Are Instagram Giveaways Killing Your Growth?
Instagram giveaways are one of the most popular “IG hacks” out there — but are all those contests and giveaways helping or hurting your growth?
In this post, I’ll talk about why all those contests and new followers you’re gaining might not be as good for your business as you might think.
Does this situation sound familiar?
I’ve been thinking about (and doubting) the efficacy of Instagram contests for a while. Back in the “before times” when the pandemic wasn’t keeping us all at home, I was visiting a small business and chatting with the owner about how things were going.
She said, “we’re working with an agency who just helped us throw a huge contest that grew our account by over 10,000 new followers!”
I replied, “that’s awesome! How did the contest increase your sales?”
She blinked and said she hadn’t seen an increase in sales.
I followed up by asking if she’d seen a boost in engagement with her Instagram content, and she replied by saying that it was lower than ever.
“I don’t get it,” she sighed “we got all these new followers and brand awareness, but it isn’t generating the results I was hoping for.”
Does this sound familiar? Have you been running Instagram giveaways, hoping to grow your business, but not seeing any sales or return-on-investment (ROI) beyond more IG followers?
If so, keep reading:
Why (most) Instagram giveaways are bad for growth
Instagram giveaways have been popular ways to grow your account since the beginning, and not all giveaways are bad (more on that later).
However, since Instagram changed its algorithm to distinguish fake accounts from real accounts and began rewarding engagement over numbers, everything changed.
Instagram’s goal is to create the best user experience possible. It’s why they abandoned the chronological feed and replaced it with a feed showing the “best quality” content, which is measured through engagement: likes, comments, shares, and saves.
Instagram rewards accounts who spend time on the platform engaging with other accounts and creating real relationships.
How does the Instagram algorithm work?
To understand why contests don’t work, we need to dive into how the algorithm works.
Instagram’s algorithm is programmed to provide users with the best experience possible, which means weeding out fake accounts, spammy activity, and buying likes and followers (which we’ve also been against since day one).
Instagram is too big to track down and shutter all those fake accounts by hand, so the company relies on the algorithm to monitor for sketchy activity, like commenting on thousands of posts from a single hashtag, liking too many posts in a row, and other spammy actions.
This is why the algorithm is so focused on engagement, not on how many followers an account may or may not have.
The two types of Instagram giveaways
As I said at the top: not all giveaways are bad. There’s one type of giveaway that can be useful for growing your business, so let’s explore:
Giveaway one: big, generic giveaways
Giveaway two: small, niche-specific giveaways
Type one, the “generic giveaway,” is the kind of giveaway that hurts your business. Here’s an example:
The business owner I was talking to runs a niche business that sells female-focused products and services. She’s a local business, so most of her followers were young women in Winnipeg and the surrounding areas.
She started with 6K followers, was posting once a day, and receiving 200 likes and around 30 comments because her followers are very engaged.
She hosted a month-long giveaway where people have a shot at winning a $500 gift card if they like, comment, share, and tag a friend in the post. This giveaway earned her 2500 new followers a week. Now she’s got over 15,000 followers! Great, right?
But, then she starts to notice that her likes per post are down to about 100 per post, even though she has all these new followers.
She also sees that she’s only getting about half the number of comments as before, and it’s mostly from people she knows, not any of the new followers.
She’s also not seeing an increase in sales or business growth.
The answer is pretty clear: by hosting a generic giveaway, she attracted a bunch of people who only cared about winning the prize, and not enough people who actually cared about her business.
Her new followers might not be the kinds of people who would typically buy her products or services, have the same interests, or even be located within the same geographic location.
So while the giveaway increased her total number of followers, it caused her engagement to drop as soon as the giveaway ended, which told Instagram's algorithm that her content wasn’t as useful as it used to be.
Now her posts are seen by fewer people less often, which means she has to work harder to grow her presence on the platform and turn the limited engagement she gets into sales.
Other drawbacks of generic giveaways
Here’s a short summary of why generic giveaways hurt your business and Instagram growth:
- They increase your total number of followers but decrease the percentage of engaged followers
- This results in lower engagement for your posts
- Which results in your account being shown to fewer followers
- Which decreases the average number of likes and comments
- Which, in turn, makes authentic growth even harder
If you’ve artificially inflated your total number of followers with people who don’t care about you, then Instagram’s algorithm will conclude that your content isn’t as interesting as it used to be. It will also conclude that your followers aren’t as engaged with your content as they once were, and show fewer of your posts to them.
This starts in a spiral that shows less of your content to the people who are most likely to support your business.
And, worst of all: generic giveaways attract people to your business who are less likely to buy from you. Why invest money in a “sales strategy” that doesn’t generate sales?
Effective Instagram giveaways
Like I said: not all Instagram giveaways are created equal.
Small, niche-specific giveaways can be great for growing your follower count and attracting real customers to your business.
Let’s use the business owner from earlier as an example. Since her business is local and targeted at a niche of women in a certain age bracket with particular spending habits, here’s what she could have done:
- Offered to give away something specifically appealing to the audience she wants to attract
- Something that would not appeal to people who aren’t in her target audience
Sure, giveaways of this type aren’t going to net 1000 new followers a week — but as we just discussed, we don’t want that kind of growth.
A small niche-specific giveaway would have had the following impact:
- More likely to gain followers who are interested in her business
- Rewarding the followers she already has, and attracting more like-minded women who are likely to engage with her posts
- Often cheaper/less resource-intensive than big, generic giveaways
Who benefits from doing Instagram giveaways?
Don’t get me wrong: businesses do benefit from Instagram giveaways!
But they benefit the most when they’re giving away products they already make or sell, and when their giveaway is targeted at their audience on the platform (not everyone).
For example, our client Portage & Main Press / Highwater Press specializes in educational curriculum material and Indigenous-focused literature. We regularly help them host contests and giveaways where the prizes are niche-specific: we give away copies of popular or upcoming titles, free sets of books for classrooms, etc.
These contests don’t earn them tens of thousands of new followers, but that’s not the point — the point is to get their books into the hands of people who will use and enjoy them, and to encourage people who care about the books they publish to follow them on the platform and buy from them in the future.
These small, niche-specific giveaways help us grow their total followers and increase engagement at the same time.
Don’t make these Instagram growth mistakes
Running too many giveaways
Just because niche-specific giveaways are more effective than generic giveaways doesn’t mean we should overdo it.
Remember: contests and giveaways are an artificial growth strategy. They motivate people to follow, like, comment, and share in the hopes of winning something — not typically because they care deeply about your business and what you have to say.
Running lots of contests and giveaways risks attracting people for reasons other than wanting to see your posts. But if you focus on niche giveaways that appeal to your target audience, you can help people with similar interests find your account.
Focusing on vanity metrics
“Vanity metrics” are numbers that make you feel good, but don’t actually help you grow your business, increase sales, or generate a higher return-on-investment (ROI).
On Instagram, the vanity metric people obsess over are their follower counts.
Instagram giveaways: final thoughts
Like I said above, vanity metrics are just that: vanity. Who cares if you have 10,000 followers if only 100 of those followers genuinely care about buying from your business?
While small giveaways targeted to your niche can be great ways of growing your Instagram following, running big, generic giveaways hurts your growth, business, and wastes your time and money.
True, sustainable growth takes time, energy, and real commitment to fostering a community of people who love and support your business — something generic giveaways don’t do.
Do you have questions about running nice-specific giveaways? Drop us a line and let’s chat about how you can run contests and giveaways that actually grow your business.
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