The Ultimate Guide to Running a Contest on Instagram

Looking to run a contest on Instagram? Look no further than this guide, we have it all.

With over 500+ million daily users and over 100+ million posts per day, Instagram has established itself as a marketing force to be reckoned with.

Running an Instagram contest is a fun and easy way to get more followers, promote your business and engage with your audience. With minimal effort, your costumers can win cool stuff and in exchange you get to connect with your audience and promote your brand.

To help give you some direction for your next Instagram contest, we put together this ultimate guide, consider it a list of steps to think about when planning your next contest.

Understanding what’s allowed on Instagram is an important part of deciding how your want to run your contest.

You need to ensure you are following Instagram’s guidelines, that means taking time to learn the rules for Instagram contests. The last thing you want to is to have to take down your contest that you have put in time and effort to plan.

Here are a couple of important highlights:

  • Your contest must include rules, terms and eligibility requirements.
  • You have to make it clear that your contest is not sponsored by or associated with Instagram.
Instagram's Promotion Guidelines

There is also a separate Platform Policy for Instagram that you should look at before you decide to move on with your contest. If you use Gleam for your contest we will automatically add the Instagram release to your terms and conditions. Instagram provides an API for services like Gleam to help brands to understand, share and manage their Instagram accounts and that of course comes with terms and conditions.

There’s one important highlight to think about if you decide to use for example Gleam to help you with your contest.

  • You can administer a promotion on Instagram if you comply with all applicable laws and regulations, but don’t directly incentivize other actions.

This means that that we can’t incentivize Follow as an action instead we encourage Visits as a call to action.

Check out an example below:

  view template

Instagram also has a set of Community Guidelines that you should read before you administer your promotion.

The main point you should consider here is:

Help us stay spam-free by not artificially collecting likes, followers, or shares, posting repetitive comments or content, or repeatedly contacting people for commercial purposes without their consent.

Planning Your Instagram Contest

Before you fully commit to a plan, check out your competition and browse through related Instagram contests. In order to measure the success of your Instagram contest, you need to write down your goals. The clearer they are, the better chance of succeeding.

To help narrow the goals, think about the audience you’re trying to reach. You should be aiming to align your goals with how you think your audience might react to the campaign.

Some goals might be:

  • Increasing your Instagram followers
  • Increasing engagement on your Instagram posts
  • Driving sales of a specific product
  • General awareness for your business or new product
  • Generating activity around a specific Instagram #hashtag

Another step includes establishing a time frame and overall budget for the contest. Unfortunately, there’s no magic answer when it comes to time! By deciding on your main goals and determining how much work you are willing to put into promotion for running the contest, you should be able to feel confident when you decide on the end date.

Pros: Daily contests can be a huge (and easy) way to piggyback off popular days in the Calendar. This can allow you to get engagement on global #hashtags too.

Cons: Potentially a large amount of setup and planning involved for a shorter timeframe.

Pros: When you are running a contest for a week or less you automatically up the urgency factor. With the right daily promotion a short-lived contest can cause excitement in a short amount of time with very minimal effort. People won’t want to miss out on an opportunity like that!

Cons: When you run a contest, you want it to reach as many people as possible. A week or less doesn’t give you a lot of time to do it, you’re likely to receive fewer entries and less attention for a contest that is short-lived. This factor should play into the overall budget you allocate.

Pros: Two weeks isn’t such a short time to run a contest and it’s not long enough that people will forget about it. Two weeks gives the contest plenty of time to circulate around the social media channels while still keeping it relevant and exciting. You should be able to get a great amount of entries with the right promotion!

Cons: Depending on how big the contest is, two weeks might not give you enough time to hit monthly targets so just keep that in mind.

Pros: Running a contest for a month will give you plenty of time to promote it, especially if you are running TV ads or other advertising campaigns alongside it. Certain themes can also stay relevant for an entire month (i.e. No Shave November etc).

Cons: You will have to work hard to keep it relevant because a month is definitely long enough for it to be forgotten. You’ll end up spending more time on promoting the contest than on anything else.

There are different ways of running a contest on Instagram. You can run a contest inside an Instagram Post or you can send users via your bio link to your own website.

Let’s explore the pros and cons of each:

Administering a contest inside an Instagram Post is a quick and easy way to engage your users.


  • Quick and easy to setup
  • Help increase engagement on specific Posts or #hashtags
  • You can ask users to Like / Comment on Posts


  • You don’t get users onto your mailing list or get access to marketing data
  • Hard to track: Picking fair winners from the data is extremely difficult
  • You miss out on traffic to your website

Using an app also has pros and cons (due to API restrictions on Apps), however it is possible to combine the in Post contest with an app to greatly increase your exposure.

Jane Giveaway Page


  • You can capture vital data for contacting winners (or sending marketing emails)
  • Easy for fans to share the contest and gain additional entries
  • Contest rules are displayed inside app
  • More detailed analytics
  • Easy to pick and notify winners
  • Integration with other social media networks


  • Higher barrier to entry as the user must leave Instagram to enter
  • Apps are subject to API restrictions which prevents them from directly incentivizing certain actions.
Tips for Running an Instagram Contest

The most successful Instagram contests we’ve seen have combined both of the techniques above into a single campaign. This allows you to gain the advantages of both, and also gets rid of some of the disadvantages.

There’s a lot of information out there on this topic, so we’ve put together a Gleam specific guide with over 40+ tips to help you run better Instagram contests.

A Like to Win contest ask users to like a photo that your brand has posted in order to enter. Winners are then randomly picked from the users who have like the photo once the contest is over.

Ease of Setup: Easy
Moderation: Hard
Impact: Variable

You might also see some brands use Double Tap to Enter instead of Like to Enter. The idea here is that it encourages the action of double tapping (which can increase engagement).

Pros: A perk of a Like to Win contest is the chance to show up on Instagram’s Discover page. This is where Instagram shows users images based on people they follow, likes and images that are popular in their country. It’s a great exposure for your contest and account. These are also very easy contests to enter (participants just have to like the post), so it’s a simple way to increase your Instagram reach.

Cons: Participants don’t have to expend much effort to enter the contest. It can also be incredibly hard to randomly pick a winner from the post (as Instagram offers no way to export the data).

Ease of Setup: Easy
Moderation: Easy Impact: Variable

A Comment to Win contest on Instagram asks users to leave a comment on a specific post. Winners are chosen either at random from the group of commenters or you might choose the best comment.

Pros: It’s less likely uninterested users will enter because it’s a little tougher to enter than Like to Win contest. If your goal is to increase post engagement amongst your followers than this is a great way to do it. It is also a way for your company to get direct, organic traffic to your brand’s Instagram account. This type of contest is also helpful for gaining new followers.

Cons: A comment-to-win contest don’t allow you to collect information about your participants which will make it hard to nurture a relationship with them afterwards.

Picking random winners can be a challenge if you try to do it manually, but it's a walk in the park if you use Gleam's Instagram Comment Import Actions to track entries and draw winners. You'll even be able to filter the comments you accept by #hashtags or words to help ensure that entrants are complying with your rules and guidelines.

Ease of Setup: Easy
Moderation: Hard
Impact: High

Repost to Win contests require participants to repost the contest photo on their own feed with a hashtag and tag the brand running the contest. Check out our latest post about how to repost images easily.

Pros: People will share your photo on their own profiles, your brand will be introduced to their followers increasing the number people knowing about your brand. People care about what they share on their feed which means people that enter your contest care about your brand.

Cons: Instagram doesn’t offer a native way to repost images, so it is actually quite difficult for users to enter this type of campaign. It can also be a bit spammy due to lots of duplicate posts.

Ease of Setup: Easy
Moderation: Moderate
Impact: Variable

Tag a Photo contests can be administered by simple asking users to tag someone in an existing photo or post a new one then tag someone in it.

Pros: These types of contests are a great way to generate content around your brand, specifically from your target market. It can also be a great way to identify your more fanatical users.

Cons: Like the Comment to Win contest it’s less likely uninterested users will enter the contest because of the higher barrier to entry.

Ease of Setup: Easy
Moderation: Easy
Impact: High

We all know what a selfie is and Instagram makes it easy to take, post and share selfies. A selfie contest simply asks the users to take a picture of themselves and post it with the contest hashtag.

Having all your entries collated across a specific #hashtag can make it easy to choose a winner.

Pros: A selfie contest is a great way to engage with your costumers. It is a way for the participants to show different way they use your product in order to win the contest. Always use a hashtag because that will keep the posts in one spot. That will create a lifestyle feeling for your brand, but also make it easier to pick a winner.

Cons: A selfie contest works better if you have a particular kind of brand and a culture surrounding your product. An example of a company that has a big product culture is Frank Body where people post pictures all with the product all the time using the hashtag #thefrankeffect. Hosting a selfie contest might not be ideal for some types of businesses.

Ease of Setup: Easy
Moderation: Easy
Impact: High

User generated content is the most popular way to go on Instagram. All you have to do is ask users to post a photo or a video with a specific hashtag.

You can then choose to pick a winner at random, or you can choose the best submission as your winner. With Gleam's Competitions app you can use our powerful import actions to automatically collect submissions and award entries to users who upload a photo with your designated hashtag, or those who @mention you in their post.

Pros: UGC contests are a fantastic way to collate content around your brand and engage your followers at the same time.

Cons: If the request is too detailed or the hashtag is too long it may increase the barrier to entry.

A good hashtag helps to create a contest recognition. It is the key to any engaging Instagram contest. It can be hard to find the perfect hashtag because there are tons of hashtags being created each day, making it difficult to find something unique. If it is possible try to create a theme for your hashtag and content to add more context to the contest.

Oreo uses the hashtag #OreoDunkSweepstakes for their contest.

Here are a few tips when trying to create the perfect hashtag:

  • Check it first: Look on Instagram to see if the #hashtag is already being used, the last thing you want is non-relevant entries clogging up your contest.
  • Short and memorable: The hashtag should stick to people’s minds. It should be identifiable, catchy and easy to search and write.
  • Relevant: The hashtag should relate back to your brand, service or product.
  • Universal: Think about your audience. If you have any international audience make sure to make it easy for them to understand by avoiding slang.

Instagram is a melting pot for E-commerce stores, it allows users to follow their favourite brands and get a live feed of their best products, new launches, offers and promotions.

As a store owner, there is no better time to be on Instagram. Visual content is 40x more likely to get shared on social media than text and 60% of Instagram users say they’ve learned about a specific product or service via a post.

Incentivising your Instagram followers with contests is a fantastic way to turn your Instagram followers into buyers.

You can:

  • Drive more users onto your mailing lists
  • Send users to your website (via your bio link)
  • Offer product specific giveaways

Here’s some of our top tips for E-commerce stores:

Skinnyme Tea uses Instagram’s new carousel feature to show off all the prizes in their campaign. This is a great way to drive buzz and engagement on the post (and also hype up the contest).

As an E-commerce store your product is your life, so you should use it to propel your brand on Instagram.

Frank Body asked users to draw on their packaging as part of their #frankcoffeeart contest.

frank body

The 5th Watches has a running Fan Photo of the month contest asking users to use the hashtag #the5thfam, and it’s worked wonders. Just look at some of the amazing content they are collecting:

But what do you do with all this content?

When you collect media via a contest you shouldn’t leave it sitting on Instagram for no-one to see.

You can build a Gallery and embed it on your site so users can see the content and engage with it. This is more likely to drive sales of your products.

Gleam offers a beautiful UGC Gallery app to allow you to do just this.

When determining what the prize should be for your contest, it is important to consider your budget. Your prize should align with the interest of your audience, but also give value and market your brand.

For example, giving away your own product will always be the most cost effective way to run a contest.

You should also think about if the contest will be restricted to certain countries, as this can impact shipping costs. Instagram doesn’t make it possible to restrict entries to certain countries however, so you will need to mention this in your terms and conditions.

Common prizes that brands use for contests are their own products, gift cards, free services, VIP experiences or shoutouts. You can get as creative as you want as long the prize is valuable and relevant for your business.

Offer your brands most popular or recent products as a contest prize. If you want to make it more exclusive you can offer a limited edition product or an Instagram only product as a prize.

Bundling the products together allows you to make the campaign more attractive to entrants.

Experiences can be priceless and beyond the boundaries of what someone would normally be able to attain. This makes them fantastic Prizes.

Consider this Funko Vinyl Figure below, it’s only worth ~$16 to buy. However when you get it signed by the actor it becomes priceless.

Doing this can easily propel your contest from hundreds of entries to thousands of entries just due to the scarcity of the prize. You also appeal to the fans of whoever signed the product (bonus points for getting them to promote the campaign for you).

Your own terms and conditions are as important as Instagram’s because when you create a competition with a prize you must follow legal guidelines in your country.

The laws will vary depending on where you are based and who you allow to enter your contest. You should consider this as important as planning the contest because without relevant terms and conditions your campaign may be illegal.

Here are some common things to include:

  • The name and contact details of the promoting brand
  • The dates of the contest (such as the date and way winner will be informed and announced)
  • The rules of who can enter (such as age and employee restrictions)
  • The guidelines for how people enter
  • The guidelines for how a winner is chosen
  • The time period the winner has to respond and claim their prize
  • The specific of the prize (including number of prizes, description of prizes, and any caveats)
  • The details of how the prize will be delivered

We highly recommend meeting with a lawyer to draft up a terms and conditions template for your brand which you can re-use for each contest.

When you finally launch that campaign you need to start promoting it. The possibilities are endless, but here are a few ideas to inspire you.

Your Instagram bio is the only clickable link in your profile so make it count. Use this to link to your contest then ask users to click the link in your bio to enter.

Oreo's Instagram Profile

You can learn more about how to optimize your link in bio here: Elevate Your Online Presence With The Best Linktree Ideas

Instagram Stories are the hottest thing in town right now. Not many brands are using them and they are pinned to the top of each users timeline (which means more views and engagement than a normal post).

You can also use it to remind users about the contest (important dates etc).

The great thing with Instagram Stories is that you can see who watched each part of your story. It is kind of a built-in engagement analytics. This is great for segmenting your audience where you can easily see which followers are ‘highly’ engaged and watch every part of your story. It will help you to understand which one of your promotion stories works best.

Oh, and Stories also give you another clickable link to worth with. You can get users to swipe up at the end of a story to visit a link.

Instagram Stories

Instagram doesn’t need to be a walled garden. You can engage your audience from other platforms like Facebook, Twitter etc. There is no better place to promote a social media contest than on social media. Direct your followers to your Instagram contest by a shortened link that directs them to your contest post. No matter how great the prize is your contest won’t promote itself.

You might also consider using paid ad options on social media platforms in order to reach more people.

For example, ads on Instagram allow you to provide a clickable link to the contest.

Instagram Ad

You can use Facebook to promote your contest by adding a link to the contest in your post.

Videos on Facebook have been performing much better than posts for brands, you can also add your contest link in the description there too.

Facebook is also putting a lot of focus on its Facebook Live feature currently, this can be a fantastic way to get in front of all your followers without paying for it.

If you have a Twitter account you should be cross promoting the contest to your Followers. Unlike a Facebook post, you’ll need to pick and choose what you want to say because you’re only limited to 140 characters. A link is usually 22 characters. Update your Twitter profile’s header photo to a promotional contest photo and attach a link to the contest in the bio.

What to include in the tweet – Prioritize what you want to include in your tweet because of the character limit. Use a call-to-action messaging and mention the prize that’s being given away.
Include images – Attach an image to your tweet to make it more attractive.
Use hashtags – Using hashtags in your tweet will help your tweet appear in relevant searches on Twitter. It’s a best practice to use no more than two hashtags per tweet!

Snapchat is a very creative platform to use for promotion, it comes with some unique features including geofilters, tools like paintbrush, stickers and many filters.

Promote your contest on Snapchat by creating snaps with instructions of how people can enter your contest. You can partner up with influencers on Snapchat or use Snap Ads where you create a 10-second video ad that will appear in the newsfeed of your preferred demographics.

Promote Snapchat Giveaway

Dedicate a page on your website to promote your contest with a direct link to your Instagram post. More users on your website means more potential sales or interest in your products.

Gleam campaigns are embeddable which means you can hosted them directly on your own landing pages. Giveaway Page

Writing a blog post about your contest is a great way to inform your readers that you’re running a promotion. The post should include a description about your contest, how to enter, what the prize is and a link to the contest. You can also partner up with famous bloggers so they can promote your contest.

Beauty Finds Adventures Blog Giveaway

Use can then use Instagram to direct your followers to your blog post, a great way to expand your readership.

Email promotions can be powerful if you do it right (and have a big list).

The subject line is the most important thing because no one will open an email if the subject line doesn’t interest them.

Hey Stuart, Our Biggest Sweepstakes Ever is Inside! Enter Now 🎉

Let your email recipients know what they are going to get before opening the email. Make your emails personalised by for example including their first name. Make them feel like you are talking to right to them, but don’t go overboard because no one likes to feel like they are being stalked.

Keep it short and simple and let them click through to the page for the Instagram contest for more information.

The Beauty Board Sweepstakes Email

Everyone has someone they really look up to, and often times it’s someone famous. Having people with millions of followers on Instagram promote your contest is a great way to market.

Check out this campaign below for 100 fidget spinners, it generated over 600k entries in the first 24 hours alone:

Influencers are relatable because they started off with ten followers at some point, but have over time gained millions. They also cover many different types of audiences and niches, this means you can often find the perfect influencer that can help you reach your audience.

Once the campaign is over, don’t forget to follow up on all the terms and conditions you set before the contest. Keep them in mind when reviewing the submissions!

Drawing a random winner on an Instagram contest is actually a really frustrating process. Instagram doesn’t provide you a way to export the Likes or Comments on a post which means you need to try and find an app to do it.

One method is to use to draw a random number, then count down to that comment. Likes and Tags however become more complex to administer.

If you’re using Gleam as part of the campaign we offer a random winner generator, which easily allows you to draw random winners from users that have entered via the Gleam widget.

We do not however include any of the Instagram Post specific activity (Likes/Comments/Follows) in our draw.

After selecting the winner you need to notify the winner. Depending on how you administered your promotion which determine how you contact the winners.

The only way to contact the winner in this scenario is to send them a direct message (since you won’t have their email address), or comment on their photo letting them know to contact you.

If you used a contest app then you should have the Names and Emails of all the entrants. This means you can contact them via email when they win 🙂

Before you announce anything publicly, you need to make sure that the person is ok with you using their name in your announcement and that they will respond to claim the prize. Give the winner 3-7 days to respond your email before moving on to pick another one. The email should be friendly and personal.

If it’s a digital prize, send an personalised thank you email along with the prize. If it’s a physical prize send it along with a hand written thank you note or something that will make the winner feel special. Small gesturers will get you a long way. Don’t forget to make them Instagram famous by a public announcement!

You could also email the non-winning contestants. Remember that they will probably be disappointed for not winning, so your goal with the email is to provide them with some consolation. You should thank them to taking the time to enter and maybe offer small consolation prize, such as a discount coupon.

One last thing to do after the contest is to measure and report the success of the goals that you set up before the contest. Think about the metrics!

Reflect on success and failures for next time. Look at quantitative data for numbers, but also keep in mind to measure the qualitative data such as comments and questions on your post. This will help with the communication for next time!

Gleam Instagram Reports

Here are some metrics to think about when monitoring submissions:

  • Number of Posts: Total number of posts submitted.
  • Likes per Post: Helps you keep track of potential winners if your contest is decided by likes.
  • Number of Participants: How many people enrolled in the contest.
  • Top Participants: Biggest fans.
  • Total Reach: How many people your post reached.
  • Follower Growth During Contest: Measure how much your following increased during the contest’s time period.

Tips on tools to measure the success of your contest:

  • Instagram Insights
  • Google Analytics
  • Manual Reporting / Exports
  • Contest Tool Reporting

Important to remember there is no such thing as too much data especially if it is your first contest. Measuring the metrics and goals will become easier for each time!

Here at Gleam we’ve built a platform that takes the heavy lifting out of running a successful contest. Our widget looks great, has all the integrations you’ll need and even syncs with over 30+ email marketing providers.

Our platform is trusted by over 700k businesses around the world. We do the hard work so you can do what you do best, run amazing Instagram campaigns for your fans or customers. s

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Ahron Burstin

Ahron is a Growth Marketer at Gleam. Shoot him a Tweet if you got something out of this post ☺