


Netflix made the prize desirable and the entry requirements extremely simple, ensuring that the contest would get a lot of entries. To enter, photographers had to:

  • Follow Netflix’s Instagram account (key to building more followers)
  • Choose three original photos that showed off their photography skills and interests, tagging each #Grammasters3 in the caption (entering only once).




Netflix received entries from all over the world, and has already notified the winning four photographers.


Califia Farms

Beverage company Califia Farms has a well-branded and aesthetically appealing Instagram presence. The company posts colorful, cheerful photos and videos that highlight their products’ healthy characteristics – as well as the unique shape of their bottles.

Califia runs regular Instagram photo contests to engage their followers on a long-term basis. Users are motivated to follow the brand’s account to stay updated on what the newest theme and prize are.

For example, a weekly coupon giveaway encouraged users to post photos of how they use Califia products in day-to-day life, using the hashtag #CalifiaRollCall. The photos submitted were diverse and vibrant, and they allowed the brand to show off how much customers love Califia products.





A holiday-themed contest promoted Califia’s eggnog almond milk, asking followers to post #HowDoYouNog pictures – whether “straight, spiked or baked into cookies.” The winner scored a month’s supply of Califia products.



So @eatlovegym wins Thursday with this Pumpkin Nog Smoothie #CalifianLove

A photo posted by Califia Farms (@califiafarms) on


National Geographic

Last summer, National Geographic – which, no surprise, has a fantastic Instagram presence – launched a travel photography contest open to any adult living in the U.S.

Photographers could enter as many times as they liked (posting each photo just once) – with images that caught glimpses of “unforgettable people, places, and experiences.” All they had to do was include the location of the photo and the hashtag #WanderlustContest to enter. The prize was a 7-day, all-inclusive National Geographic photo expedition to Yosemite National Park in California.

National Geographic used its photographic expertise and authority as a respected publication to create an impressive Instagram contest. Entries were judged based on theme execution, creativity and originality, and photographic quality – and this judging process was essential to convey the contest’s prestige.




National Geographic made sure to explain why the winning image was so exceptional:


Of all the entries, @gaylon_wampler captured the spirit of the contest by tagging this winning shot. The danger present in this photograph is apparent in the travelers standing on the edge of one of the most accessible and beautiful volcano experiences in the world, Mt. Yasur, island of Tanna in Vanuatu, and made us want to keep looking at the image again and again. Are these visitors in any danger? What must it feel like to stand amidst the cataclysmic explosion of colors? Congrats @gaylon_wampler, you’ve inspired us all!


Habitat for Humanity

Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit organization that builds homes for people in need around the world, hosts an annual Instagram photo contest. Since it’s not a brand that sells products or services, its approach is a little different – but it shows it understands its audience.

To enter the 2015 contest, participants had to post photos depicting Habitat for Humanity’s mission and impact, using the hashtag #HabitatPhotos. (In this case, we’d recommend a stronger unique hashtag, especially since it’s a recurring contest; however, it’s still a great example of how a nonprofit can build engagement on Instagram.)

One winner, chosen by the organization, won a grand prize to volunteer at the 32nd annual Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project in Pokhara, Nepal. Another viewer’s choice winner received a gift card for the Habitat online store. The entries showed the real-world impact of Habitat through the work of real people – volunteers and families.


#ethiopia #HabitatPhotos

A photo posted by Kitty McKechnie (@kittymckechnie) on



Editor’s Choice winner:




The simplest contests are often the most effective, but Starbucks turned that conventional wisdom on its head.

In 2014, the brand launched the Starbucks White Cup Contest, asking its customers in the U.S. and Canada to decorate its iconic cups with custom designs. This perfectly tapped into Starbucks’ creative and innovative brand identity – and garnered more than 4,000 entries in three weeks. Starbucks also made sure to give participants a little extra love by reposting submissions on Pinterest.



I’m embracing this weekend with open arms and a cup of @starbucks coffee.

A photo posted by Bailey Carlin (@bailey.carlin) on


Starbucks featured the winner, 20-year-old student Brita Lynn Thompson, on its company blog. And it followed up with her a year later, highlighting the small business she had created and showing that her big contest win was having a lasting positive impact on her life.



#whitecupcontest @starbucks #zentangle #sharpie #pittsburgh???

A photo posted by Brita Lynn Thompson (@blynnxoxo) on

Angry Orchard

Angry Orchard, a hard cider company, took a simple giveaway idea and turned it into an effective six-week photo contest.

The brand encouraged customers to take photos that showed how they were “being adventurous or branching out in new ways with Angry Orchard,” and posting with the hashtag #BranchOut.

One winner example:



Participants could enter on Instagram, as well as Twitter, Facebook or Iconosquare, and a new winner was randomly selected each week over the course of six weeks. The weekly prize was a branded Angry Orchard tent, which fit with the theme of adventure and “branching out.”

Since the barrier to entry was low and there was an opportunity to win six times, the contest encouraged followers to keep posting and checking back for updates.

Do you have more great and fun examples of successful Instagram contests? We are always looking for new references, tell us all about it in the comments!


BONUS: 26 top Instagram marketing tools for your ecommerce business [Ebook]