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5 Tips for Running a Photo Contest on Instagram

Instagram photo contests are a great way to engage your brand audience and create a memorable experience for your fans; however, maximizing engagement and growing your audience requires some planning. Before you launch your contest on Instagram, give thought to the following five areas and you’ll be better prepared to run a successful campaign:

Choose The Right Hashtag

Your fans need a way to submit photos and picking the right Instagram hashtag to promote as part of your contest is critical. When selecting your contest hashtag, two considerations to keep in mind are:

  • is your chosen hashtag brandable/ownable?
  • is it easy to remember and simple?

While you can’t really ‘own’ a hashtag on Instagram, or any social network for that matter, take some time to choose a hashtag that is not likely to be used by anyone else. There are lots of tools out there for you to check hashtags ahead of time, including our built in hashtag checker, but the point is to strike a balance between choosing something no one else is likely to use but to also keep it simple and related to your brand or campaign.Some ideas could include:

  • Incorporate your brands’ slogan
  • Abbreviate your brand name (if appropriate – i.e., Lululemon becomes #Lulu)
  • Incorporate the name of your contest (Fall for Lifetime becomes #FallforLFTM)
  • Use dates and places for campaigns at live events (i.e., #CanucksGame6)

Choosing the right hashtag doesn’t have to be overly complicated, just remember that you’re asking fans to type it into their mobile devices each time they snap a photo to participate. Making your hashtags catchy and easy for them to remember will help you maximize the number of photos you receive.

Choose an Appropriate Theme / Challenge

Ok, so you’ve decided to launch a photo contest…great….but what are you asking people to take a picture of? Seems easy, but before you start asking people to snap pictures of the moon at midnight, putting yourself in your audiences shoes can help you think logistically about what you’re asking them to do. While you want your contest to be brand relevant, you also want to consider your current reach, the prize you’re giving away, and the ease or difficulty of participating. Meaning, if you’re Ford and giving away a car you can probably ask fans for slightly more challenging submissions; however, a good rule to remember is that the more difficult it is for a fan to take the type of photo you’re asking them for, the less participation you’ll have in your campaign.

On the other hand, making your contest theme too broad might get a lot of submissions but the content won’t work cohesively in a campaign and may lose its relevancy to your brand. This is especially important if you’re displaying photos in a gallery. The less constraints you put around your photo contests, the more varied the submissions you’ll receive and, generally speaking, the greater number of submissions you’ll receive.

It’s really about what your objectives are as a brand and the goal of your campaign. Finding a balance will be directly tied the brand you’re promoting. For example, Starbucks will have an easier time getting people to snap photos of their mocha frappucino’s than a fashion label getting people to snap photos of themselves wearing a specific accessory. Both can be very successful, but something to ask yourself is: Do you want people to have to go out of their way to participate or should the opportunity to participate be present in their daily lives? The point is to consider your audience and how easy or difficult you want to make it for them to be able to snap the type of photo you’re looking for.

Plan Ahead to Share Your Fan Photos

While many brands are beginning to use Instagram for photo contests and campaigns, we’ve seen many campaigns fall short and miss the opportunity to share fan photos through a brands own social networks (Twitter and Facebook). When your audience goes out of their way to snap a photo for your brand, sharing their submissions with your wider audience serves two purposes. Firstly, it makes your fans feel rewarded for participating and, secondly, it helps promote your campaign and increase participation. Imagine you’ve submitted a photo to Starbucks, and they tweet out a link to your photo to their +3 million followers… a consumer you’d be pretty pumped about all the people checking out your photo. Obviously, you can’t and probably don’t want to share every photo but sharing select submissions for the duration of your campaign is a simple way to make your campaign more successful.

Engage Your Audience

Yes, engaging fans seems like it should be obvious by now but while brands seem to have Facebook and Twitter dialled, Instagram has remained a bit of a challenge for many brands. Partly because there aren’t many tools / platforms available to make engaging fans on Instagram easy (until Fanbase of course) but we’d be remiss to mention that if you’re running a contest or campaign on Instagram, make sure you’re engaging with fans directly through Instagram. In addition to sharing fan photos through your brands’ social networks, don’t forget to like and comment on fan submissions through Instagram and even follow users back. The great thing about using a visual platform like Instagram is that it allows you to really personalize and tailor your comments on fan submissions. You can skip the boilerplate “Thanks for participating” message and demonstrate a more genuine approach by customizing your comments to each photo. Your fans will appreciate these more than the copy and paste standardized message.

Give Your Contest A Home

If you want to truly give your fans a memorable brand experience, give your contest a place to live online where fans can view other fan submissions as well as their own. In many cases, brands have been hesitant to aggregate and display contest submissions from Instagram because of the potential for undesirable content to appear in the gallery which could have a negative impact for the brand. With tools like Fanbase that offer photo moderation for aggregating hash-tagged photos, this risk is diminished. Giving your contest/campaign a place to live online (web, mobile, and Facebook) has several benefits including:

  • Increases awareness and reach of your campaign
  • Increases the opportunity for your audience to share content and increase impressions
  • Gives your fans a branded environment to browse photos and engage with your campaign


With over 100 million people that have Instagram installed on their mobile devices, it’s never been easier to engage your audience in participative campaigns; however, maximizing the return on your campaign efforts requires you to think through and plan your execution to create value for your brand as well as your audience.

Join The Conversation

  • Marcellini's picture
    Dec 7 Posted 4 years ago Marcellini

    Great post, Michael! I thoroughly agree that the contest needs a home, or a place to live, so that fans can view their own and other entries that come through. A great tool for aggregating Instagram and Twitter hashtags is Postano, a social media aggregation tool.

    You mentioned companies being hesitant to aggregate the posts due to the event that undesireable content could show up- the beauty about Postano is that you can moderate all content, and easily delete an undesireable/uncampaign friendly post if it slips through the cracks. It also allows you to embed the feed anywhere- website, microsite, Facebook tab. It's great and worth a look! 

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