Giveaways seem to be a common Instagram growth hack, but in most cases, they do more harm than good.

Contests themselves are not news, but with Instagram’s changed algorithm, they no longer work as they used to. At first, as you launch the giveaway, everything works fine: your following grows drastically, engagement increases, and you seem to start achieving your goal. But what happens after the giveaway is the dead end.

Reasons for that and ways to minimise the damage are the subjects of this article.

Typical Giveaway Scenario

Generally speaking, we can point out two types of Instagram contests: large common giveaways and business-specific ones. Of these two, only the latter is somehow useful for your profile because you attract your target audience.

Large generic contests and their prizes are not aimed at your audience, but on those who want to get something for free.

World-renowned cosmetics brand gives away a product relevant to its audience

Still, the mechanics and scenario of contests are the same: you announce the giveaway, offer a prize, and prepare the conditions for followers to fulfil.

At first, the strategy works, and people start following you, engage with your posts (if you ask them to in the requirements), tag you, watch your stories, and so on. Thus, you make Instagram algorithm think your content is of high quality, and the platform begins to show your account to a larger amount of people. You happily give the offered prize to the winner(s).

But all of these happen only while you’re running the giveaway.

What happens when the contest is over? The engagement drops, impressions diminish, and people unfollow you.

Why are some giveaways harmful to your account?

To understand what went wrong after the contest, you need to comprehend how the Instagram algorithm works. It’s been said before many times, so let’s consider Instagram smart thinking in a nutshell: the platform shows us only potentially interesting content — that we’d likely to comment, share, and like.

Those accounts we engage more often with are shown before all the others. Thus, Instagram ranks the content based on your previous relationship with the account.

Instagram is fighting bots, fake engagement, ingenuine followers, and spam. Contests themselves are also restricted by Instagram guidelines, and improperly hosted giveaways may seriously damage your profile statistics.

What happens after a killing giveaway?

  • You attract ghost followers.

Prizes like iPhones, laptops, cars and something not niche-specific and expensive attract irrelevant people to your account.

If you’re thinking of boosting your profile by giving an iPad away, freely dismiss the thought. This prize will attract people who are not interested in you or your content.

You can be sure that after this giveaway, those people will unfollow you or stay with you as ghost followers. Ghost followers damage the account’s ER and work only as vanity metrics.

If you organise the so-called loop giveaway partnering with bloggers or other brands, and one of the conditions is your promise to attract an audience to their accounts, your partners will suffer, as well.

  • Your ER drops.

While hosting a contest, you ask people to engage with your posts and stories — like, comment, and share. People do it because otherwise, they won’t get the prize they’re here for.

When you define a winner, they cease to interact with your posts and don’t respond to them, no matter the quality of the content. Surely, you’ve already guessed why: these people are not your audience, and neither you nor your content is interesting for them.

Thus, your engagement drops, and Instagram thinks your content doesn’t deserve to be shown to others. As a result, fewer people see your posts and stories.

  • People unfollow you. Massively.

If this irrelevant audience doesn’t turn to the ghost followers, it unfollows you. The power of Instagram algorithm is here again: if people unfollow you, Instagram estimates your account as bad and not interesting.

Afterwards, it takes you a lot more time and effort to revive it.

Brands and businesses who don’t know how the Instagram algorithm performs, get into a vicious giveaway trap: they host one contest after another to improve the situation, but it all ends the same. Then, it’s a struggle for businesses and their social media managers to revive the account from the dead.

But not all giveaways are equally bad.

How to conduct a giveaway that will not end up with a dead account?

One rule to stick to: your giveaways need to be niche-specific.

For instance, you’re a photographer who wants to elevate the account engagement and sales of the services (photoshoots).

Which way to go?

The wrong way: offer a smartphone. The giveaway will not work, because a) there are too many people who’d like to get this prize, and b) not all of them are located in the area you’re offering your services. As a result, you’ll get too many people that are absolutely not interested in your services and content.

The wrong way: offer a camera. If you’re a photographer whose content aims at attracting customers, the camera is not a good offer. Yes, it’s niche-specific, but it’s not audience-specific. If your goal is to attract other photographers to your page, by any means, give the cam away. In all other cases, you shouldn’t.

The right way: offer a free photoshoot. This prize is interesting to your customers. Brands and regular Instagram users who follow you are most likely to love your works. A free photo session may be a nice way to attract new customers and followers.

Other tips for you to use:

  • Know your audience and its needs. Offer your customers something they’d like to get from you. To find it out, read the comments they leave under your posts, make polls in stories and check what your competitors’ audience asks them to do.
  • Make sure you can fulfil the promise. If you promise to give prizes to all the commenters of the contest post, make sure you have enough items to give away. Remember we told you the story about a swimsuit brand who had not enough swimsuits as gifts after their massive giveaway?
  • Know your hashtags. To attract more giveaway participants, use the hashtags your audience uses to search for content like yours. To do so, use tools like Combin Growth for target hashtag search.
  • Be extra clear about the conditions. In your contest post caption, write distinctively what the audience needs to do to get the prize: like the post, tag your account, repost it and so on.
  • Be also extra clear about the way you pick up and announce the winner.
  • State the deadline of the contest.

What if I’m a giveaway sponsor?

If you’re partnering with some brand or blogger to host a giveaway as a sponsor, there are some things to think through before you start.

Initially, you need to make sure the blogger or brand you’d like to collaborate with has active followers. If the account has low engagement, lots of bots or ghost followers, you should discard the idea to collaborate since it will be a total waste of money for you.

If the account is fine, make sure that this contest will be interesting for the blogger’s audience and similar people. Like we suggested above, care about the prize you want to offer.

Usually, giveaway sponsors agree to work with a blogger on the condition that the participants will follow the sponsor’s account. Before the collaboration, make sure your account is relevant for the blogger’s/brand’s audience. Otherwise, all the participants who follow you to get the prize will unfollow you once the contest is over. Simply put, accounts with teenagers as a target audience should not sponsor giveaways targeted at moms with toddlers.

Final word

Giveaways are largely used by brands and influencers to boost engagement and increase the following. If the contest is poorly hosted, the results will be exactly the opposite — you will need to pay extra money for reviving the account, focus on the content to build a positive engagement dynamics, and so on.

The efforts you’ll have to make to revive the account will be half more than those you had to build the account before the contest.

Think of what you make the contest for: engagement, number of followers, website traffic, sales, or anything else? Considering your goal, develop the giveaway tactics and choose relevant motivation.

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