How To Run An Instagram Photo Contest

Everything you need to know to run and pick winners for your own powerful Instagram photo contest.

When it comes to engaging your fans, building an audience and promoting an offering, it doesn't get much better than Instagram. There are loads of outstanding strategies you can implement to get ahead on Instagram, with one of the most impactful being running a photo contest.

An Instagram photo contest is a simple but powerful type of campaign where you ask users to create and share valuable photos or videos for the chance to win a prize.

How you use photo contests is entirely up to you. You can get entrants to upload photos of themselves with your products, videos of your products in action, or anything else that's engaging and valuable.

In this post we'll take you through everything you need to know about running your own highly effective Instagram photo contest.

Running a photo contest has a lot of valuable benefits. It's a great way to get people excited, engage your audience and best of all, get your biggest fans posting branded photos for their own social circles to see.

This is awesome for a few reasons:

Using a contest to encourage users to create and share branded content on your behalf will help you boost visibility, raise awareness, and get people talking about your brand. This is an outstanding way to connect with a new audience and find prospective new customers.

As well as boosting awareness, photo contests are also an awesome way to build a positive perception of your brand. Having a bunch of photos of happy customers is a great way to get people to view you in a positive light and help build a strong sense of community around your brand.

Having users create and post photos of themselves enjoying your products is essentially getting your fans to share promotional material on your behalf. Plus, material coming from users has the added bonus of being more fresh, trustworthy, relatable and engaging than your own content.

As well as getting this authentic and engaging content shared across Instagram, you'll also be able to collect it to include in your own marketing material. This could be posting it on Instagram and other social media platforms or displaying it on your website.

A simple Instagram photo contest has all these amazing benefits and it will cost you little more than the price of a prize.

Setting up a photo contest on Instagram is a fairly simple undertaking. All you need to do is make an Instagram post which announces your contest, showcases your prize, and gives users instructions on how they can enter.

This should include what type of photos they need to post, and how they should tag it. This can be with a designated #hashtag or by @mentioning your Instagram profile.

Making sure entrants properly tag their submissions is crucial to being able to easily collect entries and pick winners

When it comes to picking a prize you want to ensure you're giving away something valuable enough to validate the effort required, and relevant enough to your niche that it will appeal to your target audience. As a general rule, giving away your own product, or a bundle of your own products makes for an ideal prize, but there are plenty of other brilliant prizes you can giveaway.

To comply with Instagram's Promotion Policy you should also make it clear that your contest isn't sponsored by or associated with Instagram, and provide users with your contest's terms and conditions. You can share these in your contest post, or to keep things tidy you can leave them in a comment or link off to them from your bio.

Your terms and conditions should include any relevant dates, entry restrictions, how the winner will be selected and what the prize is. You should also make it perfectly clear that by entering your contest users are giving you permission to repost and use their content which is incredibly easy when you run your photo contest with Gleam.

The best way you can promote your photo contest is simply by announcing it in an Instagram post that explains the contest, highlights the prize and gets people excited to enter.

To maximise awareness and participation you should keep posting reminders right up until you stop accepting submissions. Sharing some of the best submissions you've already received is a nice way to boost enthusiasm and inspire people to create and share their own entries.

As well as promoting the contest in your Instagram posts, there are a number of other ways you can promote your campaign and build excitement:

Announcing your contest in your Instagram bio is a great way to grab the attention of relevant users who visit your profile. If you've set up a webpage which explains your giveaway (and maybe even showcases submissions) you can link to it from your bio.

Link to photo contest in Instagram bio

Promoting your contest in your Instagram stories is an awesome way to increase your visibility and keep encouraging your fans to get involved.

Promote photo contest in Instagram stories

You can use your stories to explain the contest then and there, or link users to a post where everything is outlined.

If you've got an active presence on other social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or even Snapchat it's a good idea to announce your photo contest across all of these platforms and encourage your followers to head over to your Instagram page for a chance to win.

As well as helping you increase participation, this can also get more eyes on your Instagram profile and cross-pollinate your social following.

When you run an Instagram photo contest one of the biggest decisions you'll need to make is what type of content you want users to submit.

Here are some of the best types of content you can get your fans to share that will help you attract attention, engage your audience and promote your offering:

The exact nature of this content will depend on what your offering is, but using contests to generate photos or videos of your product in action is a brilliant way to get users to share content that promotes your offering in an authentic and relatable way.

This could be anything including photos of them wearing your clothes or using your product, to pictures of them enjoying an experience you offer.

A highly engaging type of promotional material you can collect with contests are creative, funny, or advanced use of your products.

Starbucks has done a great job of this with their #RedCupContest which encourages users to decorate their special Starbucks cups and share them online.

Creative or advanced use photos can be anything which goes a step beyond a photo of a happy customer. You could ask for photos of people using your product in creative and unconventional ways to drum up engagement or you could highlight the full extent of your product's value by encouraging users to show off expert use of your product.

Photo contests are awesome for encouraging the creation and sharing of user content that will help promote your brand, but this doesn't always have to be as direct as photos and videos of your products.

You can run a highly engaging and valuable campaign by getting your fans to submit photos or videos that are relevant and appealing to your audience and niche in some way.

Busabout, a travel tour company, did a great job of this by encouraging their audience to share their best travel photos for a chance to win. They didn't even have to ask for photos of Busabout tours because they knew that getting people to share awesome travel pics with a Busabout tag attached would be enough to boost awareness and promote their offering.

While this type of photo contest may not directly promote your offering it can still be a fantastic way to attract attention, form connections, create a fun conversation around your brand and bolster positive associations. Plus, you won't restrict submissions to customers which can help you drive more submissions and gain more traction.

Anytime you run a photo contest on Instagram you will need a clear way of monitoring submissions and collecting entries.

The two best ways you can do this are getting users to tag all their submission posts either by using a designated #hashtag, or using a @mention to tag your profile in the post.

This will allow you to easily identify, monitor and collect submissions, as well as draw winners when it's time to wrap things up.

Requiring entrants to @mention you in their posts is a good approach to take for a few reasons.

Firstly, when users tag you in their photos all of their followers who see the post will also see you tagged in it. This will help you boost exposure and can be an awesome way to connect with a new audience.

Secondly, using mentions will give you clear ownership over the campaign, while hashtags can sometimes take on a life of their own and branch off into irrelevant usage.

Plus, when you use @mentions as well as #hashtags Instagram allows you to capture more data like @usernames and timestamps from submissions when you use an app to collect submissions.

Hashtags are also a great way to get entrants to tag their submissions. Hashtags have a highly engaging and social nature to them which makes them great for sharing around. If your contest gets big enough your hashtag even has the potential to go viral.

Another upside of hashtags are their ability to not only identify your brand, but also communicate details about your contest which will instantly clue people into what your campaign's all about.

Hashtags and mentions both have their own unique upsides when it comes to identifying contest entries, and if you want the best of both worlds you can even ask entrants to use your hashtag and mention you in their post.

When you use hashtags to collect entries you'll need to create a brand new and unique hashtag to use. This will play a pretty big role in your contest so it's important that you get it right.

Whenever you created a hashtag you need to make sure it's:

  • Branded
  • Relevant to your contest
  • Easy to read (it helps to capitalise the first letter of each word)
  • Short, catchy and memorable
  • Original and unique to your contest (always be sure to search your hashtag before you launch)

One of the most important (and certainly the most complex) components of running an Instagram photo contest is collecting entries and drawing winners.

If you're picking winners based on merit or skill you can look through every submissions and pick your favourite. This is incredibly time consuming, but relatively straightforward. Just make sure you have a clearly defined selection criteria in place.

If you want to pick winners at random, which is generally the best way to go then you'll need to take a different approach.

Until not too long ago, Instagram's API allowed you to pull in historic posts from hashtags and there were a number of free online tools you could use to randomly pick a winner from a hashtag of your choice. This had its own limitations, but it was convenient nonetheless.

Unfortunately, Instagram no longer allows this, so you are left with two main options:

  1. You can manually search through your hashtag or mentions, collect every valid entry, put them into a list and use a random number generator or random list picker to choose your winner.
  2. You can run your contest with a tool that will automatically collect entries from hashtags or mention in real-time and instantly draw a random winner when you're ready.

Since the first option is absurdly time-consuming and unreliable we recommend that you take the second approach.

The best way to automatically collect entries and pick random winners for your photo contest is with Gleam's Competitions app.

Using Gleam's import actions you can run powerful Instagram photo contests that automatically import and collect photos or videos which use a specified hashtag or mention your Instagram profile.

You can even require users to @mention you and use your #hashtag. This is the ideal approach to take as you can enjoy all the benefits of using #hashtags including boosted engagement and viral potential, while also being able to take clear ownership of the campaign and capture more user data from entrants thanks to the @mentions.

Gleam Instagram Mention Import Action

This gives you the opportunity to run powerful photo contests that users can enter without ever having to leave Instagram.

You can even use our entry interval feature to determine how many times users are able to enter. You can allow single, hourly, daily, weekly or unlimited entries.

Plus, you can easily validate entries to make sure they fit your submission criteria. You can validate entries as they come in, or you can simply wait until your contest is over and draw a winner. If it's invalid you can instantly invalidate it and pick a new winner.

Drawing winners for Instagram photo contest

If you want to run your photo contest across multiple platforms you can even use our import actions to collect hashtagged submissions from Twitter as well.

Run Your Own Instagram Photo Contest

Check out our documentation on setting up your own campaign or check out the app right away!

The only downside of automatically importing entries into your photo contest is that it becomes harder to get explicit permission to use submissions in your own marketing, capture users' email and drive other valuable actions.

You can easily overcome these setbacks by running a photo contest with Gleam where users can directly upload their submissions into a contest widget which you can run on your own website or our stylish hosted landing pages.

  Learn More   Use This Template

When you run this type of photo contest you will be to collect and moderate images from Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and offline files with optional hashtag filters, and maximise participation by driving traffic through all of your promotional channels.

You can even require users to sign in with their email and agree to your terms and conditions with a simple checkbox which allows you to maintain direct communication with participants and easily get explicit consent to repost, share and display submissions.

Gleam Instagram Photo Contest Sign-In Form

In addition to collecting entries from photo uploads you can also use your Gleam contest to drive an array of other powerful actions including email sign-ups, Twitter follows, and visits to your website, Facebook page or YouTube channel.

If you're running your photo contest in a widget you can simply add more actions to your campaign.

  Use This Template

You can easily make photo submissions mandatory and lock your additional actions until users have submitted their entry from Instagram.

This can be a great way to cross-pollinate your online following and drive even more value from your contest.

In the aftermath of your photo contest you should be left with a bunch of incredibly valuable user-generated content. These photos or videos will provide you with an enormous amount of value when they're initially created and shared by fans, but if you really want to make the most of your photo contest then it's a good idea to use high-quality submissions as a part of your own future promotional efforts.

The content you collect will be highly trustworthy and engaging, so it's well worth taking on board and sharing with your own audience.

You can do this by sharing the content across your own social media channels, incorporating it into your email newsletters, or even displaying it on your website.

Displaying a curated gallery of customer photos on your website is a fantastic way to provide prospective customers with reliable social proof and share authentic photos of your offering that will help build trust and drive sales.

With Gleam's Gallery app you can easily create, customise and curate your own customer galleries that allow you to import photos and videos directly from your contest and display them anywhere on your site.

You can use your gallery to not only show off awesome fan photos, but also to get people excited about your contest, encourage entry, and even let visitors vote for their favourite submissions to help you determine a winner and add an extra layer of engagement.

You may also want to take a more subtle approach and use a sleek gallery carousel to showcase an awesome curated collection of fan content anywhere on your site including homepages, product pages, or pages devoted to reviews and testimonials.

Just remember that you're getting users permission to use their photos. You can do this by individually reaching out to users, or you can automatically ask for permission by including it in your terms and conditions.

Collecting photos for your gallery doesn't even have to end with your contest either, as you can use Gleam's import sources to bring a constant stream of photos from hashtags or mentions into your gallery.

Check Out Gleam Galleries

Check out how you can use galleries to showcase your community, boost engagement and maximise conversions.

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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 ☺