TIL: What happened when I posted 40+ Instagram giveaways in 2 months

When it comes to building an audience on social media, the "giveaway" is one of the go-to weapons in a social media marketer's arsenal. The giveaway isn't exclusively for business use only - it is also used by personal accounts to celebrate a milestone in followers (1,000 or 10,000 or 1 million, etc). As a business owner, marketer, and content creator, I am reluctant to run giveaways because they give me more work for someone who is already overworked.

However, when Ash Wednesday came this year, I thought deeply about what I would "give up" for the Lent season. For those who are unfamiliar, it is customary for Christians to sacrifice an indulgence (sweets, screen time, alcohol, etc) during the weeks between Ash Wednesday and Easter. I don't have many indulgences and I seriously doubt I could function without coffee. So, I forced myself to be generous instead.

Perhaps it was because I felt an aversion toward giveaways that I believed it was the right thing to do. To avoid moral complications, I shouldn't be profiting from these giveaways in followers or sales. It wasn't the point. I had to develop a mission statement and share it with all 26k followers of the @inkjournal instagram account - not because I want to brag that I'm a good Catholic but because they deserve transparency about the purpose of these daily giveaways. Just like with the writing challenges, the audience puts the content creator "on the hook" to deliver the goods.

There are several ways to run a giveaway on Instagram. You can require the entrant to perform a variety of interactive tasks to validate their entry in the giveaway. The simplest is just following your account. Depending on your intended end result (more followers, rewarding current followers, increasing interaction with content), the IG account may want to employ the following actions in their giveaway:

  • Follow @youraccounthere and like this post
  • Post a pic using our product and tag #coolbrandhashtag
  • Repost this image and tag @youraccounthere
  • Comment below and tag a friend in the same comment.
  • Tag two friends who would love to enter this giveaway.
  • Follow us, follow the giveaway sponsor page, repost the image, DM it to 5 friends, comment below, and tag 3 accounts with more followers than you.

As you can imagine, the more hoops you make the audience jump through, the less interaction you'll actually receive, hampering the potential for virality. For the Lent giveaways, I opted to ask everyone to simply leave a comment. Each day it was a different prompt. People enjoyed the variety of prompts as a challenge to write something new and share a part of themselves with others from the community.

Since these giveaways are in the spirit of altruistic giving and not giving with the expectation to receive in return, I did not request a repost or tagging of other accounts to enter the giveaway. Therefore, the pool of entrants becomes limited to the current base of followers. These are the people whose attention deserves to be rewarded.


So, how did the giveaways work out?

Each giveaway post would usually average about 120 comments a day. Prior to Ash Wednesday, the last 7 posts before gathered 50 comments TOTAL. It seems pretty obvious that if you provide the incentive to interact by entering a giveaway or contest, more people are going to respond.

Did the giveaways result in more followers?
While there was a net positive on attaining more followers, it wasn't at a rate that was above the non-giveaway period leading up to Ash Wednesday. Like I mentioned earlier, this was by design. The intention was to give back to my current followers, not to seek new ones.

How does this differ from the new #30inks30days giveaways?
In the midst of the March giveaways, I received a call from my friend and Sailor sales representative, Scott. He always takes an interest in what I'm up to on social media and loved the idea of the giveaways. He wanted to help out by backing my efforts with the Sailor brand. Feeling that this sort of collaboration also ran counter to the spirit of the Lent giveaway, I proposed we give away one Sailor ink every day during the April 30 inks 30 days writing challenge.

Starting April 1st, I posted a new Sailor ink each day and offered them up in the same way that I did in March. Simply leave a comment and respond to a writing prompt in the post description. The result is about the same number of comments on each post. However, I'm noticing a much higher rate of new followers on the Instagram account. Why? It's more about the #30inks30days hashtag and community writing challenge than the giveaways.


##30inks30days day 1 - Sailor California with a Sailor Pro Gear Kure Azur, Medium point. ##fountainpenink ##fountainpen ##handwriting

♬ Wish You Were Here - Pink Floyd Tribute - Will Taylor & Strings Attached

Since I started the challenge years ago, the #30inks30days hashtag has accumulated almost 20,000 posts on Instagram. This year, I've planted the seed in TikTok as well, increasing followers from 500 to over 10,000 in the opening 3 days of the challenge. Part of the challenge is organizing content around the hashtag and using the @inkjournal account as a hub so it can share everyone's posts using IG Stories. Once people saw their posts (and the resulting cross-pollination of followers toward their accounts), it became a habit to tag their daily posts and tag the account, thus sending more new followers to @inkjournal as well.

In conclusion, when considering the mechanism of a giveaway as a growth tool for a social media following, one should take great care to measure the motive and the desired interaction with your page. The best way to grow an audience is to provide consistent value over time. A one-shot giveaway, even if it's co-sponsored by a big-time influencer, is not going to produce the quality followers that will be the cornerstone of your community.

Instead of using giveaways to stimulate follower growth, consider using them as a reward for your current fanbase. Make the requirement to enter simple, straightforward, and fun. Then, back up your posts with more generous content that provides value and builds trust.