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Ahh, the humble Instagram contest. What university social media marketing manager hasn’t had dreams of catapulting their school to Instagram stardom through the magic of an Instagram contest gone viral. Through our SocialToaster platform, we’ve helped support Instagram contests for dozens of higher education institutions, and we’ve pulled together some of our top findings to help guide your efforts.

Whether the goal is to grow your following, foster more engagement, or introduce new fundraising opportunities, Instagram can be a powerful tool. In fact, due to its strong use of visuals over written material, a recent survey by Hodsons saw a correlation between the number of Instagram followers a school had and their international enrollment numbers.

If you’re ready to launch your own Instagram contest, keep these tips in mind.

Best Practices For Your University’s Instagram Contests

1) Make Sure Your Contest Meets Any Federal Regulations

Instagram may be Facebook’s better-looking (or at least more visual-forward) social media sibling, but contest rules and regulations still apply.

There are two types of contests:

Sweepstakes: Sweepstakes are open to anyone you define through your rules and regulations (as long as those rules adhere to state and/or federal regulations). A winner is chosen by random and individuals can enter through either a determined means of entry (say, tagging their post with a certain hashtag) or by mailing or otherwise indicating an entry for an alternate method.

The main note about sweepstakes is that you can’t put a price barrier in the way of entering (i.e. you can’t require a purchase, etc.). When you do this, your sweepstakes becomes a lottery, and that is illegal in most states.

Contests: Contests are similar to sweepstakes in that individuals have to enter through some sort of determined means of entry. However, instead of being randomly selected the winner is chosen based on a judge’s criteria.

Bottom line: if you want to have the power to choose a winner based on your discretion, structure your giveaway as a contest.

2) Utilize Instagram’s General Best Practices

No matter the size, shape, or structure, keep these general Instagram tactics in mind to get the most out of your school’s Instagram contest:

1. Keep Your Contest Photo-Based: People don’t go to Instagram to read articles or post their resume; people go to IG to check out some sweet looking pictures (or a short video or two).

2. Use Hashtags, Specifically Branded Hashtags: There are two critical reasons to use hashtags. One, your contest is only as successful as the number of people that choose to enter. To that end, you need to be sure your contest has the visibility it needs to get those entries. This means making sure your content is discoverable through the use of hashtags. Second, you want to use a specific unique hashtag to easily and quickly curate your entries. You can’t very well dig through every Instagram post in existence to find the ones that match your entry criteria. By incorporating a hashtag you can easily find posts that are specific to your contest.

3. Keep Your Means Of Entry Concise: Don’t expect people to take hours out of their day languishing over the perfect shot or copy to accompany their image. Your constituents are busy people. Make it easy for them to enter your contest by keeping the barrier to entry as low as possible. A single image, a couple of hashtags, and boom, they’re entered.

4. Include A Link To The Full Rules And Regulations: Rules exist to protect your university from a legal standpoint as well as providing clarity to your potential pool of entrants.

3) Use Contests As An Opportunity To Produce User-Generated Content

User-generated content (UGC) is the cream of the content crop! An Instagram contest is the perfect medium for encouraging your current students, faculty, and alumni to create content for your social channels. In general, people respond more favorably to UGC content. Fans are twice as likely to share user-generated content with their social networks. These types of posts have a 28% higher engagement rate when compared to a brand-generated post.

Once the contest has ended, you can continue to use the UGC to support your Instagram and social media marketing strategy for months after. Just be sure to outline in the rules and regulations that by entering the contests they entrant is giving you permission to use their image in your marketing.

3 Common Instagram Sweepstakes And Contests

To help get the ball rolling and the creative contests ideas percolating, here are the three most common sweepstakes or contests we see our clients utilizing.

1) Use A “Like-to-Win” Sweepstakes To Get More Visibility On A Specific Post

Perhaps one of the simplest Instagram programs to manage is a “like-to-win” sweepstake. In a “like-to-win”, your school posts an image to their Instagram profile and then encourages their followers to like (or share) that post for an entry into your sweepstake.

Keep in mind that since this is a sweepstake, you’ll choose a random winner to take home the big prize.

2) Target Current Students By Encouraging Them To Share A Selfie

Every second, over one billion selfies are taken around the world.

OK, that’s a made-up statistic, but go to any Taylor Swift concert and it’ll sure seem that way. Through this type of contest, you’re actively encouraging your current students to take selfies of themselves (creating user-generated content, by the way).

As an added guideline, we recommend that you have your current students theme their selfies. For example, if your thematic is studying or classwork, have your students take pictures of themselves in a class or lecture.

Be sure to create a branded hashtag unique to the contest that entrants can use to become a part of the contest.

3) Engage Alumni With A “Where Are They Now?” Contest

Encourage your active alumni to participate in your Instagram contests. Ask them to take snapshots that showcase how their time at your institution lead to their current success in life.

Select The Right Contest Management Tool

Sure, you don’t need a third-party tool to help you manage an Instagram contest, but the right tool can make managing a contest far less time-consuming. Let’s say your contest goes viral and thousands of students enter to win that awesome logo hoodie. Using a tool to help filter and curate these entries is far easier than scrolling through Instagram on your phone frantically trying to keep up with the onslaught of student selfies.

When it comes to Instagram, we’re proud to be the software of choice for dozens of colleges and universities. SocialToaster is a powerful, yet intuitive tool that lets you amplify your content by leveraging the social networks of your faculty, alumni, and current students.

Are you ready to take your Instagram game to the next level? Schedule a meeting with one of our campaign strategists.