Are you interested in running a contest online? Online contests are a great way to grow a businesses’ engagement, and the awesome part is, the cost can be whatever you want. With the growing popularity of Instagram contests within businesses, the importance of knowing how to take advantage of this tool for your company could be the difference between another flunked ad campaign, or a massive boost to your following. This article will provide a step-by-step guide on how to run a successful online contest.

Step #1: Know Your Target Market and Select Prize

First things first, the target market for your contest should match that of your business. For example, if your company is a bakery, you want to make sure the prize is something relevant to the baking industry. A prize of homemade cheesecake and a $25 gift card to your shop would make sense, whereas a Playstation gift card or a Lego set would not. You want your pre-established following to be motivated by the prize so they will enter and share the contest.

Consider offering a “Free Year of ____ Prize” as it grabs the viewer’s attention. Obviously, this will not work if your business offers large ticket items, however, for a bakery, something like a year’s supply of homemade bread could work. Another tip to quickly boost the contest’s popularity is by partnering with another brand to give away both of your products, or a larger prize of some sort. Depending on the partner, this ideally would garner greater traction to your page. Reach out to other companies and see if they are willing to partner and add to the prize. This is a great tool as the cost endured by your company is the same, whereas the exposure and engagement are higher.

If you have paid for advertising before, aim ahead and plan for a better return on investment. For example, once the giveaway is completed, compare the results of spending $50 on your “normal” advertising method, with $50 in value given away via Instagram or whichever social you choose to run your contest.

selecting prize for online contest


Step #2: Choose Details and Make it Stand Out

Choosing the details of your contest is important, and no detail should be overlooked. The first few necessary details are:

  • Contest End Date: The length of the contest should depend on the size of the prize. A smaller prize would correspond to a shorter contest, and vice-versa. We recommend a week or so for simple Instagram contests.
  • The Rules of the Contest: Depending on the contest, different rules will apply. Make them as clear-cut as possible to avoid confusion.
  • How to Enter: Ensure guideline to enter is simple and included either on the picture ad itself or clearly defined in your post.
  • Will There be Future Contests: If so, let your audience know! This will keep entrants coming back for more, and engaging at a higher rate.


Now to make it stand out, ensure it looks professional. It is important to recognize the success of simplicity in digital marketing. Avoid creating posts with too much information, even if it means sacrificing a tagline or a logo, so you don’t overwhelm your message or your audience. Important aspects to include are an attention-grabbing image and title, a picture of the prize, and clearly defined rules to enter.

Instagram giveaway sample

We recommend using Canva, but many websites or even apps are capable of producing professional-looking artwork.

(Here is a sample photo for an Instagram Story Giveaway. In this method users will be sharing this on their Instagram stories, thus you want it to stand out and not get clicked by.)





Next, decide what type of contest you would like to do. First, choose your social media, and then decide which method you want to use. A few options are as follows:

    • Share to Story
    • Hashtag
    • Photo Contests
    • Video Contests
    • Caption Contests
    • Sweepstakes
    • Like, Share, and/or Reply
    • Vote to Win
    • Newsletter contest


From a brand perspective, people are less likely to enter if the entry requirements include following on multiple social platforms. Asking someone to follow on Instagram, Twitter, and like on Facebook will often lead them to decide it’s not worth their time. Try and keep it to one social media platform per contest. However, this differs in some situations. Notably, when a person is behind the campaign. If you already have a large fanbase, getting people to crossover is much easier.

Check out this example, wherein a girl gained 1 million followers by only spending around $10,000, less than $0.01 per follower. Obviously, this ROI is an outlier, but it showcases that anything is possible.

Instagram contest

Here’s another instance where a contest was largely successful. ColourPop Cosmetics garnered 25,000 favourites and 20,000 retweets on Twitter alone with this low-cost giveaway.

Twitter giveaway



Step #3: Promotion

Before you dive into the post, make sure you familiarize yourself with the legal requirements that come with running a contest on various social platforms. 

Social media contest rulesIf interested in reading full contest details, check them out here:

Instagram Contest Rules

Facebook Contest Rules

Twitter Contest Rules

At the bottom of your contest post, post something along the lines of: 

Per Instagram rules, this promotion is in no way sponsored, administered, or associated with Instagram, Inc. We release Instagram of responsibility, and agree to Instagram’s Terms of Use.

Now, you are ready to share your contest with the world. Post your contest during a time that ensures the most people will see it. Peak engagement levels differ by area and industry. Generally speaking, if you post at 11:00 pm on a Sunday, you can assume not many people will be online. If you are unaware of ideal posting times, Wednesday at 11:00 am is statistically a prime time for engagement. 

There are various ways to promote your contest, some of the best include:

  • Share the contest on your own personal social media, and all other business social media accounts that you manage.
  • Tell friends and family to share. This should result in a snowball effect, wherein your friends’ followers will be sharing, and so on.
  • Regularly update details and make posts counting down until the prize is drawn.
  • Message all entrants a simple thank you and good luck. If doing an Instagram contest where it is required to share the post to a story, you will notice that everybody who reposts it will appear in your direct messages. This makes communicating with entrants easy. 
  • Send out an email newsletter letting your audience know about the giveaway.
  • Paid promotion is another option if you wish to spend more money on the campaign, however, it is often unnecessary.

Paid Social

One more majorly impactful form of promotion is through powerful people. Contact local influencers and ask them if they would kindly share the contest. If five people with 2000 followers each post it to their story, that’s thousands of eyes on it already. If this happens, many of their followers with share and you will create a large buzz around your contest faster than you’d think. And remember, every viewer is a potential customer.




Step #4: Selecting the Winner

Depending on the contest type, there’s a couple of ways this can be done. Unfortunately, for the story contest, Instagram provides no way to automate the process. The easiest method is to go to your messages and write the entrant’s name into an excel file, with each name corresponding with one singular row, then use a random number generator to pick the winning row. This phase should be recorded for legitimacy reasons. Entrants will want to see the winner being drawn so they know it was fair.

However, if you’re doing an Instagram comment contest, you’re in luck. There are various sites that allow users to choose specific iterations of comments to narrow them down to the rule-abiding entries. Click here for a free site that allows the host to specify variables that match the contest needs. Among the tools offered are the ability to allow entries under comment replies, allow duplicate commenters or not, enable the option to include specific text and enter text, if you want to filter comments based on a specific answer or #hashtag, and various others tools you may need.

We will not cover how to select a winner for every contest type, however, most variants feature similar techniques and are fairly straightforward.

giveaway winner

Once the winner is selected, contact them and ensure they are happy to receive the prize. If so, ask if you can get a picture of them with the prize so you can share it with your socials. Real people enjoy seeing real people win things. This will give them hope that they could win next time and encourage them to stay following for future contests and information.




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Step #5: Track Results and Follow Up

Many contest creators overlook this last step. They will simply compare follower counts prior to and post contests. Depending on the contest type, there are multiple ways to track the metrics of your objectives to measure your contest success. 

Some questions you should ask yourself include:

  • Did people seem to want the prize and did your post generate buzz?
  • Did you match or exceed your goals?
  • What was your ROI and was it favourable relative to other forms of advertisement?
  • How can you define successes vs failures and make adjustments to improve your processes going forward?


Once this information is gathered, you’ll have a benchmark in place for you to try and improve on in your future contests. Whether you decide to hold contests weekly, monthly, quarterly, or even yearly, people are much more likely to continue following your page in the long run.

Spend some time analyzing all of the data you can track. Instagram offers insights into your posts’ basic analytics. If you are interested in diving deeper into the data, you can also find other performance measurements for free here.

One last thing you can do, depending on your product or service, is to send out coupons or free trials to all entrants. They will be far more likely to engage with and hopefully do business with your company after they have been exposed to your social media.

By following these steps you’ll be on your way to consistently creating effective contests that grow your audience and get results!