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15 Creative Instagram Contest Ideas for Your Business

James Parsons • Updated on October 11, 2021
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Instagram Contest Example

Instagram is in many ways a prime location for traditional social media games. Facebook, for example, has become jaded about contests. Instagram is used to being excluded due to how hard it was to access and use. These days, marketers have a lot more tools to use the site for marketing, it’s available to be viewed from the web, and it can be utilized for great engagement.

Here are some ideas for contests based solely on Instagram. Contests can dramatically boost your engagement, as well as increase your followers if they’re interested enough. They’re a quick and easy way to grow.

1. Double-Tap to Win

On Instagram, if you double-tap a photo, you like that photo. This is common knowledge to virtually everyone using the site, so you don’t need to be overly specific about “like this photo to win.” Instead, you can just post a picture that asks the user to double-tap it.

The essence of this contest is to post a picture that describes the situation of your contest. For example, I’ve seen companies post a picture of their product in a scenario that’s relevant to a holiday, such as surrounded by fireworks for 4th of July celebrations. You don’t need much text here; just “double-tap to win” and, if necessary, a picture of what they’ll win. If they aren’t winning your product, make sure they know what they are winning.

Rules for the contest, including an explicit mention of the prize and the method you’ll use to draw a winner, will be posted in the description. Ideally, you’ll simply choose one random user who liked the photo, and you will @mention them to get their attention to tell them they won.

Don’t forget to include a hashtag for the contest to help give it more traction on the platform.

2. The Mystery Box

Instagram Mystery Box

This is a variation on the like to win concept. Rather than telling users what they’re explicitly signing up to get, post a picture of a mystery box. Include a button graphic on the box and a message indicating that they should tap twice to activate the box. Once you get X number of “activations” or likes, you can reveal what was inside the box.

Because the prize is a mystery, it needs to be at least somewhat valuable, meaning a higher tier of your product. You can also give users the option to claim a gift card of equivalent value instead, in case they already have or don’t want that particular product.

One problem with this method is that it stretches over more than one image, but you can leverage that into something beneficial. You could, for example, have multiple layers of the box, and make the prize better the more layers are opened between launch and the end of the contest. With sufficient enticement, you can snowball your traffic from one to the next.

3. The Product Selfie

We all know what selfies are these days. Instagram makes it very easy to take, post, and share selfies. This is the most basic version of a selfie contest. Ask users to take a picture of themselves with your product. That’s it! You can save variations on the theme for other contests later, and indeed I am doing just that.

You can set different criteria for a selfie contest. You can have categories for winners, such as “most inventive use of the product” or “larges number of people in the selfie” or whatever else you think would be interesting.

Make sure that all entrants use a customized hashtag for your contest, one that hasn’t been used before. This way all of the entries are kept in one spot, where you can view through them easily and can pick a winner at your leisure. Again, use the @mention system to notify the winners and get their contact information.

One tricky part of this contest is it requires your users to already have your product, which means your product itself is a less enticing prize. This depends on what your product is, though. If you’re selling a consumable or food item, giving away more to fans is great. If you’re selling something with longevity, it becomes less valuable.

4. The Selfie Scenario

Corporate Selfie Contest Example

This is a variation on the selfie contest. Rather than just requiring a photo of a follower with your product, ask for a specific scenario. “Take a picture of our product at a playground” or “Take a picture of yourself with our product at the beach.” See what kind of inventive scenarios you get. I’m betting you’ll get some people making hand-crafted “beaches” at home or taking pictures by the pool because no beach is near.

The biggest thing to avoid here is asking for anything too intense. A lot of people have been dying or getting seriously injured while taking selfies in dangerous situations over the last few years. You don’t want to make yourself responsible or liable in the event of an injury.

This is a contest that works better if you have a particular kind of company and culture surrounding your product. I don’t think it’s going to be very effective for a basic software company, for example. On the other hand, a company that makes outdoor gear, survival gear, or even just has an “extreme living” style will do best. I’m thinking here of anything from North Face to Old Spice.

5. Weekly Rolling Features

One great contest idea is to have a small prize always on offer. Something like a $10 gift card or a small product works best. Create one generalized contest, something like “submit your picture according to the theme. On Friday, a winner will be picked and notified.” Run this contest every week.

The trick to running this contest, and running it well, is to produce interesting themes every week. You can do seasonal themes, you can do holiday themes, you can do themes related to current events or local events, and more.

This type of contest will generally have lower engagement most of the time than one more rare, unique contest. However, the rolling engagement you get from week to week will be potent, and it will end up higher overall than one good burst of a contest will.

Make sure that in the terms of the contest, you establish your ability to use the submitted photo in your marketing. You’re not going to take it and use it in print ads or anything weird; it’s just a notice so that you can repost and feature the user’s image.

6. A User Vote

This is a multiple-part contest that begins with open photo submissions. Take themed submissions of photos according to certain guidelines, for around a week or a month; however long it takes you to rack up a reasonable number of entries.

For the next step of the contest, pick the best handful of images and merge them into one large collage. Post the collage with instructions for voting – typically “like the picture to vote for it” – and include links to each of the full versions of the picture. Ideally, you will re-host each of the pictures so they start fresh with zero likes.

Alternatively, you can link to your site, where you set up a poll with more control than using Instagram to accumulate likes. Just make sure that if you do this, your voting code isn’t susceptible to exploitation. You never know when someone will decide to target your contest for something like a 4chan invasion. You also need to make sure your site is visible to mobile users, but if you care enough to be using Instagram in the first place, you probably already have a responsive site design.

7. The Caption Contest

Instagram Caption Contest Example

Caption contests have been a concept for pretty much as long as the ideas of a contest and of an image have exited together. They’ve existed in television, in magazines, in newspapers, and probably even before. It wouldn’t surprise me to find Egyptian hieroglyphics set up for a caption contest on some unknown wall somewhere.

All you need is an amusing or unlikely picture and a bunch of people with good senses of humor. Post the image to be captioned and ask users to share the picture with their caption attached. At the end of the week or the month, go through all of the entries and pick a winner. You can even pick several winners and have a top five, or whatever distribution you find works for your audience size and submission count.

8. Tag to Nominate

This is an interesting contest because you can conceivably have a ton of entries if the contest expands. All you have to do is offer a great product, but instead of asking users to enter the contest, ask them to tag someone to nominate them as the winner. You can optionally include the tagger as a potential winner as well, though the general idea is to get people tagging their friends to expand the reach of your post.

The ideal result for this sort of contest is an incredibly broad reach. One trick you can do to make it more beneficial for you, though, is to require that the winner be a follower of your account. If you offer a good enough prize, people who are tagged will follow your store for the chance to win, and they’re pretty unlikely to leave just because they don’t win.

9. Plot Twist Solicitation

This one has been put to use by Comedy Central, specifically the show At Midnight. During episodes, they air commercials to solicit plot twist ideas for the next episode. This constant fan engagement has created a very interesting show, one that engages users to the show itself in the hopes that they see their idea put to use.

You can use similar forms of fan submissions for storytelling if you’re in any sort of creative production. You can, essentially, crowdsource a narrative and put that narrative together in a web series. In essence, it becomes something like a choose-your-own-adventure book, putting users in control and letting outcomes go where they will.

10. Guess the Marbles

One of the most popular contests in offices around the world is the simple “here’s a jar full of marbles/jelly beans/rocks/whatever. Guess how many there are and at the end of the contest period, the closest guess wins a prize.” The best part is, you can put that to work for you on Instagram as well. Make a tasteful arrangement of jars with something in them and ask for estimated counts.

If your business sells something that can be placed in a jar instead of jelly beans or marbles – or if you sell the jars – you can use those for double the power with a product feature.

11. In-Store Photos

In Store Selfie

This one is just like any other photo contest, and I highly recommend that you make it a popular public vote on the web, to get people really involved. Set up a display in your stores – by the way, you have to have physical stores – and take pictures of people who want to enter. Print out cards with your Instagram URL and instructions on how to register and vote if the user doesn’t have an account. Make a web interface to allow users without smartphones to vote, as well.

This is a great contest to bring physical users into your web marketing sphere. It helps grow your online audience with people who might not otherwise think to check. It’s amazing the incentive that some free stuff will provide.

12. Recipe Contests

Recipe contests can come in many forms on Instagram. Here are a few perspectives you can take.

  • If you sell a product that is an ingredient in recipes, or can be used in one, like Oreo, you can ask people to include it in recipes and take pictures of the final results. Judge based on creativity and award prizes.
  • If you sell cookbooks or provide recipes, you can ask people to make their favorite recipe out of the newest book or magazine, and take a picture of it. Judge based on how well they made the recipe, or variations on it.
  • If you sell cooking tools, you can solicit recipes from users and make them. Post the results on your page and have users vote on the most delicious looking item.

You can even make a sort of iron chef riff by holding contests between chefs on staff. It can all be quite fun and get a lot of people involved.

13. Costume Contests

Costume contests are a holiday staple, but you can expand them beyond the basic Halloween ideas. For example, why not have your users post pictures of their best Santa costume for Christmas? Ask them to post pictures of their kids before back to school, if you’re selling school supplies. Ask them to create a fantasy outfit when a Ren Faire is in town. The sky is the limit here; any excuse you have to get people into costume, go ahead and do it.

14. New Followers Only

This is a very basic contest, in contrast with many of the rest. Run a special promotion for newcomers to your brand. Try to avoid allowing people to unfollow you and refollow for an entry, and make sure they know it won’t work. You can optionally give referrals, like with the tag to nominate contest, which will help. The goal of this contest tends to be more focused on growing your audience than on expanding your engagement.

15. Holiday Wishlist

Win your Wishlist on Instagram

This one plays on holidays like Christmas, where charity is the name of the game. Set a budget and ask your followers what from your store they want the most. Have them tell a story or explain why they want it. Near the middle of December, or earlier depending on shipping times, pick winners and surprise them with their desired items as gifts. This puts you high on the list of gracious businesses and earns you a lot of gratitude, particularly if you give out something with a high price point.

All of these contests are just basic ideas, keep this in mind as you go forward. You can take them and adapt them or use them for brainstorming for other more personalized contests. Really, you can do basically anything you like with a contest, so long as you follow the general contest rules and run it properly.

Honor your deadlines, honor your promises, and reap the benefits of high-engagement social contests.

Let us know what you think in the comments below!


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