4 Steps to Running a Successful Instagram Competition

Instagram Competition Dickies

4 Steps to Running a Successful Instagram Competition

Is your brand on Instagram but lacking the follower base you desire? Looking for a way to expand your audience and encourage client interaction? With an average of 1.6 million active users in Australia, there’s no hiding the incredible impact marketing through Instagram can have on your brand; but it does not come as simply as just having an Instagram account. Running an effective Instagram competition is one of the best ways to achieve a broad, loyal follower base, as well as allowing you to connect with your audiences on a heightened emotive level.

As with any good marketing campaign, an Instagram competition requires thorough assessment, planning and design, with clear goals for outcomes. If you’ve never run an Instagram competition before, or are looking for ways to improve your next competition, read ahead for everything you need to know.

1. Prepare

Is an Instagram competition right for your brand?

Before you get started, there are a few things you need to consider to be sure running an Instagram competition will work for your brand. There is little benefit in running social media marketing campaigns if your social media pages are not up to scratch. Aside from having a solid follower base (at least several hundred on Instagram), you should at the very least have a good Facebook page; a social media marketing fundamental. Your social media pages should be run by a dedicated community manager, and already gaining steady momentum with connections and interactivity.

Though running Instagram competitions can be an extremely effective social media marketing strategy, it’s a good idea to do some thorough research before you begin, to make sure that it will be effective for your brand. Firstly, who is your audience?  What is their median age, gender, location, occupation and interests? Use this information to customise the competition for them, and determine whether you will achieve the goals you’ve set for your brand through the competition. Some simple statistical research should be able to answer these questions. Did you know that 68% of Instagram users are female? Or that over 90% of people on Instagram are under the age of 35? These simple stats alone tell us a lot about Instagram’s reach, and that if your brand is targeting women under 35, the chances are you’re using the right platform. If your audience doesn’t fit into either category, perhaps running an Instagram competition is not ideal for your brand.

Know the rules

Similarly to Facebook, Instagram has a set of guidelines regarding photo competitions. In essence you must:

  • Supply participants with the official rules
  • State eligibility requirements
  • Comply with rules supplied
  • Not deceptively tag content
  • Verify that the competition is not sponsored, endorsed by, or associated with Instagram

For the complete list visit the Instagram Help Centre.

You can supply the simplified rules as a photo caption or as text on your competition post (more below).

Determine what type of competition

There are two competition formats you can choose to utilise in your Instagram competition; sweepstakes or competition. Sweepstakes (or game of chance) are commonly undertaken through the enter to win/like to win/follow to win strategy. Though sweepstakes are excellent for increasing followers and exposure, you simultaneously run the risk of losing this interactivity once the competition is over. Most importantly, under the Australian Lotteries and Art Unions Act, running a ‘game of chance’ competition requires the acquisition of a permit. For more information, visit the Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing website.

Running a competition without sweepstakes (where a judge determines the winning entry on its qualities) is the more popular and often more effective format. Competitions encourage qualitative interaction and can reinforce positive brand perception. Running a photo competition on Instagram also sparks creativity in audiences; keeping you in the forefront of their minds for a period of time.

You can be as creative or straightforward as you like with your photo competition; determining this will depend upon your target audience. The competition should be in line with your brand’s product/services, image and values. Take a look at Toronto International Film Festival’s most recent Instagram photo competition:

Instagram Competition TIFF

The festival (TIFF) launched the competition alongside Twitter, calling participants to take photos inspired by a theme that changed daily (for example, #popcorn). Participants were required to use the unique hashtag #TIFF12MOMENTS, and the daily themed hashtag. Though the prizes were small (two tickets to a festival film), they were released daily during the festival’s duration, and ignited awareness and hype.

2. Develop

When developing the practicalities of your competition, the most important thing to remember is to make it a positive experience for your audience. Doing so will not only heighten interactivity, but also reflect well on your brand. The following considerations should be at the forefront of your decision making:

Determine prize

Depending on your budget and the scale of the competition, the prize can be as simple as a mention or repost (good for blogging circles) or as generous as a high-value product or service courtesy of your brand. It’s a good idea to keep prizes in-house and use your brand’s own product or service as a prize, unless the competition is part of a cross-promotional campaign. What better way to make your products/services appealing than enticing audiences with a giveaway. Include a photo of the prize in your competition posts, and if you’re giving away a gift voucher, include an image (or more) of a product or service that can be purchased with the voucher.

Create a competition page or post

Depending on the scale of your Instagram competition and the strength of your Facebook page, you may opt to keep the competition conducted solely through Instagram or with the assistance of an Instagram competition app (more below). Either way, you will need to design and create a competition post that briefly and cohesively explains the competition’s idea, requirements and terms. If you do not wish to supply terms on the image, create a page on your website that provides them and include a URL for it in the image. To give you an idea of how either can be done, take a look at these Instagram competition posts:

Instagram Competition Fat Mum Slim

A competition post with link to T&Cs. Credit: Fat Mum Slim


Instagram Competition Dickies

A competition post that includes T&Cs. Credit: Dickies

If you decide to use an Instagram competition app, or to integrate or promote your competition within your other social media channels or website, you should design a competition page. The page, hosted by your brand’s home site should match the design of your Instagram competition post (or vice versa), and connect audiences seamlessly to the relevant social media pages. The page should include the competition’s rules and guidelines, even if they are included in the competition post. A great example is Lipton tea’s recent Instagram competition, “Liptagram”.

Instagram Competition Lipton

The competition called participants to post photos responding to various themed “challenges”, including the specified hashtag. The page includes information about the competition’s purpose, rules, prizes, how to enter, social share plugins, and featured entries as inspiration. It’s simple, cohesive, and visually homogenised with its own Instagram posts.

Consider an app

Developing and running an Instagram competition can be a daunting task, particularly for larger scale campaigns or brands with an broad follower base. If either of these apply to you, you should consider utilising an Instagram competition app to simplify tasks and achieve extended reach.

Instagram Competition Facebook App

Instagram competition apps like Iconosquare, Wishpond and Woobox help integrate your competition into other social media platforms (most commonly Facebook) and your website. The user friendly apps come with a smorgasbord benefits; not only do they streamline the competition process to make it easier for you to run, but many come with features that can help you connect with connect with audiences that you may not alternatively reach.

Amongst their sundry perks, competition apps can help you generate a winner in sweepstake competitions, connect your website to your competition, provide entry forms for participants that supply you with additional information about your audience (including contact information), simplify design assets, assist you with the terms and conditions process, and deliver campaign reports to help you monitor reach and success.

However, competition apps can be pricey (depending on scale), and should only be considered if your business has the need and budget for it. For smaller scale competitions and small businesses, running your competition purely through Instagram will suffice.

Make it appealing

Instagram is a visual medium, so be sure to make your competition post/s visually appealing. Not only is this more likely to get people involved, it also sets a precedent for the quality of the photos in the competition. Avoid making your competition post/s purely text; you want to intrigue and inspire. Once you’ve posted your competition image (it’s a good idea to post it more than once throughout the competition, but not too often), why post in-house responses to the competition? Give your audience examples of how creative they can be with their own responses.

Keep it simple

The very nature of Instagram is simplicity; it is an image posting platform designed to be swiftly scrolled through. Keep your competition posts simple and attention grabbing to ensure maximum impact on audiences. This also applies to the guidelines of your competition; if it confuses audiences, they will not participate. Your Instagram competition can be simultaneously creative and simple; an intriguing hashtag and an exciting prize can be enough to pique audience interest and get them involved.


It is integral in any Instagram competition that a hashtag is utilised; ideally one that is unique, generated specifically for the competition. Not only will this be the only way to locate your entrants (this can be made easier by requesting that participants tag your Instagram handle in their posts), but it also spreads brand awareness outside of your follower base.

When picking your Instagram competition hashtag, there’s a few things you need to consider. Be sure your hastag isn’t too long or convoluted; you want it to be simple but descriptive, and easy to remember. It may seem obvious, but remember to avoid using punctuation in your hashtag – it will break the tag at the punctuation. This is important to keep in mind for any hyphenated brand names, or campaigns with a possessive apostrophe in its title. Once you’ve launched the competition, you can set up Google Alerts to monitor your hashtag’s mentions across all platforms.

For more advice on choosing a good hashtag, take a peek at Twitter’s helpful infographic here.


When it comes to targeting audiences, timing is your greatest tool. Determining the appropriate times to post to gain optimal exposure can be an invaluable asset for your social media, particularly when it comes to promoting your competition. This is fairly straightforward if you have a straightforward audience demographic; for example teenage girls in Australia, whose best times are likely to be mornings before 9 and between 3pm and 10pm on weekdays. If you have a mixed or international audience, you may require assistance from a scheduling app. Apps like Iconosquare can use your unique social media data to help you determine the best times for your audience

3. Promote

Once your Instagram competition is off the ground, you want to be sure that it’s getting premium exposure to your target audience. It is intrinsic to your competition that you do the following up until its conclusion:


Show the social media sphere how exciting your competition is by encouraging shares within your follower base. Asking participants to tag your brand or use your hashtag/s as an entry requirement is the ultimate way to do this, but encouraging reposts of your competition post can boost exposure even further. If you plan on doing so, make sure your competition posts are tasteful and visually appealing, so as to naturally encourage shares and avoid coming across as spammy.

You can also inspire and excite audiences by sharing good entries. With permission, repost high quality images, acknowledging the entrant and using the competition hashtag in the caption.

If your brand has other strong social media pages, be sure to break out of Instagram and share your competition on each platform. Include the competition in your brand’s email newsletter, or send a focused email promoting the competition to your email database.

Promote the competition on your website with a competition page or banner, and include social plug-in buttons that allow users to share on their platform of choice.


Advertising on social media is an invaluable way to reach a targeted audience outside of your existing social community. Though some platforms can be more effective than others depending on your audience, you can’t go past Facebook for its value and efficiency in impressions and click throughs. Keep your ads simple and be sure to mention the competition prize.

4. Wrap up

If your competition is successful, you will have sufficiently expanded your social community and increased user interactivity with your brand’s pages. Though this is excellent news for your brand, it is essential that community management is at its pinnacle during this time, to maintain the excitement and positive interactions beyond the competition’s time frame.


It’s important to wrap up the competition on a positive note, even for the participants who did not win. After the winner/s has been announced and shared, be sure to acknowledge the participants and thank them for their entries. If you’ve shared the competition outside of Instagram, share the thanks across each platform.

If you have an email database, send out an email showcasing the winner/s and thanking and entrants. If you received a large amount of high quality entries, consider featuring them in the email, or on your website’s competition page.

Maintaining exceptional community management during this time is essential, as there is likely to be numerous comments and queries regarding the winning entry.

What’s next?

If you achieved your goals and enjoyed the process of running an Instagram competition, start planning your next one! As a sliver of comfort to the participants who did not win, recommend your users stay tuned for future competitions.

Use the competition’s conclusion as an opportunity to direct followers to your other social media channels. Keep them hooked with a subtle teaser for your next competition, or call for suggestions for your next competition’s theme.

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