• Heidi Aho

These Instagram giveaway rules will boost your following and engagement

Instagram is not a big bad wolf that makes up rules just for the sake of it. Maybe you’ve been thinking of Instagram’s terms of use regarding promotions (i.e. sweepstakes, giveaways, contests) as yet another loophole for you to jump through. Stopping you from getting to your audience in the way you want to.

In which case you’ve missed a trick! I want to take you through Instagram’s rules regarding giveaways and contests and show you why they are all to do with genuine engagement. And genuine engagement is the only kind that is going to lead to sales in the long run. Following Instagram’s rules and fully understanding them is the key to unlocking even more engagement for your giveaway.

And no, I don’t work for Instagram! Follow our argument: at the very least, you’ll get a great overview of all the rules you need to take into consideration when planning your giveaway.

Why follow Instagram’s rules for giveaways?

You can imagine why Instagram might get annoyed. “Instagram giveaways” are the marketing buzzword of the hour and yet Instagram has little to do with it other than the giveaway taking place on their platform. They’re not running the giveaway, and there’s too many of them happening at any one point in time for them to keep track.

If you don’t follow the rules, the worst case scenario is spending weeks working on a giveaway or contest on Instagram only to have it taken down.

But surely the risk of that happening is quite low? Ok, here’s a message to everyone who’s thinking of ignoring some or all of the rules. The audience you want to engage is wise to your methods. There are enough scams out there for it to be worth your while for your giveaway to look as legitimate as possible. If you deliberately choose not to play by the rules, you’re telling your audience that your business is not worth trusting, which is an immediate no-no. What’s more, you could risk having your account banned. A giveaway is legally considered a sweepstake and these things are regulated.

The good news is that Instagram’s rules will have people engage with you more, as they’re all about fostering engagement not spamming or gaming the system. Which is another reason why they’re worth understanding fully! Ok, let’s hop to it!

Trust at your own risk, a great lesson in life

First thing's first: this may be your one-stop-shop for what to consider when it comes to Instagram's rules for running giveaways and competitions, but that doesn't abracadabra us into a law firm. As with any advice to do with legal matters, consult a lawyer if you’re in any way unsure.

The advice here is top-notch, but that doesn't mean I can speak on Instagram's behalf! These views may not express Instagram's official policy or position or the country/state laws that apply to you. We do not accept any responsibility or liability for the consequences of you following the advice on this page, whether that's due to our negligence or not.

I want to be helpful to you. Not mentioning that consulting a lawyer is the best way to ensure your giveaway is perfectly legal would be a very unhelpful thing to do!

Are you running a giveaway or a competition/contest on Instagram?

Sometimes people call giveaways contests whereas if you're picking a person at random out of a group of people, it's a giveaway/sweepstake.

You can only call something a contest if there’s judging or merit involved: i.e. going through all the photos posted onto a hashtag and judging them by some criteria. For example, if contestants are tagging pictures taken at your national park, then your criteria could be composition, colours, and surprising/enlightening subject matter that highlights the beauty of nature. That's still pretty subjective, but if you've written down a set of guidelines for judges, you'll know that the winner who gets picked is a worthy one. And you know that your marketing activity is worth being called a contest! There are so many Instagram competition/giveaway variants out there.

Another important distinction is that giveaways need to be free to enter, there needs to be little ‘consideration’ or a task of value involved with doing a giveaway. But more on that later.

Consequences of not following the rules

Instagram may feel like a playground where everything goes, but that couldn't be further from the truth. As a platform, Instagram is a company that expects users to play by the rules/abide by their terms of service or community guidelines, and if they don't, you can have your account banned. And lose all the investment you've made into building a following on that account.

(Facebook has tighter competition/giveaway rules than Instagram as of October 2018, just FYI!)

There are multiple different possible consequences. You can get action blocked and can't use Instagram for a short while (which happens when you like, follow, or unfollow at an unnatural speed as they’ll assume you’re using a bot); shadow-banned and anything you post can't be seen by others (when you fill your feed with loads of posts or use banned hashtags); or banned where your account can be deleted and your username will be banned permanently (when you’re a repeat offender). In extreme cases, Instagram can actually stop your computer or mobile phone from accessing the app at all.

Rules for Instagram giveaways

1. Even if you only post about your sweepstake on Instagram but run the registration on a landing page, it still counts as a sweepstake/giveaway that needs to abide by Instagram's guidelines.

2. Instagram is not responsible for setting up the official rules of the sweepstake, you are.

3. You need to say who's eligible to take part in the sweepstake (13+ years old). Are there any age restrictions or do they need to live in a specific country/state to be eligible? Take postage costs into consideration here. If people abroad need to pay for more postage, state that outright when they're first considering whether or not to take part in your giveaway.

4. Remember that you may need to ask for permission to share other people’s content (if you’re running a photography competition, for example). Take this as an excuse to reach out to that member of your audience in a friendly manner and build up that relationship. Most people love having their content shared as they stand a chance at increasing their own following.

5. The prizes need to comply with any local rules and regulations. In the US, some states require you to register an award that's over 500 dollars. Winners may also be required to pay taxes on larger awards. Please look this up before you start posting about your giveaway. Canada doesn’t allow for giveaways/sweepstakes in the same way that the US does.

6. You need to make it clear that Instagram does not endorse your promotion/giveaway/sweepstake/competition in any way. You can phrase this in a fun way that suits your brand ("Instagram doesn't endorse this competition in any way, we just love all the people on here enough to want to reach out to you guys!"). The main point is that you include it in the competition rules in the caption where you explain the rules.

7. Promotions on Instagram must include a complete release of Instagram by each entrant or participant.

  • Although you could take this to mean every participant has to copy and paste that text into comments saying they recognise Instagram isn’t involved in the giveaway, this wouldn’t make sense within Instagram’s main aim which is to foster real engagement.

  • What this probably means is that Instagram is covering its back: that even if someone doesn’t read your full caption with all your competition/giveaway/sweepstake rules and terms and conditions, that still doesn’t mean that they can claim that Instagram was involved. By participating in your giveaway, they’re admitting to that.

  • Phrase it in a way that is easier to understand: “by taking part in this competition each entrant acknowledges that Instagram had nothing to do with this competition."

8. Last but not least, anything you do on Instagram is at your own risk. Instagram isn't going to help you if your giveaway goes haywire in some unimaginable nightmare hellscape.

How are people allowed to engage with your sweepstake?

We've all been tagged in a post by a friend wanting to win something on Instagram. Countless giveaways run with a 'Tag a Friend' call to action.

However, this may violate one of Instagram's most important rules: "you must not inaccurately tag content." The most obvious example of this is when people tag themselves in photos that they're not in, for example, to get onto a celebrity's page.

You shouldn't ask someone to tag their friend on Instagram for the sake of it. Instead, you should ask them to do so for a real reason. It comes down to how you phrase your question. Instead of asking someone to "tag a friend in the comments section to enter the giveaway," how about you try something like this, "tag someone you'd like to go with to Flow Festival."

Phrasing your ask to encourage real engagement adds more meaning to your sweepstake and spins a narrative around it which will make the giveaway, and your brand, more memorable. Participants need to take a moment to think about who they'd tag, which is another precious moment of captive attention you've gained thanks to your sweepstake.

Always include the option of entering the giveaway for free

Legally, a giveaway needs to be free to enter, otherwise, it veers into lottery territory. The term used to denote the ‘cost’ of a giveaway/sweepstake is ‘consideration’.

It could be argued that asking someone to follow your account or tag their friends in a comment could be considered a cost, as it’s the currency of Instagram and that action is of value to you.

Technically, you should therefore always include the option of someone entering the giveaway for free. They could do this by messaging you on Instagram, for example, to let you know that they’re interested.

Doesn’t that defeat the whole point of doing an Instagram giveaway? Not necessarily! If you phrase it in a super friendly way at the bottom of your giveaway posts with all the rules in it, you’re being even more generous and therefore making people like your brand even more. Chances are most people will choose to take action and want to follow your account if they’re in your target audience.

Only by giving the option of entering the giveaway for free is your giveaway free from the accusation of being a lottery.

This may seem radical and not many brands will be doing this. The benefit of doing it, though, is to maximise the generosity of doing a giveaway and trusting that real engagement will get the people who will one day become super fans of your account to follow your account not only for the duration of the giveaway, but for life.

(You can also include your full terms and conditions on a separate page which people have to visit in order to see that they can enter the giveaway for free 🤷‍♂️).


Heidi is a writer living in Helsinki via the Netherlands, Hong Kong, and England. Putting thoughts to words gives me life, so please do get in touch! @notheidibutheyd

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