It’s 2019. Instagram is evolving at an ever-increasing speed. More than ever we need to keep up or get lost in the noise. It’s time to ask yourself, are you making the right choices to achieve the success you’re after? We’re sure you already know that succeeding on Instagram takes a lot of time and hard work. But hard work isn’t all it takes. It also takes savvy decision-making. In order to make the most of your time and efforts we need a solid understanding of how Instagram works. In this post we are going to focus on one of the biggest growth techniques that was trending strong in 2018 and continues to be a popular growth strategy: Instagram Giveaways.
We’re going to explain the good, the bad, and the ugly so you can make the best decisions for you, your business, and your ultimate long-term Instagram success.
All photos credited to Instagram stories.
We are going to go out on a limb, but here it is….
(Most) Instagram Giveaways are Bad for Your Instagram Growth
Instagram giveaways have been a popular way to grow your Instagram account since the very beginning. You can still read from plenty of sources all over the internet that list giveaways among their recommended top tips to grow your Instagram account. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) Instagram has changed a lot since its creation, and many of the tips and tricks that once worked simply do not work anymore.
When Instagram started changing the algorithm to distinguish fake accounts from real accounts, rewarding engagement over numbers, everything changed.
Read more about the Instagram Algorithm and how to master it.
Creating Best User Experience
Instagram’s goal is to create the best user experience possible. IG long ago abandoned the chronological home feed in favor of a feed featuring only “top quality”. How does IG determine what’s “top quality”? By measuring engagement: likes, comments, shares, and saves; in other words, actions taken.
Instagram rewards accounts creating engaging content, content that grabs people’s attention. Instagram rewards people who are spending time on the platform connecting with other accounts and creating ‘real’ relationships. They want accounts to use all the tools available, i.e. stories, highlights, IGTV, live video, GIF’s, geo tags, everything.
Read more insights and advice to make the most of your Instagram stories.
The Algorithm Acts Like a Filter
Firstly, we need to understand how Instagram works in order to understand why most giveaways don’t work.
Above all else, Instagram wants to protect against fake accounts, spam/spam-like activity, and buying likes/followers. Anyone can slap down some money and buy followers from a multitude of different sources. The task of identifying and deleting fake accounts is overwhelmingly large and time consuming. Instagram eventually catches up to these accounts, but there is lag time because of the scale of the endeavor.
So instead of relying solely on the process of identifying and deleting spam accounts Instagram relies on its algorithm. Its main task is to improve user experience which acts as an automatic filter. This filter stops anything that isn’t authentic and of the highest quality from rising to the top.
Instagram is Constantly Changing
Instagram is continually changing and improving their algorithm to protect against spam-like activity, but recognizing the difference between real followers and fake (or ‘ghost’) followers is an ongoing challenge.
The best way to tell the difference between fake and real followers is the way they engage.
This is why the algorithm is so focused on engagement. Notice I said engagement and not how many followers you have. And engagement is based on percentages. If you’e paying attention on Instagram you will have noticed this increasing trend. High engagement posts have less and less correlation between actual follower number. They are simply high quality posts. Just because you have a lot of followers doesn’t mean a lot of people will be shown your posts.
Two Types of Instagram Giveaways
Not all giveaways are bad. There is actually one type of giveaway that can be productive, so let’s discuss the differences.
We basically have two types of Instagram giveaways:
- Large Generic Giveaways and
- Small Niche-Specific Giveaways.
For our purposes let’s refer to them as LGG’s and SNG’s. LGG’s can sabotage your growth, and we’re going to explain how. The exception to the rule is SNG’s, and we’ll talk about them later.
Example Giveaway Scenario
Let’s say you have a lifestyle account that focuses on moms and kids and household activities. The account has 5000 very engaged followers. They are stay at home moms. They all have similar problems based around toddlers, first-time homes, and balancing young-mom problems. This account decides they really want to reach the 10K mark in order to begin monetizing, so she decides to start doing some LGG’s that will really appeal to everyone in order to boost her numbers.
Let’s say that she starts with 5k followers, posting once a day, receiving on average 200-300 likes and at least 20-30 comments because her followers are very engaged.
She gains about 500 followers each time she does a giveaway and over the course of 2-3 months she does 2-3 giveaways every month. About 4 months later she reaches 10k. She is excited.
But she starts to notice something. Her likes are down to about 150 now, even with the larger account. That’s weird, she thinks. You’d think with a larger account she would have a lot more people seeing her account. She also notices she is only getting about half the number of comments as before, and it’s just her best friends. It’s as if no one is seeing her account any more.
It’s pretty clear. In order to grow her account she used the LGG’s to attract anyone and everyone to follow with the promise of winning an ipad or winning a cash prize or gift card. By doing this she inadvertently attracted ‘ghost’ followers. They are real people, just aren’t HER people. They followed in order to enter the giveaways but don’t have any interest in her or her account. These new followers aren’t necessarily moms with young kids, and they don’t necessarily have any of the same interests. Sure, a few of them might overlap by chance, but on Instagram percentages are the key. Statistically there are more people who fall outside of her core niche.
Therefore, these new followers have increased her total number of followers, but they have decreased her percentage of engagement. Instead of boosting her success as she had hoped, they are an encumbrance, an actual handicap, weighing down her success.
Other Drawbacks of Giveaways
Not only do Instagram giveaways of this nature hurt engagement but let’s not forget, they take time (which is valuable) and money. What? People are actually paying their hard-earned money to try to grow in this way? It seems crazy. Well, when you understand how it hurts instead of helps it is pretty crazy.
Instagram doesn’t care about how many followers you have. They only care about the PERCENTAGE of people who engage with your posts/stories/videos etc. If you have inflated your total number of followers with people who don’t care about you specifically then you have effectively decreased your percentage of engagement. Instagram is going to conclude that your content is basically not as interesting as it used to be. It will conclude that your followers aren’t as interested as they used to be, and they will in turn show your photos to fewer of your followers. As a result, fewer of the people who actually WANT to see your photos will. It’s a downward spiral from here.
Let’s recap the effect of the LGG: Large Generic Giveaway
- It increases the total number of followers, but decreases the percentage of engaged followers.
- This results in lower amount of engagement.
- Which results in the account being shown to fewer followers.
- It decreases the average number of likes and number of comments
- And makes authentic growth harder than ever.
The Instagram Giveaway Trap
What’s sad is that people often get caught in a trap. When they start to see their account declining (likely from focusing on artificial growth provided by giveaways) they think, Yikes! The only time I get any kind of attention or growth is when I do a giveaway. So I guess people really respond to giveaways. I should do more of them.
I hear people say that Instagram giveaways are worth it because they usually gain “x” number of new followers. Some unfollow, but a good percentage don’t unfollow, so they feel like it’s worth it. In reality, with the scenario I described above, the BEST outcome would be if more people who weren’t really interested took the time to unfollow.
I know, it sounds crazy. But those that don’t take the time to unfollow are just dead weight. They are actually diluting your numbers and hurting your chance for REAL growth and REAL engagement. They are going to make you have to work harder and harder to get the percentage of engaged followers you need to grow.
By doing large generic Instagram giveaways you are trading short-term vanity metrics for long-term success.
Helpful Instagram Giveaways
What about the kind of giveaway that could help?
Small Niche-specific giveaways, SNG’s, on the other had, can be worthwhile. Let’s take the same example of the mommy lifestyle account who has about 5000 followers and wants to increase her account by doing some smaller giveaways. The model for the giveaway that might work for her is as follows:
- something specifically appealing to the target audience she is wanting to attract
- something that would not appeal to people who aren’t interested in her target niche.
Benefits are as follows:
- Much more likely to gain followers who ARE interested in the topics she is covering.
- Not only will the giveaway reward the followers they she already has, but it will attract more like-minded women who are likely to engage in her posts.
- As an added bonus, these types of Instagram giveaways can often be sponsored creating a collaboration and building a strong relationship with a company.
- Even if the giveaway is not sponsored it is most likely much less of a financial investment than the LGG!
Even though we are listing 4 potential benefits of small niche-specific giveaways we advise you to use them cautiously. They are still an artificial growth strategy. They are motivating people to press “follow” with the hope of winning something. When you do this you risk attracting people for reasons other than their wanting to see what you post. Because you are focusing on your niche, however, it will help people sharing similar interests to find your account. We think the benefits slightly outweigh the negatives, if used in moderation.
Examples of Instagram Giveaways
- Potentially Helpful: An example of a small giveaway that might help boost a mommy life-style account might be a baby monitor or a toddler-proof storage container.
- Not Helpful: A gift card to Target. While it is something her followers would obviously love it is NOT a good giveaway gift. There are also a gazillion other kinds of people who would love to win a Target gift card that don’t necessarily have any interest in young mommy-related issues.
An example of a niche-specific giveaway that might NOT work:
This example comes form Julie’s personal experience. A few years back Julie did a giveaway for a chandelier. She collaborated with a lighting company, and the giveaway was part of the collaboration. At first you might think, great! Giving away a chandelier would be the perfect thing to attract more followers who were also interested in her home decor account.
Unfortunately, people who are interested in a free chandelier are not necessarily interested in Julie or her decor style or what she has to say. The only thing we know for sure about these new followers is that they want something for free. Again, it’s all about percentages. What is the percentage of these new followers coming for a free chandelier who are going to also, by chance, become loyal, engaged followers? It is small. The percentage of people who will likely never engage in Julie’s account after the giveaway is much larger. By doing this giveaway which grew her follower count she actually decreased the strength and long-term health of her account.
What does Instagram Think About Giveaways?
This is open to interpretation, but one of the community guidelines states this:
“Foster meaningful and genuine interactions. Help us stay spam-free by not artificially collecting likes, followers or shares….”
No one really knows for sure what Instagram’s stance is on giveaways. However, if you do decide to do a giveaway, hopefully one that is specific to your target audience and won’t attract ghost followers, make sure you follow the Instagram guidelines. View the full Instagram community guidelines.
Who Benefits from Doing Instagram Giveaways?
Let’s take the example of the Lighting company who gave away a chandelier. If you sell chandeliers you want to attract people who are interested in owning a chandelier. Doing a giveaway to win a product that you sell is a no-brainer. It is a win-win! If you are a brand reading this then giveaways should definitely be in your arsenal of growth strategies, as long as you are giving away something you make and/or sell. Your giveaways need to always remain brand specific.
When you search the internet to research giveaways and read over and over again how “Giveaways are the number one way to grow your Instagram following and increase your brand awareness” they are talking to brands and companies that have products and services to sell.
If you are a:
- Photographer…..give away a free photo session.
- Massage therapist…..give away a free massage.
- Pillow maker…..give away a free pillow.
- If you have an on-line course teaching something….give away a free membership or course.
However, if you are an influencer what you are selling is yourself. The best way to gain new followers is to spend your time and effort creating and delivering quality content. Period.
Don’t Give in to ‘Vanity Metrics’
By “vanity metrics” we mean focusing on the numbers that make you FEEL better but don’t actually help you with your business, your sales, your ROI. Remember the real reason you are on IG. You want to achieve some kind of goal, right? You want to create an audience who will buy your product or service, one who will come to your events, one who will want to buy your book or visit your blog. If you want to be an influencer you want to create an authentic audience, your tribe.
It’s important to understand that companies who are looking to collaborate care about much more than just how many followers you have. They have access to all the data and all the metrics that show exactly how many ghost followers you might have and what your percentage of engagement is. Like Instagram, that follower number may fool a few Instagram newbies, but it won’t fool the people who matter.
The Message You are Sending By Hosting Large Generic Instagram Giveaways
We can’t leave this topic before addressing one last point. And this may be our opinion, but since this is our blog we feel pretty confident sharing our opinions with you 🙂 What message do you think you’re sending followers when they see big giveaways? Maybe some people feel it is generous. This is one possibility. But we think it also sends a message of desperation. It is an overt statement saying, “Follow me. I want more followers. My follower number is very important to me. I’m willing to pay to participate in this giveaway to grow my feed.”
We don’t mean to be harsh, but we think it’s important to be aware of this potential interpretation. Is this the message you want to send? Instead, wouldn’t you rather serve your current followers and make them feel amazing and appreciated? Focus your attention on your current followers by sharing your time, energy, and gifts. Inspire them, make them laugh, engage with them, and you will succeed.
Closing Thoughts on Instagram Giveaways
Instagram giveaways are like a silent but deadly killer. You can’t see the damage being done, but inside its like an illness. It can take a robust, healthy account and eat away at its core health. You will increase your vanity metrics (follower count) at the expense of long-term success. Like an un-diagnosed illness, it reveals symptoms of a sickness slowly, and by then it’s too late. Maybe we’re being melodramatic here, but it’s to illustrate a point. The growth allure of Instagram giveaways is tempting, we will admit that for sure. But like most things in life, if it looks to good to be true it probably is.
Wishing you blessings along your journeys!
With friendship and gratitude,
Julie & Jodie
P.S. We have over 40 articles on our blog teaching every aspect of Instagram. We share everything we have learned along our journeys in hopes of helping you make the most of yours. So we encourage you to take the time, read a couple each day, and invest in yourself. We believe it is time well spent. Sign up for our email list to make you don’t miss any of our content and also receive bonus materials when you subscribe.