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How to Create Successful Hashtag Contests on Instagram

When Instagram first launched in 2010, it was little more than a fun way to share photos with friends and family. Today, the social media platform has more than 1 billion active monthly users and generates more than 6 billion dollars a year.

And businesses have taken note. 

According to Oberlo, more than 70% of businesses use Instagram to reach their audiences, mostly due to the high level of engagement.

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As more businesses flock to the platform, it is becoming more important than ever to increase followers and drive brand awareness — and Instagram hashtag contests may be one of the most effective methods to do just that.

What is an Instagram Hashtag Contest?

An Instagram hashtag photo contest is a type of Instagram contest where users enter by sharing a photo on their Instagram account using a specific hashtag. The format allows the business hosting the contest to see entries by searching for their contest hashtag.

Entrants must still follow the contest rules, but a hashtag contest tends to have a greater reach. They are also easy for users to enter — there’s no need to fill out a form or send in their entry. They can just post their entry on their regular Instagram feed for everyone to see.

The major benefit for businesses is the creation of user-generated content that gets posted to dozens — or even thousands — of Instagram feeds. This user-driven content increases brand reach and could even encourage more people to enter the contest.

Here’s an example — Dunnet Bay Distillers, a premium spirits brand, hosted a hashtag photo contest where entrants were asked to color a black and white version one of their gin labels, then post it with the hashtag #Colourrockrose2020.

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Entrants were encouraged to tell their friends to like their entry (which increases the reach of each post) with the winner receiving a year’s supply of gin — in a bottle with the label they colored!

Note: Hashtag contests are different from “Tag a Friend,” or “Like to Win Contests,” where entries are submitted by tagging friends or liking one of the brand’s own posts. With hashtag photo contests, users create and share their own photos. Make sure you do not encourage users to inaccurately tag photos or content, as that is against Instagram’s promotional guidelines.

4 Tips for Your Best Instagram Hashtag Contest

Ready to build an Instagram hashtag contest to extend your brand’s social reach, increase brand awareness, and drive sales? Here are four tips for building a more effective Instagram hashtag contest.

Choose Your IG Hashtag Wisely 

Make your hashtags easy to remember and use at least a portion of your brand name. Adding the year can help your hashtag stand out as well — such as #yourbrandcontest2020 or #yourbrandphotocontest20. But, feel free to get a little clever.

A few other words of warning when choosing your Instagram contest hashtag:

  • Make sure it doesn’t violate trademarks
  • Don’t just use your brand name or you risk getting unrelated entries from people trying to tag your brand
  • Make sure it isn’t already in use by searching the hashtag on Instagram
  • Don’t inadvertently use tags with unprofessional words — as artist Susan Boyle did with her album party

Pick a Winner Based on Votes

How will you choose the winner of your Instagram contest? You could vote internally, or have a random drawing. But if you want to drive engagement even higher, consider selecting a winner based on which photo gets the most likes.

This will encourage entrants to share their photos and ask their friends to like their entry — which extends the reach of your contest (and your brand) and might generate additional entries.

Be careful with this process, however, and make sure you are clear about any rules — for example, entrants should not be able to use bots or create additional accounts to increase their chances of winning. Decide if they can share in Facebook groups or if there are any other restrictions.

Build a Solid IG Promotion Strategy 

This isn’t the Field of Dreams. Just because you create a contest doesn’t mean people are going to be clamoring to enter and spread the word about your brand. If you want to get the most out of your Instagram contest, you have to develop a strong promotion strategy.

Here are a few ways to spread the word about your Instagram contest:

  • Announce the contest in your Instagram stories.
  • Create an email campaign to announce the contest and remind people to enter a few days before the contest ends
  • Share on other social channels
  • Add a link to your Instagram bio
  • Use a popup on your website to promote the contest
  • Consider using paid ads

In addition to sending out a contest announcement, use Instagram stories to share entries as they come in and tag the original poster. This will drum up excitement — and show entrants that you are paying attention.

Add Extra Ways to Enter & Win 

Contests are effective primarily because people love to win.  So, there’s no better way to increase the effectiveness of your contest than by offering more ways to win!

While you don’t have to be like Oprah giving away cars, you can generate a bit more excitement by offering several prizes.

For example, you could offer a first, second, and third-place prize. Or one exciting grand prize (like a year’s supply of gin!) and several smaller prizes, such as a discount code or free gift basket. This increases each entrant’s chances of winning — and makes your contest more fun.

Final Thoughts on IG Hashtag Contests

Contests are an effective way for businesses large and small to build a following and increase their brand awareness. Instagram’s large reach makes it an ideal platform for hosting contests. To get the most out of your Instagram hashtag contest, follow these best practices:

  • Choose your hashtag carefully
  • Choose a winner based on likes, not a random drawing
  • Build a promotional strategy
  • Add additional ways to win

Ready to build your Instagram hashtag photo contest? We can help! Woobox Support is available Monday through Friday between 8 am to 5 pm PST at 1-360-450-5200 and