• Heidi Aho

What kind of Instagram giveaway should you run?

Giveaways can reap amazing rewards for you on Instagram. Think of them as a follower-growth superpower. And like superheroes, online sweepstakes, giveaways, and competitions on Instagram come in many different shapes and sizes. They’ll all get you more likes and more followers but, depending on the kind of business you’re running and what you want to achieve, some types of Instagram giveaways may be better suited to your needs than others.

Which is why choosing the right kind of contest is the key to unlocking even better results.

What’s the difference between an Instagram giveaway and an Instagram contest?

First thing’s first: an Instagram competition/contest is not the same thing as a giveaway/sweepstake.

Competitions and contests are always judged by certain criteria, and only one person can best meet all the criteria and win the competition. If you’re running a photo contest, the winner will have the highest scores according to what the judges are measuring contestants up against. Like in the Olympics, you win by being better than others, even if you’re just that little bit better.

Now when it comes to giveaways and sweepstakes (a sweepstake is the legal term for a giveaway), the winner is always chosen by chance, not by merit. Everyone who enters the giveaway has an equal chance of winning, and the eventual winner has lady luck to thank for their juicy prize. Also, and this bit is important, sweepstakes have to be free. You’re giving something away gratis, which is why people love engaging with this type of content on Instagram. Technically, by asking someone to follow your account you’re asking them to give you something of value. Read more about the technicalities if you’re unsure.

You need to steer clear of lottery territory, you see. You don’t just sign up to enter the lottery; you have to buy a ticket for the lottery. You win by luck but also by the 2 dollars you used to buy the ticket. Watch out when it comes to this distinction or accidentally calling your giveaway a lottery: it’s illegal to run a private lottery in the US, and very difficult to do so in the UK. Lotteries are seen as a form of gambling, which is regulated.

Let’s hop on to it and get to know the giveaway superheroes of Instagram engagement and growth one by one.

Types of Instagram giveaways

Here's a short list of the different types of giveaways you can run on Instagram. Drop us a comment if we're missing something. Read on to learn about each.

  1. The Tag to Win Instagram Giveaway (Tag You’re It!)

  2. The Nominate To Win Giveaway (You're The One!)

  3. The Double The Repost Giveaway (Scroll The Dice!)

  4. The Like to Win Giveaway (Double Tap!)

  5. The Mystery Box Giveaway (Intrigue City)

  6. The Comment to Win Giveaway (My Two Cents)

1. The Tag to Win Instagram Giveaway (Tag You’re It!)

If Instagram were a playground then this is the most popular game of them all. An Instagram account runs a giveaway and in its caption asks you to like a post, follow an account, and tag a friend. You need to know Instagram’s rules of the giveaway game and ask people to tag a friend in a way that qualifies as real engagement not just gaming the system for the sake of a giveaway.

Additional entry requirements for this type of giveaway can include following an account and liking the post.

Remember that giveaways are an experience. Your followers want to end up with that prize in their hands, but depending on how you craft your Tag to Win Competition, you could also make the act of entering the competition a positive experience too. Give your audience something to think about and an opportunity to connect with the people who are important to them.

Get creative! A clothing brand could choose to phrase the ‘tag’ requirement like this: “Who's your favorite shopaholic you’d like to take with you on your spending spree? Let 'em know in the comments below.”

The most meaningful iteration of this is when the prize you’re giving away can be shared and experienced together with the person the winner tagged. Thereby taking that Instagram engagement into a real-life experience that builds all the more brand loyalty.

UnReal's tag to win Instagram giveaway

Should you do a Tag to Win Giveaway?

Tag to Win Giveaways work well for any business under the sun, as you can always adjust the ask (the reason why you’re tagging someone) to suit your brand. What’s the feeling you want to evoke in your audience when you ask them to tag someone they know? Start storytelling with your giveaway!

2. The Nominate To Win Giveaway (You’re The One!)

Nominate To Win Giveaways have the same premise as Tag to Win Giveaways, only the person writing the comment in the post isn’t asking to win anything themselves, instead they’re letting you know who they think deserves to win. Thereby doubling the amount of giving done by a giveaway as you’re asking followers to build up a friend or family member of theirs. Which equals all the warm and fuzzy feelings.

Should you do a Nominate To Win Giveaway?

Nominate to Win Giveaways work particularly well for feel-good brands on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. This one’s not as appropriate for luxury prizes, as that may be asking a little too much from users on the altruism front.

3. The Repost to Win Giveaway (Scroll The Dice!)

Some Instagram giveaways ask you to repost a picture alongside other asks. Make sure to remind participants to make their profiles public (at least for the duration of the giveaway) otherwise their reposts can’t be seen. The main benefit here is increased reach which could lead to increased engagement with your giveaway. Then again, the larger the ask the fewer people will take part.

Mehron Makeup's repost to win Instagram giveaway

Should you do a Repost to Win Giveaway?

Repost Giveaways work well if you’ve invested in the post itself and the aesthetic of it matches up with your core audience. People put a lot of thought into their Instagram accounts, and they’re unlikely to post something that will jar with their look.

4. The Like to Win Giveaway (Double Tap!)

Like to Win sweepstakes have the lowest barrier to entry because everyone likes to win! Sorry, couldn’t resist that one. In truth, the less you ask people to do to enter the giveaway, the more people will take part. It’s a case of weighing up how much you’ll benefit from the actions that you’re asking people to do.

Example of a like to win Instagram giveaway

A Like to Win in its purest sense (where all people need to do is like a post) is a type of fan service for your existing following, though you may pick up more followers using hashtags that encourage people to wander onto your page. It’ll definitely boost morale!

Like to Win Giveaways feel like a freebie which takes you right to the core of what a giveaway should be.

Due to Instagram’s algorithm, we only get to see the most engaging posts on our feed, and some of the accounts we follow don’t end up appearing very often at all when we scroll. This is where the superpower of a Like to Win post comes in: because of all the attention the posts gets right after it goes up, Instagram recognizes that it’s an engaging post and bumps it up the priority list. Meaning you end up on people’s feeds and re-engage them with your content and your existence!

If your aim is to grow your following, then you should also ask people to follow your account to take part in the contest. This might cause a drop-off in how many people take part in the giveaway but has the major added benefit of increasing how many people follow your account.

Should you run a Like to Win Giveaway on Instagram?

Asking followers to only like a post is generous. However, to get that great engagement, make sure that the area restrictions of the sweepstake match up with your audience on Instagram. If UK-residents are the only ones eligible to win and most of your following is in the US, then you won’t be getting all the double taps you’re after.

This works well for products with mass appeal that aren’t too luxurious. If your business is more upmarket, it may be that you want participants to do a bit more for a chance to win.

5. The Mystery Box Giveaway (Intrigue City)

Mystery box giveaways leave entrants guessing as to what they may win. You post a picture of the box, teasing what everyone stands to win, but not telling your audience what the prize is. This adds intrigue and can be a playful way to run a giveaway.

It’s also possible to run this giveaway as a challenge competition, asking people to guess the contents of the box. The first person to guess correctly wins.

Should you run a Mystery Box Giveaway?

May not be the best idea for your first giveaway as you’re still building up trust with your audience, but a definite option for later giveaways! This one works better if you already have an active following because not actually seeing the prize can act as a barrier for people who aren’t familiar with your business yet.

6. The Comment to Win Giveaway (My Two Cents)

A win-win situation for you is to run a giveaway where you ask entrants for feedback about one of your products, or opinions that can act as informal market research/social listening for an area of your business.

You don’t want to seem like you’re paying for recommendations, as you want all reviews of your business to be real and earned. What you can do is ask people for their opinion on an issue that matters to you. “If you had one quality you wanted to snap your fingers and fix forever to do with your hair, what would it be? Be truthful and one of you guys will be winning our *hair care product*.”

You then pick a random winner out of the people who commented.

Should you run a Comment to Win Giveaway?

If there’s something you genuinely want your audience to tell you, go for it! Crowdsource opinions and get some exposure while you’re at it. Any product reviews you get in a Comment to Win giveaway aren’t freely given (there’s some self interest there) so do bear that in mind when reusing the comments.

Types of Instagram Contests

A quick note on contests: make sure to pick your winner in a fair way so that you don’t leave yourself open to accusations of the competition being rigged. This can do a lot of damage to the relationships you’re building with your audience on Instagram.

Here's a short list of the different types of contests you can run on Instagram. Drop us a comment if we're missing something. Read on to learn about each.

  1. The Caption Contest (Win with Wit!)

  2. The Challenge Contest (Guessing Games!)

  3. The Selfie Contest (Vogue!)

  4. The Photo Contest (From Frame to Fame!)

  5. The Voting Contest (Didn't Vote? Can't Complain!)

  6. The Recipe Contest (Yum!)

  7. The Instagram Story Contest (Blink and You'll Miss It)

  8. The Partnership Promotion (Join Forces!)

  9. The Loop Giveaway (Just Plain Loopy!)

1. The Caption Contest (Win with Wit!)

New Yorker Magazine's caption contest on Instagram

The New Yorker has been asking readers to caption cartoons for years to hilarious effect. Now you too can crowdsource the one-liners by running a caption contest on Instagram.

Post a picture and ask your followers to caption it, with the best caption winning a prize and getting to become the caption of the photo when the competition’s over. It helps if the picture has a story, and feel free to edit speech bubbles or a caption space onto the picture as a further visual prompt. To choose the winning caption, you can either ask followers to vote for their favorite (more on voting contests later) or get a panel of judges to choose their favorite according to a set of criteria.

Should you run a Caption Contest on Instagram?

This is a really fun way to engage with your audience. Don’t run one of these contests if you’re allergic to dad jokes or if you want to keep your brand super serious. You’re opening up the space to having a good old laugh.

Bear in mind that if most of your audience speaks English as a second language, this may be a little alienating, giving native speakers an unfair advantage.

2. The Challenge Contest (Guessing Games!)

On Instagram, a challenge contest is one where you ask an audience to answer a question to which there’s a wrong or right answer.

Flat Tummy's guessing challenge contest on Instagram

To add an element of urgency, tell your audience that the first person to guess the right answer wins and that you’re only allowed to take part once. The only problem is that if someone guesses who’s not eligible to win (e.g. is too young) then you’re stuck! Consider choosing the runner up if this is the case.

The type of contest that works well is a simple guessing game. “Guess the number in between 1-1,000 I’m thinking about right now?” is a good one.

Should you run a Challenge Competition on Instagram?

If you’re an individual or influencer with a cheeky persona (all it takes is a picture with you pensively staring into the distance), this format is a winner, baby!

Also, if you’re a business selling a product that’s easily countable, this makes for great challenge contest content.

Any business willing to get creative and think of a great challenge should also give this a try! Remember, keep it to guessing games as opposed to astrophysics.

3. The Selfie Contest (Vogue!)

Instagram is the home of selfies, so why not get people to do what they do best on the platform and bake your brand into it?

Example of a selfie contest on Instagram

A selfie competition on Instagram asks your audience to post a picture of themselves and your product with a unique hashtag to stand a chance at winning your prize. You can also ask them to take the product to a certain location and take a picture there (a ‘selfie scenario’ contest). A panel of judges then goes through the posts on that hashtag and chooses their favorite.

Knowing your audience is key here (we go into that in depth in our Instagram giveaway strategy article). Selfies are a little bit divisive – some people (maybe even generations, but it’s important not to generalize) take selfies regularly and see them as a positive way to boost self-esteem. Others may not want to draw that much attention to themselves. You can figure this out by looking at your audience’s Instagram profiles: do you see lots of selfies on their feeds or none at all?

Selfie contests show how a product can be used or even what it feels like to use that product. As with all contests, a panel of judges needs to choose the winner using a set of criteria (a handful of people from your business will do). What’s more, you can reuse the content people posted on the hashtag later on, for example, to announce that there’s another contest coming up or even just with a caption unrelated to contests but which promotes your product.

A video-based format of this conference is a ‘show how you use our product’ competition. This format works especially well for beauty brands, who want to demonstrate real people using their products.

You can expand this to include any type of action to do with your product, even if it doesn’t include your product in it. “Show us your favourite way to work out” for a fitness brand gets people living the values of your brand while putting them in the driver’s seat.

Should you run a Selfie Contest on Instagram?

If you’re appealing to a younger audience, this one could be a goer. Your product needs to be able to fit into a selfie’s frame.

There’s an argument to be made here that this type of contest is a little passé. “Selfie” was crowned word of the year by the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013, which was a good half-a-decade ago. What fresh angle could you bring to this contest?

4. The Photo Contest (From Frame to Fame!)

A photo contest on Instagram is similar to a selfie contest, only the person taking the photo doesn’t need to be in the shot (but something else usually does). The photo could be of a city, a national park, an activity, a feeling, or a museum – you name it. As long as it’s relevant to your business and appropriate for Instagram, you should be safe.

Eureka Skydeck's photo contest on Instagram

A unique hashtag is essential here so you can find the photographs and choose your winner. Remind users to make their Instagram accounts public for the duration of the contest! Even though posting on your wall is a greater ask than say tagging a friend in the comments section, the benefit is that it increases the potential impact of your Instagram promotion, as all of a sudden you’re not only reaching your followers but the followers of your followers too.

Give people an opportunity to get creative. That’s what Instagram is all about.

Should you run a photo competition on Instagram?

Photo contests work well for fashion brands (mirror selfie, anyone?), experiences, outdoor locations, and anything else that’s particularly photogenic but still has enough scope for variety.

5. The Voting Contest (Didn’t Vote? Can’t Complain!)

A voting contest on Instagram isn’t a contest in its own right. In order to vote you need to have a set of options to choose from, which is why voting contests are paired with any of the other competitions we’ve discussed already.

Example of a voting contest on Instagram

When paired with a photography contest, instead of choosing the winning picture yourself, a voting contest lets your followers do the choosing. Ask your followers to vote for their favourite picture by liking their favorite photograph under the hashtag or by heading to a webpage to do so.

People can game the system by getting their friends to vote, but ask yourself, does that really matter? Numbers speak for themselves, and all that attention your hashtag got will be increasing brand recognition. Our friends are more likely to be interested in what we’re interested in, so technically Timmy’s friends and family heading to your page to vote for Timmy’s photo could be bringing you new fans and followers.

You may not even need a prize for this one because if your account is huge, people will be pretty pleased to be featured on your Instagram!

It’s also possible to combine voting with judging by having the top 20 most popular entries be judged by a panel. This is a way of combining audience participation with control over the end result.

6. The Recipe Contest (Yum!)

A Recipe Contest asks your entrants to submit a recipe using your product. They can submit the recipe to a branded hashtag (including a picture of the end result, the recipe in the caption).

Should you run a recipe contest?

This one is great for food brands. That's all there is to it.

7. The Instagram Story Contest (Blink and You’ll Miss It)

Instagram Stories are a fantastic way to engage your audience. They’re candid and fun.

Example of a Instagram story contest

It almost goes without saying that you should advertise your Instagram giveaway post in your Instagram stories after you post it. Remember to tag a location and a hashtag to increase the reach of your story.

But did you know you can also run a competition on Stories? This territory is a little unchartered but that’s all the more reason to innovate. A screenshot contest is when you create a video on Stories and have your followers post a screenshot of it on their Instagram accounts using a unique hashtag. Make sure the video you post is visual enough for your followers to consider doing this.

You could also set a challenge that only lasts 24 hours where the clues are in your Instagram story.

Should you do an Instagram Stories Contest?

Yes! The early bird gets the worm!

8. The Partnership Promotion (Join Forces!)

Any of the giveaway/sweepstake/contest/competition types we’ve talked about so far can work as partnerships too. That’s when you either team up with a business (ideally not a direct competitor but something still relevant to your core audience) and come up with a prize that’s a lot more attractive to your audience. This may mean asking your participants to follow their Instagram account as well as yours.

The main benefit here is that you can get a bigger prize for less cost, and more engagement for your giveaway, as your partner will probably be posting about your giveaway on their account.

The downsides include the logistics of sorting it out and the fact that it makes what you’re asking people to do that little bit more high effort, as they need to follow/tag multiple accounts/posts, not just yours.

Should you do a partnership promotion?

Life is full of all kinds of synergy, so it may be that some of the conversations you’re having will lead to a partnership of this kind.

Anyone can do this, really, depending on the kind of resources you have to work on the logistics. Partnering with an influencer with a mass audience, if you have the bucks, is a sound idea if you want to really boost your following.

9. The Loop Giveaway (Just Plain Loopy!)

The ultimate high-effort lets-join-forces-and-force-them-to-follow is a Loop Giveaway. This is when a group of businesses, usually five, pitch in for one big prize, post about the giveaway at the same time, and then send people to like a post and follow the next account after participants have done so for their account.

The participant knows they’ve finished when they end up back on the account where they first started.

There’s been some debate about how useful Loop Giveaways are. Sending users from account to account is a lot of effort and may not make them feel too grateful towards your brand. Drop-off rates may also be high.

Should you do a Loop Giveaway?

If you’ve got a tight-knit group of related yet not competing brands that are willing to work with you, and you make the copy fun and light, then maybe!

Which type of giveaway/competition will you go for?

Combine different types of giveaways and competitions to create a format that’s perfect for you. Wondering how often you should run a giveaway? Our How To Run A Giveaway article will give you all the practical advice you need to run a sweepstake, regardless of what kind of giveaway or contest you choose.

Each type of giveaway or competition offers a different kind of experience for your audience. How do you want to interact with them, and how do you want them to feel? Fill your feed with meaning and the opportunity to engage more deeply with your audience. Notice, audience is key here. So start from there and you'll uncover the best sweepstake options that will tickle your followers fantasies.


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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